Sermon for Advent 4, Year A

Advent is a time of waiting. We’ve been waiting for 3 weeks so far this Advent, and we’ve still got one more week to go. What are we waiting for?

Yes, Christmas. But we’re waiting for something else as well.

In our reading, we heard about Mary and Joseph waiting. They were waiting for Jesus to come. But they didn’t know quite what – quite who – they were waiting for until the angel told them. And even then, they couldn’t have known quite what Jesus would be like until he arrived, just like any parents awaiting the birth of a child.

Some waiting is exciting. Some waiting is frustrating. [Eg.s]

I’m waiting to open this present. I can know some things about it. [Weight, size, shape?] I might even try to guess what it is [Suggestions] but I won’t know quite what it is until I open it on Christmas Day.

So what are we waiting for this Advent? We are waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises. Just as Mary and Joseph waited for the coming Messiah, so we are waiting for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth when Jesus returns in glory.

Did Mary and Joseph know exactly what it would mean for Jesus to be the Messiah? They can’t have done. Even with angelic revelations, they can’t have foreseen what the life, death and resurrection of their tiny new baby would be.

Can we know exactly what it will mean for Jesus to come in glory? I don’t think so. We know something of what it will be like – Isaiah foretells a kingdom of perfect peace – but what will that look like? What will it feel like? We, who live in a world which has never come close to perfect peace, can’t possibly know.

It is like my wrapped present – we can know something about it, we can guess at what it is, but we cannot truly know it until it is finally fully revealed. It is this final, full revelation of God’s kingdom that we await as we keep Advent together.

One thing we can know: whenever God makes promises, like the angel’s promise to Joseph in today’s reading, they come with the words “Do not be afraid”. Whatever the fulfilment of those promises may look like, it is not something to fear, but to hope for, long for, pray for, work for.

As we prepare to enter a new year – especially after such a year of uncertainty and surprises – we cannot be sure what lies ahead. But we can be sure of one thing: God is faithful, God keeps God’s promises but, as with Mary, not always in the way we expect.

It is an act of faith to look into an uncertain future and say “God’s will be done”. But that is what it means to live as people of faith, to be willing as Mary was to become the instruments by which God’s promises are fulfilled to a waiting world.

And so with trust in the promises of God – those we have seen fulfilled, and those yet to come – we say “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus”.

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