We’ve all been there, stuck in a car with a small child, somewhere on a motorway, jams in front, jams behind. “I need to do a wee. I feel sick…are nearly there yet?!”
This year Advent is the longest it can ever be: four whole weeks from Advent Sunday to Christmas Eve. Because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, we’ve got a full 28 days of Advent. It might feel like a long haul. “Are we nearly there yet?”
This is the third Sunday of Advent. In week one we paused, took a deep breath and began to reflect upon the moments of Advent. Kairos. Week two was about the hope we might have for what is to come. As we breathe deeply, and pause, we have hope that the future will come. Now, as we arrive at week three, we begin to turn to that future, and face the next few weeks. We acknowledge that, even though we pause and hope, at some point we do have to engage with what is to come. It’s no good just sitting still and hoping. Hope is in our own living.
We set out on a journey, perhaps. Or, rather like a rugby scrum: crouch, touch, set… At some point the scrum must begin. At some point, Christmas happens. At some point, of course, you do go Christmas shopping (for me, Cribbs Causeway). At some point, you do need to set the scrum! At some point you do need to peel the spuds. At some point we need to consider the place that Jesus will take in our world. At some point we embark on the journey, through the wilderness mentioned by John the Baptist and Isaiah, eventually, leading to the arrival of that for which we hope: Jesus Christ in the world. God made flesh. A new hope for everyone.
Isaiah’s words today are terrific. There’s that phrase about strengthening the weak hands, making firm the feeble knees (Isaiah 35.1-10). You need firm knees in a scrum. Or to walk on a journey. In James’ letter, we are reminded of the need for patience: as we wait for crops to grow. And as we do, we are encouraged not to grumble against each other (James 5.7-10).
In that same scum of getting to Christmas: Patience, Strength, Hope. All vital on any journey, and this week, we seriously set out on our journey. Traditionally, the liturgy for the Eucharistic Prayer changes after 16th December, from patient waiting to preparing for Christ to come. The world turns, and we cannot but join in. We turn, gradually, towards God, towards the Kingdom Come, and prepare to welcome Christ.
The image of a journey is powerful. When you put it together with all the other images of advent: of pausing, of hoping, and now of moving. But, what are we moving for? What or who are we moving towards? Do we have a map? And, most importantly, will our destination be any different from last year?
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever played this game: go out to your garden gate and flip a coin. Turn left if it’s heads and right if it’s tails. Do that whenever there’s a decision to be made, at every junction, at every pedestrian crossing and so on. See where it takes you. It might take you straight back home. It might take you all the way to Wells. And beyond. It depends on how the coin lands, and how long you’ve got, I guess. But it is an interesting way to get about. Pretty random. But, even though it might seem very uncertain, we can embark on such a journey because we have faith that God looks after us. We have hope that we will discover new things, and good things, but also things we are happy to meet.
Other kinds of journey may be more planned. When we go on holiday, most of us know where we’re going before we leave. Even my trip to Cribbs Causeway. I knew what to expect. We kind of know how long it will take, but some journeys, if we’ve never made them before, we might be nervous about, and might get the timing all wrong. And some journeys are not even physical things, but journeys through time. Time and space are linked, as we know: those moments of pausing can seem like a journey through a featureless landscape, perhaps. If you are waiting for some news about a loved one, or a decision to be made about a job, or an exam result: the journey through the day might drag forever.
But the journey we are now on is not like that.
The journey we are now embarking upon is an entirely different journey. It is one that we know well, one with a very well known destination. We have paused and reflected, and we have seen the hope there is in our faith in God. Now, as we set out on the journey in our hearts, to meet Christ as the infant Jesus, we know what to expect.
Those questions again:
What are we travelling for? Because we are not yet near enough to Christ.
Who are we journeying towards? Jesus, the infant and vulnerable incarnation of God who shows us that, even though he is small and weak, he comes in glory because as Jesus says about John: the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Do we have a map? We are being guided by our prayers, and through our hope and faith. We know that even if we flip a coin at every new pathway, we will find Christ.
Is our destination any different from last year? That’s the biggie. That’s the question we cannot really answer yet. In some ways, we will be in the same place: the same carols, the same Christmas tree lights. The same trimmings with the turkey. The same family traditions.
But, I want to leave you this Christmas with one challenge you may like to think about in any moments of kairos you get this year. Will this Christmas make a difference to the way you think and live as a Christian? Will it lead you to a place that you don’t fully recognise, but which fills you with even greater love for those around you. Will your journey this advent have led you to a deeper, more Christ-filled Christmas.
May we all find a new and refreshing destination this year. In the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 35.1-10):
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
Journey well. Arrive refreshed. And, yes, we’re nearly there!