A Sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

Isaiah 60:15-22, Psalm 18:1-6, 48-50, Luke 7:18-28

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

When we read a passage of scripture we often search that passage for a theme. We might wonder in an Old Testament passage what we are hearing about the nature of God and our relationship with God; we might wonder in our psalm the situation of the psalmist –are they in trouble, are they rejoicing? We might wonder in a gospel passage what Jesus is doing and how he might be wanting us to live in response. At this time, though, we are living in the season of Advent, one of the most profound seasons of the church’s year and so we have our theme. Our theme is one of waiting, waiting in hope.

And so, this evening, rather than searching our scripture readings for a theme, we will come with our theme, our view of things, our idea that we are waiting in hope. And we will see what light our three readings, our Old Testament reading and our New Testament reading and our psalm shed on the Advent theme.

The Old Testament is, of course, from the prophets. The prophet Isaiah. The prophet is keen that we know one thing, really. The prophet speaks on behalf of God and God says to us through the prophet:

That you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Saviour
   and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

We are to know who God is. And that God is.

But there is movement in the prophet’s words. There is speech about change. If our theme is waiting, the prophet reassures us that there is something beautiful for which we wait. And, as the prophet so often does, he uses poetry to help us hear. Change is in the wings. Our wait will not be in vain.

Whereas you have been forsaken and hated,
   with no one passing through,
I will make you majestic for ever,
   a joy from age to age.

The prophet affirms the struggle and points to a new time when there will be joy.

Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
   instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
   instead of stones, iron.

All is about change imaged in the physical elements. And then,

Your sun shall no more go down,
   or your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
   and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21 Your people shall all be righteous;
   they shall possess the land for ever.
They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands,
   so that I might be glorified.

God is present, seen as light, God will bring about this change – days of mourning will be ended. We will be settled in the land and we will have a part to play in it all. Our life will be meaningful and will be woven with peace and righteousness. The poetry of the prophet helps us feel the possibility of change. The poetry of the prophet gives life to our waiting, our waiting in hope.

So what, then of our Psalm, Psalm 18. I love this psalm. As it opens it showers us with images of God.

 I will love thee, O Lord, my strength; the Lord is my stony rock, and my defence 
 my Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust, my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.

Image after image, noun after noun if we want the grammatical term. And we might ponder these images and wonder if any of them resonate with us, as we see ourselves as people who wait. Is God our strength? Or our defence? Is God our refuge? We might try these images out and see if any one of them strikes us … yes! God is like that.

The psalm goes on

 I will call upon the Lord, which is worthy to be praised 
 so shall I be safe from mine enemies.
  The sorrows of death compassed me 
 and the overflowings of ungodliness made me afraid.
  The pains of hell came about me 
 the snares of death overtook me.
  In my trouble I will call upon the Lord 
 and complain unto my God.

We see our part in the relationship with God – we call upon God, we call upon God and complain when death threatens and we are afraid.

And then a different image comes. The psalmist gives up on nouns and gives us instead … a verb for God.

So shall he hear my voice out of his holy temple 
 and my complaint shall come before him, it shall enter even into his ears.

God shall hear my voice. I shall be heard. In this time of waiting the psalmist encourages us to speak, words of praise at first and then the truth of our struggle. And to know that as we wait and as we speak we shall be heard. The psalm moves from a list of images of God to the deeply engaged activity of God. The one who hears us.

Our New Testament reading is from the Gospel according to Saint Luke.

And the reading is all about waiting and discerning. Jesus is teaching us the spiritual art of keeping watch. John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus and they ask him:

‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 20When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’

How do we know that God is about?

Jesus tells them to look at what is happening.

Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.

He is telling them to notice what is going on. What do we notice as we live these Advent days? As we watch the jacaranda trees bloom and the agapanthus flower, as we gaze at beautiful flowers in our cathedral and purple robes. There’s no doubt that we are in our waiting time. But what do we notice in our hearts? What has burdened our hearts this year? Is it coronavirus and the fear for ourselves and those we love of a disease that can diminish and even kill so quickly? Is it our lives being put on hold in some way? Is it loneliness when we are isolated at home? Or do we have loved ones overseas who we long to see? Or are we grateful to be so fortunate when we see other places in the world frozen by the virus’ grip? Are we grateful to be able to gather and pray with one another in the midst of the beautiful singing of our choir?

Can we hear God coming in the midst of these pains and times of gratitude? Did we see the news conference just a week ago when the first vaccine was approved in the United Kingdom? Did our hearts sing for just a moment? In gratitude and awe at the extraordinary hard work and giftedness of the scientists and the courage of those who took part in the trials? Did we grieve with the Queensland scientists whose vaccine trial has had to be abandoned? Do we feel that we are on a roller coaster ride that a year ago we would not have imagined possible?

Where is God in this? Can we sense God coming? That we will tell the Christmas story in the midst of this strangeness and one of the images from our readings tonight might resonate for us. Will we remember on Christmas night what the prophet Isaiah said that God says

That we shall know that I, the Lord, am your Saviour
   and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Will we remember the psalm with all its images of God and its reassurance that when we cry out, God will hear our cry? Will we remember Jesus teaching his disciples, guiding them in noticing his presence?

God is coming. Love will come down this Christmas, too. May we be blessed as we engage, this Advent, in the holy task of waiting.