1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
The Rev’d Jenny Wilson
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’(Jeremiah 33:14-16)
In this time of Advent, we hear God speak. God speaks through the voice of the prophets.
“The days are surely coming,” God says. And the days for which God longs are those days when there will be righteousness and justice, when there will be the saving, healing, redemption of the people, the days when those people will live in safety.
“The days are surely coming …”
A friend of mine who knows Hebrew well says that, in the Hebrew language, there is no word “surely”. What is literally written is repetition …the days are coming, coming …says the Lord.
This word of longing from God that we hear through the voice of the prophet, this word of longing is a great gift to us. For it speaks of a truth about who God is – the one that longs to bring in the kingdom of healing and flourishing – and it speaks of another truth – that this God who longs for this time of healing, longs that we hear of this – we hear the whisper of the possibility of this. God wishes to give us hope.
Jesus teaches a lot about the kingdom of God, about it being with us and yet not being with us, about the truth of it and the presence of it, and about his role in bringing in that kingdom. Jesus often teaches about the kingdom by telling parables. My favourite image for the kingdom that Jesus gives in a parable is that of a seed.
In this first Sunday of the new liturgical year, the year of Luke, we will hear from that gospel, chapter 13.
‘What is the kingdom of God like?’ Jesus says to a crowd of people who have just seen him heal a crippled woman on a Sabbath day. ‘And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’ (Luke 13:18-19)
The kingdom of heaven is like a seed. Imagine the ground with a seed in it. The seed is hidden, certainly, and from the place we might inhabit, standing on the earth, we cannot see it. But imagine we know the seed is there. And, then, imagine the ground with no seed in it. Feel the difference. That is the feeling of Advent. Faith that the seed is there and will grow. Faith in Jesus’ parable that hints at this truth. Faith in voice of God, spoken through the prophets.
What do we do in Advent, this Advent? How do we respond to this God given, God nurtured gift of hope? What might we do, as, on this first Sunday in December, we can almost feel the busyness of the end of the year clutching at us, threatening to overtake all of us? What might we do?
In the strange passage that we heard this morning from the 21st Chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells another parable:
‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.’ (Luke 21:29-31)
Look at the fig tree and see the changes as the tree grows. Look. And notice the slow growth as the days go by. Be alert, he says. Look, keep watch, be alert.
We are not alone in this. Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians says that God will strengthen our hearts in holiness, prays that God will strengthen our hearts in holiness. (3:13) We are not alone in this watching, praying, waiting. The paradox is always with us – that the God for whom we wait is with us, nurturing our prayer of waiting. Nurturing our reflection on the parables, the images, the words of the prophets that open our eyes to the truth of God, the hope of the kingdom.
One way of praying, of being strengthened in holiness, if you like, is to sit, to keep watch almost like the ones who love seeing birds keep watch. The poet Ann Lewin portrays prayer like this:
Prayer is like watching for the Kingfisher.
All you can do is be there where he is like to appear, and Wait.
Often nothing happens;
There is space, silence and expectancy.
No visible signs, only the knowledge that he’s been there
And may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared
But when you’ve almost stopped
Expecting it, a flash of brightness
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter this wise poet says … it is almost as if the praying, the waiting, is so woven into the kingdom that once we have learnt the way of it, settled into the life of it, the kingdom is with us. But every now and then we are given encouragement the poet says. We do see something, a flash of brightness, a sense of presence, a hint that our wait has been about seeing. Seeing something that we are almost sure is of God.
I wonder if in our cathedral over the past two years we have not been given our own parable, our own God image, our own story of waiting. Well over two years ago, our cathedral organ was pronounced unfit to play. And we have waited and hoped and worked, our councils and committees have consulted and made decisions, we have rearranged the places of our liturgies from moving to St John’s Halifax Street for three weeks to moving into the CP Hall for three months, several members of our community have generously given their skills and an enormous amount of their time to project manage the restoration of our organ and the fund raising for that restoration. Our cathedral has been awash with scaffolding and our building has been closed for a lot more time that we would like it to be closed. We have worked and raised money and we have prayed. And we have treasured, in our midst, the presence of the organ builders from Harrisons and Harrisons, marvelling at their great skill, their vocation for their work. And in this story, in our own kingdom parable, if you like, this evening, we will hear our organ for the first time, the first chords will be played, our organ will have come home. And we will know what it is to sing and listen, to worship and to keep company with God’s most precious gift of music in this our spiritual home. We will be thriving here and we hope that our open door will now welcome in many more, who may not come searching so much for God as for music, but will find here a whisper of the voice of God through the glorious music of our fully restored cathedral organ. Yes, we have our own kingdom parable here.
For the words of the prophet are clear and the images of Jesus’ parables are clear and the promise of God is loud and strong. God is promising that God’s kingdom will come. So as we gather this evening to hear our cathedral organ sound out its first chords, may we know here, may we hear in the glorious music, the truth for which that music was composed, the truth for which this organ was built and has now been restored … that the days are surely coming, … the days are coming, coming … when God’s kingdom will burst into view and God’s creation will be like a flourishing plant and we and all people will know ourselves forgiven and loved and at home in the life and story of God.
 Ann Lewin: quoted in Lost in Wonder by Esther de Waal p139