Waiting is hard; ask any child (or adult) on Christmas Eve, which can feel like the longest night of the year. I’m not very good at waiting, identifying with my mother-in-law, who will often open a present on Christmas eve, ‘just in case…’.
Although we know and are reminded at Advent that Jesus is on the way, the ‘not yet’ of his return can be painful, especially as we look at the current world. Perhaps our waiting might be easier if we were to redefine it. I came across a recent quote by Leo Tolstoy, which offered some comfort:
Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.
As we often highlight, Advent is a time of waiting, but like Tolstoy, I am not sure that the waiting of Advent should be a completely passive activity. This year, I have been reading through ‘Music of eternity’, the Archbishop of York’s Advent book. The author speaks of Advent as ‘the music of eternity which awakens us to God’s eternal action around and within us; a coming alive to all that God has done and is doing.’ This ‘awakening’ leads to the natural response of worship and getting involved. As an activist, I like that last bit. It is, for me, a helpful reminder that our role is not simply a placid petitioner but a humble collaborator. You and I get the privilege to join in with what God is already doing. We are invited to cooperate with the Spirit’s work of cleansing, refreshing, healing, and repairing.
This Christmas, many of us will have the enormous privilege of sharing the gospel with those who are yet unfamiliar with the promise of God made perfect in the person of Jesus. Such responsibility does beg the question, ‘what do we mean by the gospel’? I ask this with all honesty. Could there be a danger that we risk reducing it to purely personal salvation in our rush to share the gospel, escaping from this wicked world and going to a better place, called ‘heaven’? Yes, some of that is part of the gospel, but I have always understood the gospel to be so much more.
Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world; the point I am trying to make is this – unlike my artificial Christmas tree, God doesn’t throw the old world away and replace it with a new, better one. To quote NT Wright:
The God in whom we believe is the creator of the world, and He will one day put this world to rights. That solid belief is the bedrock of all Christian faith. God is not going to abolish the universe of space, time, and matter; He is going to renew it, restore it, fill it with new joy and purpose and delight, to take from it all that has corrupted it.
The good news of the gospel is that this renewed world has already begun; it began when Jesus rose from the dead, conquering sin and death, and all that has corrupted and defaced God’s lovely creation.
This means that the gospel we preach this Christmas is good news for our world; it’s good news for the environment. It challenges the injustice issues of marginality as well as addresses issues of personal sin. The gospel is good news for the hungry, the homeless, the least and the lonely – but only if we move from passive waiting and instead become ‘humble collaborators’ who each play an active part in bringing the kingdom closer and closer.
The miracle we celebrate at Christmas is that the incarnation saves the world. My favourite bible verse is the Message paraphrase of John 1:14; “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.” I believe the call on each of us as followers of the way is to go and do likewise; to become humble collaborators, who dwell incarnationally in our communities, spotting the signs of the kingdom and then go and join in.
CEO, Rural Ministries