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Waiting in Hope

Fr John Reed, Advent Sunday, 3rd December, 2017

O that you would tear open the Heavens and come down.

The words of the prophet Isaiah plead with God from the heart of a despondent people, a people who have had their dreams shattered.  Returning from exile after a generation of having lived on stories and dreams of what Jerusalem was, before it was destroyed by the Babylonians and occupied.  They return to a much diminished Holy city. Where is the God of their ancestors, the God who Moses met on mount Sinia, who literally made the mountains quake when he communed with Moses.  The prophet pleads that God would come out from behind what obscures him from his people,  to tear or rend the heavens open.  It was a cataclysmic request if it took place in the way the prophet wanted the very known and accepted order of the world could never be the same.  Nuclear explosions would be miniscule in comparison.

It is a prayer that the suffering and those who are enmired in the view that things will never change or get better, know so well. From the exiles returning from Babylon, to the Jewish people experiencing the wrath of Rome in AD 64 when Jerusalem was destroyed, to numerous people who lives have been shattered in the wars and conflicts of this and the last century.  Nothing will change, where is God? only God can change this. We have no other help.  The meaning of Advent is we wait in hope and expectation that God does act and will. We hope for the coming of our Lord and Judge, as we prepare for the celebration of his first coming as a child in a manger. Advent means coming. It also means arriving. But to most of us coming is easier to comprehend than arriving.  And coming means waiting.

Samuel Beckett wrote a play called Waiting for Godot, I was introduced to it at University. Two men Vladimir and Estragon have long conversations while they wait for Godot to arrive. Some reviews of the play describe it as nothing happening twice, because Godot never arrives and the audience are left hanging in the air at the end.  The two men cannot and will not leave in case he arrives, and each is terrified of being left by their companion to wait on their own in case they miss him.

This play achieved a new fame in 1993. If you remember that time there was a civil war going on in Yugoslavia between Croats Serbs and Bosnians. And Sarajevo the former capital was under siege from guns mounted on the hills around it.  The people of the city a mixed population of Christians Jews and Muslims begged Susan Sontag a famous Broadway producer to come and put a play on in their war torn city.  The actors came and in the midst of powercuts, and possible bombardment that could cut short the performance at any time they rehearsed and played the first act of the waiting for Godot. As I explained before it is not a play that makes you laugh or gives you an answer. The grateful audience  braved the snipers and the shell fire and for a short time the promise of acting in their national theatre was reborn. And with it the promise of future performances in a free country after the war was over.  Susan Sontag talked of tears of joy in the audience.  The performance didn’t stop the war, it gave the people concrete hope of future performances in time of peace.

Christian hope is living in the present with all its failings and fears.  It is recognising the reality of sin in our lives and in our society and world.  But it is also like Susan Sontag and her fellow actors in the middle of this worlds mess and muddle saying to ourselves, our society and those around us it does not have to be this way.  That is the way of the disciple.

We wait in hope, knowing that the God who arrived in the manger at Christmas does act and can literally tear open the heavens.  And as we wait we hear our Lords command to stay awake.  We need to be ready, as the Advent hymn says “let every heart prepare a throne and every voice a song.”  With the beginning of the celebrations of our Lords coming at Christmas that are all around us this morning, its important in Advent we “see the wood from the trees.” Christmas trees are pretty and enhance our celebrations of Jesus birth.  But Christmas leads on to good Friday and Easter and the wood of the cross brings forgiveness for all.  And that changes lives. God changes things that seem impossible.

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