It’s already a cliche to announce one’s love of the John lewis advert, but who cares? For once, an ad company got it spot on. (If you haven’t seen it, then the above picture is a link to the ad.) The only thing that gives it away as fantasy is that the boy, who is so excited he attempts to stop time with a magic wand, doesn’t wake up on Christmas morning until 8:00. Now, if they can fulfill that promise…
Waiting is what we do, though, at this time of year. In the Church, we literally count our way through Advent , Sunday by Sunday, until we reach that wonderful night of Christmas Eve, when we stay awake though midnight to welcome the birth of the promised one, to sing with the angels of his welcomed birth.
Which leads me to the question: What are you like at waiting?
Are you like the John Lewis boy, and find waiting to be tiring, something that leaves you restless and unable to think of anything other than the feeling that this time will never end? You make yourself busy, you pace up and down, you bite your fingernails, do anything to take your mind off the fact that you’re waiting.
Or are you the complete opposite, the very model of patience? The kind of person who is energised by waiting – because the thought of what is to come is that which keeps you going. The waiting allows you to appreciate that which is to come. Of course, the problem is, that you may become a little detached from the promise.
Most of us, I imagine, live between these two extremes.
At times like this the role of the Church is as a holding place. Actually, that’s the role of the Church at any time of waiting; whether awaiting the birth of the Christ child, or any child; whether waiting for that longed-for good news, or confirmation of what is feared. The role of the church is as a holding place for those in a hurry and those who don’t want to know, and in holding us the church reminds us of hope; hope which, when encountered, warms our apathy and cools our panic.
And let’s be clear: this hope is no child’s play. Hope is not something we grow out of or get over.
Hope is the needle that continually bursts those bubbles we love to construct for ourselves, in which the world is so much more predictable. The New Atheists have got it quite wrong: it is not a world of faith that is easy to live in, but a world devoid of a future that’s easy, allowing us to do what we will with a place that is altogether doomed. When we live in a place with no way out of its own mess, with a tomorrow that will be at least as bad as today, then we are free to speed it along its way, and grab what we can whilst we can. That is a hopeless vision of the world.
Hope is the wisdom which bursts that false pessimism. Hope pushes us to dream and see, not only a good future, but a better present. Christian hope insists that there is a future for which we all wait; and such hope inspires us to seek to share fragments of the future in the here and now. It is pessimism that provides escape from reality and responsibility; Christian hope, however, urges us to face whatever is to come in the light of Christ’s coming, and be inspired to live in the light of such a vision.
This is no false hope; this hope can take our ridiculous optimism, our childish excitement, our fearful silence and our frustrated rants. Hope, real hope, isn’t about me and what I want out of life. Christian hope is much larger and, quite frankly, more hopeful than the self-centered optimism that often passes for populist visions of the future. Hope, this hope, is so powerful that it calls our values into question and invites us to be reconnected with that which is the source and flow of all things, which is nothing less than God’s own self.
Whether we are patient or impatient, and whatever it is we’re waiting for, the discipline of Advent is to try to see that in the darkest of seasons we are accompanied by the brightest of hopes.