20 ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; 22 for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfilment of all that is written. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; 24 they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
It can be easy to see this season of Advent and waiting as a cosy, womb like space from which joy erupts at Christmas, like a butterfly out of a chrysalis. We are indeed preparing to receive the Christ Child again as we look forward to celebrate – as we do every year – this mysterious event which took place over two millennia ago and which transformed the course of history and the face of the world.
And yet, the Advent we are experiencing this year is nothing like ones we have experienced before – unless, that is, you were born and lived in a part of the world where life has not been as comfortable and sheltered as it is for us here in the global West.
We are progressing through our Advent like we have been progressing through the year, on figurative tip toes, not knowing what to expect, not knowing what the news will bring us, and yet continuing to move forward, in hope that something will break through the darkness, that the vaccine will work, that all this will become simply a bad dream, that light will shine again.
But it is a journey that remains uncertain, even in the context and security of our community of faith – as in the experience of online violence we shared yesterday during our morning Sung Eucharist, on Zoom and at the Cathedral, when our event was crashed by people full of hate and intent on causing distress. Hurtful racist and homophobic abuse was shouted, and some of us felt under personal attack for who we were. Is that what this season of watching and waiting should be like, even as we prepare for the coming of the Light of the World?
The reality of this season of Advent of course is that preparation can sometimes be an act of violence, even for those who follow the Prince of Peace.
The apocalyptic portion of scripture from the Gospel of Luke set for us today does not talk about peace as we prepare to meet Christ at the end of days, but instead it likens the travails of preparation to those of childbirth – a constant, growing, uncontrollable pain which eventually is transcended in the joy of the new birth, in the joy of meeting the Cosmic Christ.
Today, we lick our wounds from yesterday’s encounter with the powers of darkness, but we are encouraged to pick ourselves up and to rejoin the journey, the wait, and make ready. Not with the promise that we will not encounter darkness again, as we surely will. But instead, with the promise that – as we make space for Christ in our hearts today – in the end, we too will enter into Christ’s nearer presence, as the fully and unconditionally beloved children of our loving heavenly father.
This season of Advent preparation is one in which we are invited to stop and wait, to we reflect and attend to our relationship with God. But it is also one in which we are invited to let God watch and wait on us.