An Advent Story
Mark 13. 24-37
Isaiah 64. 1-9
A monk comes to his Abbot seeking teaching. He questions the Abbot eagerly and impatiently, firing questions at him. But the Abbot says ‘Just look.’ The monk is very disappointed. ‘I’m always looking,’ he says sulkily. ‘No, you’re not,’ says the Abbot. ‘In order to look at what is here, you have to be here, and you are mostly somewhere else.’ This is an ancient story from the rule of St. Benedict.
Advent is a time to start preparing to meet God, and most of the readings suggest that this is, at best, a sobering prospect and, at worst, a positively terrifying one. So it is very tempting to feel that we ought to be very busy, so that God will notice and be pleased. Probably for most of us it actually is a very busy time, whether we want it to be or not, and the readings this morning just add to a general feeling of anxiety. There is something scary coming and we’re not quite sure what to do about it. Our instinct is to imitate Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army and run around shouting ‘Don’t Panic!’ I am sure that was the reaction from Jesus' disciples as they listed to his description of the coming of the Son of Man. Who is the Son? They suspect it is Jesus but they would have felt better if he had said as much. They begin to worry – are we among the elect or not? When Jesus gets to the practical advice it is very much like the Abbot at the beginning of the sermon.
Look, keep awake, be prepared. Jesus does not recommend any type of business, just watchfulness. It is not easy. It is far easier to see places where God is not rather than where he is. The people in the reading from Isaiah have come to see the world as empty of God. He has withdrawn from them, they complain. This is all God’s fault. If only he would rain down fire, and make the mountains shake with awe, then of course people would serve him gladly. ‘Lets-be-having-you’ they shout. Then they realise that God has not hidden himself from them but they had been too busy looking somewhere else, looking at everything but God.
It was Advent and Peter waited for God to come. He prayed every day. ‘God show me your face.’ Peter had tried to live a good life, and now he was an old man and longing for God to come. He still worked in the paper shop where he had worked for most of his life. Here he heard all sorts of conversations and met many people.
A single mum was telling a friend how she did not have enough money to buy presents for her child. When everyone else had gone, Peter said to her. ‘I heard what you said to your friend. I have a few toys on the shelves; they are not selling very well, go and pick anything you would like.’ She could hardly believe it for there were some wonderful things on the shelves. As she went away with her arms full, Peter was delighted. His reward was her smile.
Later that day, he caught a young lad stealing a magazine from the shelves. He was on the way out with the magazine up his jumper when Peter stopped him. He could have called the police or told the boy’s parents, but he saw the boy was poor and afraid and he felt sorry for him. ‘If you want a magazine and have no money, talk to me’ Peter said. ‘Magazines are soon out of date; I can always find one to give to you, but you must not just help yourself. Now take the magazine for free this time and remember to ask me in the future.’
The boy’s face changed from fear to a beaming smile, and he said thank you and ran from the shop.
An old man came into the shop and was saying how lonely he was since his wife died. This was going to a lonely Christmas. Peter said, ‘we always prepare for a friend at Christmas would you like to come?’ The old man smiled and said, ‘you have made me feel wanted. I would love to come.’
That night Peter prayed his Advent prayer, ‘God show me your face.’ In a dream God spoke to him and said. ’Peter today I came to you, and three times you made me smile. Grace and peace be upon you.’
We have been left in charge of this world, and we are accountable to God. He comes to see how we are dealing with his world. So we need to keep alert, keep watching so that we may be aware of his coming.
I leave you with a quote from Leo Tolstoy:
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”