Ready and waiting: this is one of the themes of Advent. The Advent wreath has four candles and we light one each week waiting and anticipating the day when the light of Christ is lit on Christmas eve. Some say the four candles represent the four hundred years from the prophet Malachi until the birth of Christ. Did the people of Israel begin to think the Messiah was never coming, that the day of the Lord foretold in Malachi was not going to happen? They waited four hundred years. Here we are two thousand years and we are still waiting for the return of Christ.
Our reading from Romans (ch.13:11-14) reminds us that our salvation is nearer to us than when we first began. Matthew (ch.24:36-44) writes, ‘you also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’. Are we reading and waiting?
You all know what it is like to wait. Ever waited for someone to arrive, like the repairman who says they will come between 2 and 6pm. You make sure you are home. At 2pm you wonder if the door bell will ring or a knock will come. You kind of know that you should not expect them; you know they usually come towards the late side of the time slot. But you anticipate and wonder and hope that they might come at 2pm. Then you get on with things, chores, cleaning, whatever. Your ear is alert for that knock at the door, that bell ringing. You do not go too far away just in case you don’t hear. As it nears 3pm and 4pm you look out the window to see if the van is in sight. After 4.30pm, you just get on with things and hope you hear the door if they arrive; your waiting is not active but very passive, thinking they might still come, but never mind. At 6pm you wander near the door and wonder where they are and sit in chair expecting to hear them any minute. They must be coming now. But it passes and it goes on to 6.15 and 6.30. By now you are pretty certain they are not coming and you decide, oh bother, never mind. I’ll ring tomorrow and find out what happened. It gets to 7pm and by now you are certain they are not coming and you are preparing the meal you delayed. Then the bell rings. Were you ready and waiting?
We speak of the Christian life as a journey. For most of us that journey begins at our baptism as a child, for others at a moment of what we call conversion or coming to faith. For many of us, we grow up in a Christian home and the Christian faith is simply part of our lives. Oh in our teenage and young adult years we may have not gone to church much. But then after getting married or when the first child arrived and you had them baptised you went back to church more regularly. For others, faith came as a kind of surprise and grabbed hold of you in later years, as a teenager or at university or older. For all of us there is a time frame of some kind in which we began our Christian journey. But the question comes, are you ready and waiting? What does that mean to each of us?
Theologians speak of the three stages of salvation: justification, sanctification and glorification. Justification is that time frame in which we come to faith, be it at our baptism and Sunday school or later as some point of conversion or confession of faith. Sanctification, the second stage, is that process whereby we seek to live out our faith and grow in our discipleship. The evidence is a transformed life. Glorification is when our salvation is complete, often related to our death when we are united with Christ or at the end of time when Christ comes again and establishes the new heaven and the new earth.
Right now we are all in the phase of sanctification, awaiting our glorification. Are we ready and waiting? It is easy to get passive and nonchalant. But to be ready and waiting is to be active in our anticipation, to deepen our Christian faith and life. So Paul writes to the Romans to confront any passivity, ‘wake from sleep, lay aside the works of darkness, put on the armour of light’. He reminds them that they should not let their lives be marked by sinful acts and to not gratify fleshly desires.
Our sanctification is a process of becoming more holy. Now all of us are fleshly. We need to eat and sleep. We are all sexual beings. We all are meant to enjoy life and the gifts of this life, like a good bottle of wine. So what makes a life sanctified? It is a life that is not marked by excess; it is not being captive to our fleshly needs and desires. It is life that seeks what is good and holy and pure. What do you think that means for you?
In that way, in pursuing a life that is marked a balanced, holy life; that is marked by the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—we show ourselves to be ready and waiting. Hear again the call to sanctification, the call to be ready and waiting from St Paul: Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.