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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon

30th November 2008

Fr David Shepherd

Advent I

The sermon begins with the poem ‘Kneeling’ by RS Thomas. The last line of which is The meaning is in the waiting.

It’s a fact of life that we spend much of our time waiting. I forever seem to be waiting for the children to get ready in the morning or to come out of school. Then there is the waiting in traffic or waiting for a train. As a priest it falls on me to wait for the bride or for that last christening guest stuck in traffic, even one occasion for a late funeral.

What is called for is patience – the problem is that as we get older we get grumpier & less patient. Underneath is that we don’t see waiting in a positive light – not in our society of instant gratification that if wants something wants it now.

Advent is the Church’s season of waiting. We recall the O.T. waiting for the coming of the messiah and Mary’s waiting for the birth of Jesus. We are also reminded of the early church’s waiting for the return of Jesus and the fact that we still await it – the eschaton, the end of the age when God will make all things new in Christ. This Jesus spoke of to his disciples in today’s gospel from St. Mark.

We also read of Isaiah’s impatience with God’s apparent failure to act – O that you would tear open the heavens and come down. The same impatience was present in the early church – it is reflected in Paul’s treatment of the end time in his epistles.

Advent is the time for waiting. As Christians we are called on to see waiting as a positive spiritual attribute. It is this that RS Thomas explores in his poem. The waiting for a word is more significant than the word spoken, be it the words of the liturgy, the words of prayer or the words of the preacher. The meaning comes in the waiting.

The Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk has described the ingredients of the writer’s craft as boredom, real life and imagination. Before he can write he has to cultivate a sense of boredom before locking himself in his room with his imagination and life experience for ten hours a day. Only then does a novel come.

It seems to me that boredom, real life and imagination are also good ingredients for the life of prayer and of Christian spirituality. Something we might see as hard and negative actually becomes a means of grace and growth.

It is a grace but it can also be learnt in the school of life experience, it can be learnt on the Christian pilgrimage. Perhaps you know Jack London’s book the Call of the Wild. It is about a dog called Buck returning from Californian domesticity to the wild of the arctic. It is also a metaphor for human life. At one point in the story two men and a woman commandeer a dog team and sledge. They overload and work the dogs too hard before finally disappearing through the ice for failing the heed the advice that it was unsafe to continue. Jack London wrote; ‘The wonderful patience of the trail which comes to men who toil hard and suffer sore, and remain sweet of speech and kindly did not come easily to these two men and the woman.’

Nor does it to us, that patience of the trail but what a wonderful description of the spiritual characteristics of the Christian life.

Advent then is a school of patient waiting on the Lord as we await his coming. Our post communion can serve as the school prayer.

O Lord our God, make us watchful and keep us faithful as we await the coming of your Son our Lord; that, when he shall appear, he may not find us sleeping in sin, but active in his service, and joyful in praise, through Jesus Christ our Lord.


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Comments about this site or problems? Contact Webmaster (Colin Richards) at Last updated 28/11/2008 18:30 Author: David Shepherd