What are we waiting for? In two weeks it will be the season of Advent. We will be starting a new church year. Advent is a period of waiting for Christmas; no doubt many of us have already got advent calendars, ready to start opening the windows, counting the days until we wake up on Christmas morning.
But as we approach the Advent season we don’t just look back two thousand years, to celebrate a birthday that has already happened, we also look forward, and we don’t know how long we must wait before the event that we look forward to will happen. The event sometimes called the last days, or the second coming, or judgement day; a very frightening concept.
According to Daniel chapter 12, St Michael, the archangel, will come to protect God’s people in a time of distress such as has not been seen from the beginning of nations. Last week we remembered the fallen in two world wars, and other smaller wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It is hard to imagine that the suffering and terror of those times could somehow not be as severe as that which we expect at the last days. In many places in the world we see people living in fear of persecution, in war zones, exploited and abused. Our television screens bring us countless examples of the suffering caused by people whose opinions and attitudes towards other groups of people are so entrenched that they use violence, without thought for the cost to themselves or to their antagonists, to ensure they get their own way. We may be forgiven for thinking that the last days are fast approaching, and maybe they are. But Jesus warns us against such hasty conclusions. ‘When you hear of wars and rumours of wars do not be alarmed, such things must happen but the end is yet to come’.
In both Daniel and the psalms we are reminded of the joy that we will experience as followers of Christ, our names ‘in the book’ we will rise to everlasting life. In our multicultural society it is uncomfortable to read verse 4 of Psalm 16, ’The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.’ My impression here is that we must appreciate that the world’s great faiths are all engaged in a search for God, and have just taken different paths. We cannot be arrogant in assuming that their faith in God is any less sincere. As great faiths we must learn from each other and recognise the common ground we have. The temple, the cathedral, the mosque, the synagogue as buildings stand as reminders of our differences, but maybe, like the temple in Jerusalem, these differences will not stand. The ‘other gods’, with a small G, mentioned in this verse, to me are distractions such as celebrity, riches, power, greed, profit and the pursuit of pleasure; the list could go on. A motive is something that motivates us to do something. When motives are strong, actions are strong. If the will of God is our motive we will be strong in creating the happiness talked about in the psalms. If any other of these lesser ‘gods’ is our motive, then we contribute to the increase of chaos and suffering. If we’re not part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem.
As followers of the God of Love, and a common belief in many faiths is that God is Love, we are encouraged to work for his kingdom. Paul calls us to draw near to God and to live in hope. But also he exhorts us to consider ways in which we can support each other in the faith. We should never stop meeting together, he says, it is so easy for us even to abandon other Christians because we don’t hold with their churchmanship, but in doing so we cut ourselves off from encouragement, and neglect our own responsibility to encourage others. The world needs God’s will, to motivate all people to turn away from the causes of suffering and support each other in building a new kingdom, God’s kingdom, on foundations of love and understanding. God needs his people to work together to bring this about. We are those people. What are we waiting for?