Sermon preached at Eucharist on the First Sunday of Advent (2 December 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

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Sermon preached at Eucharist on the First Sunday of Advent (2 December 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

The Canon Pastor reflects on the meaning of longing as we enter the season of Advent. 

O Lord,                                                                                                                                 open our eyes to behold your presence. 
our ears to hear your voice. 
our hearts to receive your love.

Have you ever been in love and longed for the sight, the sound, the touch of your beloved?

Have you hoped for news – good news – of a baby’s arrival, of a hospital test, the decision of an interview panel?

Longing can be visceral, we can feel it deep within our body and it can permeate our all thoughts.

With the arrival of Advent we enter the season of longing and desire.

Christians are reminded during this season that we live between two advents. 

Advent meaning ‘the coming’. 

We live between the first, the past advent of the coming of Christ as a baby – whose birth we will celebrate in a few weeks. 

We also live as those who wait and long for a future Advent – a coming of God which will draw all our human longings together, when all will be put right. Counting down the days…

This sense of longing and fulfilment is gathered and focused in our opening and perhaps one of the best known Advent hymns, ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’. 

The words are a translation of a Latin text inspired by the O antiphons, a series of plainchant refrains sung at Vespers over the final days before Christmas.

The words, so wonderfully matched with that evocative tune which has been traced back to 15th century France, recall that God has intervened, has come and expresses longing that God will come again, come now, come soon.

Advent, this season of longing and crying out to God is a precious one, yet it is easily overrun. 

In the rush to the wonders of Christmas, the many bright lights and shopping offers each making loftier claims to be able to satisfy our desires. 

Yet Advent makes no such claim. Instead, Advent invites us to pay attention to that sense of deep longing that exists within every human heart.

In this season we are invited to be brave enough to listen for our truest desires and not to seek to fill them too soon, for fear that we will settle for what doesn’t truly address them.

Advent offers us a rare gift, if we dare to face into our sense of longing. For our longings show us what is important to us, what we value and maybe even our calling and God-given vocation. 

So I’m going to ask…if I could give you three wishes…

1. For what one thing does your heart long for the world right now: for stability, for an end to violence, for the care of creation, for the needs of the most vulnerable to be taken as seriously as the wealth or pleasure of the secure…How would you long for God to come in the world today …? 

And how might God use you as the answer to your own prayerful longing for transformation in the world.

2. For what one thing does your heart long for your family, friends or community; for the healing of broken relationships, for glad times together, the restoration of trust, for new opportunities…or something else…? How would you long for God to come to your family, your relationships, your community today?

And how might God use you as the answer to your own prayerful longing for transformation in your family or community?

3.    For what one thing do you long for in yourself and especially in your relationship with God? How would you long to meet with God today?

Longing recognises that there is more to come. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Christian Pastor who was martyred because of his opposition to Hitler’s Nazi regime, said that:

‘The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect and who look forward to something greater to come.’

This Advent knowing of ourselves comes through daring to take the journey inward, to contemplate our life and our life with God. Letting our longings surface that they might show us what is truly important to us – and in taking stock to ask what is truly important, full stop.

This Advent may we find time to give space to our longings and our dreams for as the writer Wendy M Wright has said: 

‘daring to dream what is deepest in our collective longings is what makes us most human and fully alive’.

May we also allow the Spirit of God to open us to be attentive to the longings, desires and hopes of others.

And if highlighting, as we are, Advent as the season of longing our eyes are directed towards the still distant yet stable in Bethlehem…

For Advent begins in the very heart of God – and the longing of God.

God who longed and ached for humanity in all our frailty and brokenness and who could not, would not, abandon us. God whose longing and love for this world, for you and I, is as strong today as it was 2,000 and more years ago when the Christ-child took his first breath.

Little wonder then that we are exhorted in the advent hymn to ‘Rejoice! Rejoice!’

Gracious God in you all our longings are gathered, refined and met,

Grant us sufficient disquiet to long and work for your coming kingdom,

Grant us to the peace and the joy of knowing that we are beloved of you.