Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent (7 December 2014) by The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor

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7:30am Morning Prayer - transferred to St Martin, Ludgate
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Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent (7 December 2014) by The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor

In the first of a special series of sermons entitled Advent: a world turned upside-down, The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley looks at Patience in a world of impatience.


I smell a rat. The four Canons here have each been given a sermon to preach in this Advent series and I have a feeling that it wasn’t the case that our names were just pulled randomly as to which theme we got. You see I’ve been given the sermon to be preached to “a world of impatience” and I suspect that my colleagues, though looking very holy up here at the moment, are tittering already at the thought. Let’s just say working together means we get to know each other pretty well and I’m not really known for my patience so, yes, I smell a rota rat. Mind you, just in case my colleagues get too smug this morning I also note that they have been singled out to speak to worlds of blaming, determination and self-promotion. I say nothing...

A world of impatience. Well, that’s what in many ways we are living in. We love the ‘quick fix’, the ‘fast-forward’, ‘on-demand’, ‘just add water’, the ‘take away’ and ‘on the go’. Politicians need results before the next election, the markets panic if businesses fail to serve up an instant action plan; websites are stuffed with ads promising fast solutions to every problem known to Google: a herbal remedy to reboot your sex life, a video to perfect your golf swing, an app to find Mr Right. If you’re into social protest you don’t stuff envelopes anymore or attend town halls you just click ‘Like’ or send a tweet.

Doctors under pressure pop out pills as quick as we can pop them in, the average Briton now apparently taking 40,000 of them in a lifetime according to one estimate. Spending money has become a quick fix, click! It’s on its way! Or let’s make it ‘contactless’ – interesting word that. The diet industry has turned the quick fix into an art form – a bikini body by next week and then the make-up that will make life’s wrinkles disappear in hours because ‘you’re worth it’. Treat yourself afterwards with a micro-waved meal for one.

In this world of impatience the quick fix whispers the same seductive promise of maximum return for minimum effort. The trouble is that equation doesn’t add up. In fact, we can’t even keep up with the speed we have created. Instead of making life easier, happier and more efficient it can all just exhaust us and leave us feeling that we are constantly behind trying to catch up but not sure with what. So, Hollywood thighs and Men’s Health abs beckon us from the magazine shelf while in reality waistlines are ballooning, largely due to impatient eating. And retail therapy, buying the latest Louis Vuitton bag may lift your mood for a short while but before long at midnight you’re back on line. And all those pills? Well, overdosing on legal pills is now a leading cause of accidental death in the US where the black market in hard-to-get medication has fuelled a sharp rise in armed robberies at pharmacies. We could go on – the impatient quick fix: throwing money at a failing school, sacking a manager after a football team has lost a few times, the immediate business downsize or financial short term obsession, and the easy quick scapegoating of a problem onto a vulnerable group. No effort. But no thought either.

The truth is, and we know it, that no quickly recorded song has ever solved in itself a global health problem. No impulse buy has ever turned round a life. You need more than drugs to heal a person. No box of chocolates has ever mended a broken relationship. No drone strike has ever killed off a terrorist group. It’s always more complicated. More time, thought, energy, discernment are always needed. That is, more patience.

Shakespeare pinpoints it: how poor are they who have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees? All the things that matter take time: relationships, trust, healing, faith, growth, wisdom, true clarity: not one of these comes quickly in a life. And they all involve living through difficulty, doubt, questions and confusion. There is never a quick fix in those things which make a life worth living - an Advent theme if ever there was one.

And the man we focus on today, John the Baptist, was a man who was patiently waiting. He’s a good patron saint for those of us learning to be human beings rather than human doings. But John was a man of urgency too – for justice - and for that he had a passionate impatience. Just like the man who preached from this pulpit 50 years ago yesterday, Martin Luther King Jr. He prayed he said that he would ‘be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice’. He knew that we can be tempted to prevaricate and call it patience. He was clear: ‘cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right?’ And although he had to be patient enough to know that he might not get to the promised land with his people, nevertheless there was only impatience fuelling him for what had to change. King was not willing to die for any quick fix but he was willing to sacrifice everything for his dream to become a reality. Like John the Baptist he had a patient impatience for the Kingdom of God.

So, Christians like me will always be striving to be more patient in daily life. Spiritually too we know that we are works in progress, that human words don’t solve problems rapidly, that there is nothing less self evident than the human self and we need to take time to understand ourselves better, other people more fairly, the world’s complexity more shrewdly and God more immensely and intimately. But we will always be patiently impatient for God’s kingdom to be done on earth as it is in God’s heart. Our patience will be nurtured not as avoidance but exactly the opposite - so that we will know the time and place to speak, to build, to reconcile, to counter what is evil and how to do these. As John knew, patience is simply preparing the way to turn the world upside down.