Romans 15: 4-13
Matthew 11: 2-11
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Advent is a time of waiting! Waiting requires patience!
When I was a small boy, growing up in Cornwall, I wasn’t famous for my patience. Not unlike most small boys I suspect, but on days when the weather was so bad that I couldn’t go to the beach, or when the sea was so rough that I wasn’t allowed to go swimming, I would drive my mother and grandmother to distraction with my lack of patience. But now looking back I can see that my grandmother wasn’t very good a patience either, because she soon ran out of it where I was concerned, and it was probably from her that I inherited my lack of patience in the first place. She was fond of putting me in my place by spitting a little poem at me which went something like this:
Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can;
Seldom found in women, never found in man!
In spite of my grandmother’s best efforts it has taken most of my life to overcome my impatience. She would often tell me that what I was waiting for would happen in good time. She may not have known it but that is a corruption of the phrase of ‘waiting for things to happen in Gods time’, and it was God, not my grandmother, who finally taught me to be patient. Patience is a grace that only God can give and it comes when we learn to hope, that hope that comes from the word of God. Waiting requires patience, but to have patience we also need to have hope, that hope that the thing we are waiting for is worth the wait. Patience and hope are two sides of the same coin, you can’t have one without the other.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who wrote the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, translated most of the Collects from the Latin Missal. But on the Second Sunday of Advent, he wrote an entirely new prayer, based on the reading of the day, which we heard earlier in the letter to the Romans. Sadly, it is rarely used today in this context and has been moved to a different time. But I make no apology in reading it to you because I think it is as pertinent today as the day it was written and it goes like this:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holly Scripture to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Thy Holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which Thou has given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
The same message of hope drawn from the promises of Scripture is in Psalm 40, that we also heard tonight; you may have also heard the beautiful setting of these words from Mendelssohn’s Elijah:
I waited patiently for the Lord
he inclined to me and heard me cry …
In the scroll of the book it is written of me
that I should do your will, O my God.
Sadly, most of us encounter ‘God’s own time’ in what we see as unanswered prayers. Have you ever prayed desperately, asking for something you really need, and nothing happened? You didn’t get the healing, or the job or the thing you really wanted, did you begin to ask yourself, ‘What is all this that the Bible says about God answering prayer?’ But the Bible nowhere promises that God’s answer to prayer will be immediate. He may not be ready yet, but ‘God’s own time’ is best. God may know that what you have asked for you are not yet ready to receive. God always answers prayer; the answer may be yes; or no, because what you have asked for may not be what is best for you at the time, but the answer will come in ‘God’s own time’, have patience and wait.
Advent is the season of waiting. We wait for Christmas, when we were young it seemed it would never come. Just think for a moment of all those people in the Old Testament who waited all their lives for the coming of the Messiah, and died without seeing that first Christmas morning. Think of Simeon, the old priest who blessed the baby Jesus in the Temple, and of Anna the prophetess, who both spent all their lives waiting for God to show mercy to His people, and who recognised in this wee baby the answer to their prayers. Who are we to complain then, if God’s answer to our prayers seems a long time coming? We must learn patience.
We wait for God to intervene in all our lives. God promised us justice; why does he allow all the injustices we encounter in the world? God promised guidance; why does He allow us to flounder for so long in a mire of doubt and indecisiveness? God promised healing; so why do so many people fall sick and die unhealed? To all these questions, God answers, ‘Wait’. Wait patiently, and wait in hope. God will intervene, when he is ready; it may not be in the way you asked Him to, and if you are impatient, you may not hear or recognise God at work when He comes to you. But if you are ready for the ‘God of surprises’ to do the thing you least expected, and you are willing to co-operate with Him when He calls you to, there is no limit to the good things you and God may be able to do together. Then, if what you specifically asked for does not actually happen in this life, but you have waited in faith, hope and love, God will surely come to you in the next life, and reward your patience. Eternal life will be so wonderful; it will completely over shadow your temporary disappointments. Don’t give in to impatience; believe that the Lord you are waiting for will come to you in ‘God’s own time’. Then at last all our hopes will be fulfilled in heaven, where:
‘Faith will vanish into sight, Hope be emptied in delight’