SERMON: The faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

SERMON: The faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

The faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley

by Andrew McKearney on 16 December 2018

Advent as a season of the church’s year is something of an acquired taste – I think you grow to appreciate it – but it takes a while!

Initially it seems to be about ‘getting ready for Christmas’, counting down the days and weeks and making sure we get everything done in time – we all know just how much there is to be done!

But that’s not all there is to Advent!

When we come to church during Advent, and if at home we use devotional resources during the week, these are not simply preparing our minds and hearts for Christmas.

Advent takes us somewhere slightly different, somewhere of course in which the birth of Christ and the feast of Christmas have a central place, but within a much bigger context that Advent sets for us.

So what might this bigger context be?

The tradition of the church offers us a clue! The themes that used to be preached on the four Sundays of Advent were Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – the ‘four last things’ as they were called.

And what they clearly do is take us beyond merely ‘getting ready for Christmas’ to, if you like, the ultimate questions in our lives.

And that’s where Advent invites us to go.

The English poet T.S. Elliot didn’t write about the ‘four last things’ but instead wrote his ‘Four Quartets’! In the second of these Four Quartets, East Coker, T.S. Elliot wrote this in the third section:

‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.’

They’re good words for us to reflect on with our political life in deadlock.

‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.’

Faith, love and hope are the core values by which we live our lives as Christians. The spiritual tradition of the Church refers to them as ‘theological virtues’ because they are given to us by God to be the foundation stones for our spiritual lives. We seek to live by faith, to walk in hope and be renewed in love.

We’ll recognise these as coming from St Paul, from thegreat 13th chapter of his first letter to the church in Corinth – you may have heard it read at a wedding, perhaps your own!

There St Paul famously begins:

‘If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.’

And he concludes just as famously:

‘There are three things that last for ever: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.’

The season of Advent asks, ‘Are we people of hope?’

In religious art, hope is depicted as an anchor, because elsewhere in scripture hope is referred to:

‘as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure’.

(Hebrews 6.19)

And as an anchor does for a boat, so hope does for us – it holds us steady. There’s a self-discipline instilled in us if we are people of hope – St Paul refers to it as ‘steadfastness’.

Some of you will remember that Moody and Sankey hymn:

‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,

when the clouds unfold their wings of strife?

When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,

will your anchor drift or firm remain?’

You get the idea! It’s Dr Seuss in the form of a hymn!

Hope gives us a steadfastness in the face of adversity.

How else can that letter to the Philippians that we had read this morning speak with such confidence? Remember that Saint Paul almost certainly wrote this letter to the Philippians when he was in prison awaiting trial!

From prison he writes:

​‘Do not worry about anything, but in everything by

prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your

requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’

It’s astonishing!

God invites us to be people of hope – it’s one of the three foundation stones for our lives alongside faith and love.

And it’s a golden thread that runs through Advent.

‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faithBut the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.’