The third of Della Smith's Advent reflections confronts a world in which God seems to have been forgotten
"BE PAT1EN7; BROTHERS, UNTIL the Lord's coming. Think of a farmer: how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains! You too have w be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord's coming will be soon. Do not make complaints against one another, brothers, so as not to be brought to judgemen t yourselves; the judge is already to be seen waiting at the gates. For your example, brothers, in submitting with patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord." games 5: 710)
TODAY THE THEME of Advent changes: the time of re-awakening and preparation now gives way to a new atmosphere of joy and expectancy: "The Lord's coming will be soon!" We can begin to anticipate the joy of this coming: "I have come that you might have life in all its fulness."
Yes, indeed, but the wisdom of today's reading is that while it points us towards the reality of Christ's coming, at the same time it urges on us another kind of reality, one that is very relevant to the world we find ourselves living in: patience. Anyone observing small children at the time of the year recognises the wonder and bubbling excitement welling up, centred on a story in Scripture of a baby born in a manger. Older children may have gifts in mind, but the little ones are fascinated with the Christmas story, singing it, enacting it, counting the days. The joy of their anticipation is patently real.
But what of us? How do we approach the celebration when we switch on the nine o'clock news and observe the state of the world 2000 years on? What we see so often is darkness and confusion. I well remember the singers Simon and Garfunkel at the Albert Hall encapsulating the problem in a song: as they sang Silent Night (more beautifully than I'd ever heard it sung) they actually had a BBC newsreader giving out a news bulletin in the background: the contrast was stunning. How do we reconcile this paradox of experiencing the peaceful calm of that silent holy night with the violence and turmoil that surrounds us?
The answer must lie in our belief not the fairweather, head-in-the-sand variety, but a belief that squarely faces the reality of what happens in a world that has forgotten God. We must not run from the problem, but respond to it. James exhorts us to learn from the prophets, the faithful remnant, who could not make the people listen to the word of God but proclaimed it nevertheless. They said the Messiah would come to save the world and He did! And He Himself told us that His kingdom would be like a seed planted in the ground, growing in the dark, unseen but growing. It would begin as a mustard seed, but in the end it would grow bigger than any other tree so that the birds of the air could shelter in its branches.
So be patient and trust, says James, and wait for the precious fruits. Spring, in the Bible, is often a symbol of salvation; but before we can enjoy the blossom we must wait for autumn and winter to pass. Then we will hear the voice of the Lord, as in the Song of Solomon: "Come... for see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad joys has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance"(2:11-13).
Let us also remember that Jesus comes to us, in the words of the carol, in the midst of the bleak midwinter in humility and poverty, in suffering and rejection but also ultimately in triumph and victory. To his disciples he said "You will have trouble in the world, but do not be afraid, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). So as we contemplate the winter landscape of a troubled world, let us not forget that the battle is won, the kingdom is established and is within each of us.
Therefore we must be prepared to let it grow in us: we must grow in faith and accept the full challenges of a deeper conversion, as we patiently await with joyful hope the coming of our Saviour. A Feast* Advent, (Bible Reading Fellowship), ,C18.99.