A sermon for Advent Sunday 29th November 2020 Windsor Great Park
It is very good to be with you this morning. I am recording this homily in Salisbury (Cathedral). I moved from Windsor some five years ago to be Principal of Sarum College in the Cathedral Close. From the windows of the college, I look out on the astonishing cathedral and its remarkable spire, celebrating its 8ooth anniversary this year. Friends jest that I must have done something very good in a previous life to have exchanged the glorious views of St George’s Windsor for the exquisite architecture of Salisbury Close. Of course, I miss St George’s – the physical space of the Chapel and Castle, and its community – and especially the Great Park.
When I think about Windsor, I often picture in my mind’s eye those mighty oak trees of the Park. The largest collection of ancient and veteran trees anywhere in northern Europe with many of them hundreds of years old. Solid, steady, rooted, reaching up, enduring and growing through the seasons and years. A living forest cathedral, one might say.
Today is Advent Sunday, when we are bidden by the Church to enter a time of preparation, of watchfulness, of waiting. Those great oaks are a picture of waiting patiently – enduring the changes and chances of nature, of this world and its fragilities. If you get a moment, stand and look at one of these triumphant oak trees; consider its life and growth, ponder its years of waiting.
I wonder how you wait and what you wait for? We wait for trains, for the postman, for our next holiday. Someone I met this past week is waiting for a hospital appointment, anxious about test results. Perhaps you are waiting to hear who you might see at Christmas, and where you will be permitted to celebrate it. And today, like many days in recent times, we wait for further news of Coronavirus and to hear more of both the devastating effect on our lives together with the extraordinary ingenuity of the scientists who bring hope with a vaccine.
In the Gospel Jesus bids us to wait expectantly for God’s kingdom – to be attentive, to be watchful, to keep awake. The French philosopher-theologian Simone Weil wrote, “…we do not obtain the most precious gifts by going out in search of them but by waiting for them”. Waiting expectantly requires our trust, our faith.
In an increasingly busy and hectic world in which communication is instant, the significance of trustful waiting on God increases. This Advent season – more than any other – invites us to wait with purpose. Waiting has its own spiritual value and dignity; it turns us towards God and to God’s will for us and for our world.
Our Saviour Christ’s own life was full of activity – teaching, healing, travelling – yet at its heart was the prayerful waiting on God his Father and upon God’s will for him. Christian faith shows us that our waiting on God is rooted in the soil of hope, watered and fed by daily worship and prayer. We trust that God – whose love and forgiveness will move from the cradle to the cross in the story of Jesus – continues to embrace us and all the world with astonishing generosity. Like Jesus, our hope is that God’s loving purposes will be fulfilled.
If those mighty oaks could speak, they might remind us that though very little is certain in life, yet for those whose roots are deep and whose endurance is courageous, there is the abiding presence of God to sustain and renew our lives. In these difficult days which have taught us the fragility of our human systems, we can see the deeper significance of life as an opportunity for the healing and cleansing of our souls. We stand with all creation, waiting in expectation for the fulfilment of God’s purposes in us and through us, longing for God’s extraordinary grace that has the power to renew us. The divine impulse is forever prompting us to trust in Him.
May we learn to wait and trust and hope during these days of Advent. Let us look for moments of transforming grace. We cannot direct God’s will, but we can prepare ourselves to be open to God’s grace. It might come as we light a candle in prayer, share a conversation with a friend, write a note of encouragement, or in a moment of silence holding up to God a troubled situation or someone in need.
May God bless you this Advent. Say hello to those mighty Oaks for me.
As we wait, may we be given hope to see further into the distance of God’s loving purpose for us in Christ.