“Your face, Lord, I will seek….”
I’ve been thinking about the Psalmist’s anticipation of seeing the face of God, and how unexpected it would be for the unveiling of this face to be that of a baby’s.
In a slightly different vein, in the poem “The Glance”, the renaissance poet George Herbert meditates on the idea of God looking at him. The first verse speaks of his first experience of knowing God’s gracious eyes looking at him in his youth, causing an overflowing sense of delight. In the last verse, he anticipates what is to come in heaven, when we can fully see his face, and fully know his love:
“…If thy first glance so powerful be
A mirth opened up and sealed again;
What wonders shall we feel, when we shall see
Thy full-eyed love!
When thou shalt look us out of pain…”
The contemporary poet Malcolm Guite has done a lovely recording of the full poem here, if you’d like to listen.
Where were you when this sun rose over the world?
It is a sunrise that I will never forget. Having been celebrating the arrival of the new Millennium with family and friends the evening before, I set my alarm early and crept out of the house before anyone else awoke. I sat in the garden with our family dog and watched the dawn of a new year, a new century and a new Millennium light up the rolling Worcestershire landscape around me.
This dawn had been so long anticipated. Everyone had been talking about it! We had been waiting and waiting for it to finally arrive. What would the new Millennium bring for our world?
At the start of the New Testament the Israelites were waiting for their Messiah. There had been 400 years of long silence since the last Old Testament prophet. I imagine that many Israelites had given up anticipating that the Messiah would ever come and yet suddenly a group of shepherds found their sky lit up with the announcement of his arrival!
It is has now been 2015 years since the birth of Christ. More than two long Millennia. But let us not lose our sense of anticipation!
During this season of Advent let us praise God for sending his son Jesus into the world as a baby and let us eagerly anticipate when Christ will come again in glory.
*Disclaimer – apologies to any members of the church who were too young to remember this new year!*
“Mission: to be where I am.
Even in that ridiculous, deadly serious
role – I am the place
Where creation is working itself out.
Daybreak, the sparse tree trunks
are coloured now, the frostbitten
spring flowers form a silent search party
for someone who has vanished in the dark.
But to be where I am. And to wait.
I am anxious, stubborn, confused.
Coming events, they’re here already!
I know it. They’re outside:
a murmuring crowd outside the gate.
They can pass only one by one.
They want in. Why? They’re coming
one by one. I am the turnstile.”
– Thomas Tranströmer
One of the times when I feel the greatest sense of anticipation is flying back into Heathrow. As I fly down the Thames, I try to spot all the key sights and see if I can identify my house. After a long haul flight all I want to do is get home, but the plane carries on flying west and I have to cope with the fact it will still be a couple of hours before I am properly home.
Just like Advent, there is no way that you can speed up the plane’s landing, but the view of London is a tantalising reminder of what is awaiting me once I am home.
“Jonathan, ready, go!” When Sarah takes him swimming and says those 3 simple words, Jonathan knows what is coming. He takes a breath and squeezes his eyes tightly shut in anticipation…and is promptly dunked underwater.
He didn’t always know what he was meant to do. It took Sarah a couple of months to teach him until, by the time he was about 6 months old, he had pretty much grasped it. Even now he doesn’t always get it right and comes out of the water spluttering and rubbing his eyes.
We can get it wrong too. In our culture, particularly in the run up to Christmas, it is easy to become impatient or distracted or focus on the wrong thing. Having a child has shown me, however, that anticipation is something that can be taught; something that can be learned.
Reflecting on the experience of anticipation in my life, I have found that those events have been defined by a longing,
The film, Shawshank Redemption, has some great quotes in it, but what it has to say on the theme of hope, gets me every time.
Please enjoy a minute and a half-ish of the ending of this great film and Red’s description of his feeling of hope and anticipation as a freeman with a future ahead of him.
“I find that I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head, I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at start of a long journey, whose conclusion is uncertain, I hope I can make it across the border, I hope to see my friend and shake his hand, I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams, I hope”
May this time of advent be a chance where we can reflect on our own journeys with Christ, even though the ‘conclusion is uncertain’, may we continue on in hope.
If you have time, pray this collect from the first Sunday in Advent, New Zealand Prayer Book as a prayer of hope to the One who has been, the One who is, and the One who is to come, pausing at the end of each line.
You are the way,
and the life.
You are the true vine
and the bread of life.
to your world
The anticipation of the birth of a baby is a unique and challenging one. Often having a baby can be a process that takes time – conceiving can be hard for a lot of people, and brings stress and worry as each month passes with no result. But then, once the pregnancy test shows positive, the elation at the thought of new life can sit alongside the worry and fear about how life will change once this new life begins.
But what do you do in those months between conception and delivery? The anticipation can be almost unbearable. On the one hand you have the excitement and you’re desperate to welcome the joy that will be that new addition to your family, and yet on the other you desperately try to hold onto the peace, the silence, the sleep and the ability to do whatever you want before your life is turned upside down in a most wonderfully terrifying way.
There also comes the fear of if you are enough – will you be a good enough parent? Will you be able to cope with the lack of sleep, the tears, the tantrums, the trauma of the birth? Is there anything at all you can do right now to make things easier when the baby arrives? Are you strong enough to cope? Will you love this child? Will that love be enough?
But what if you are expecting the child of the lord? I mean, you’ve been visited by an angel and you are now having a baby who is God’s actual son. Seriously. Think of the pressure you’d feel then – how do you anticipate the child who is to become the Messiah? How do you prepare yourself? Could anyone be a good enough parent to the baby Jesus? But God did not choose someone who had dealt with a million kids of their own already to have his son, he did not choose someone who was rich, he did not choose someone who was older or wiser. He chose a young girl and guy. Because he knew that they were enough. Just like he knows we are enough.
Here is a little reflection on The Wait. In case you don’t know us, the context is that Steve was quite ill over 2014/15 so we spent a long year doing what felt like nothing while we waited for a date for his heart operation. He is in good health now, but I think we did learn something from the wait…
We are a pair of activists, so sitting around for a year felt pointless. What was the point of being here if we weren’t doing anything?
I watched my energetic, happy, capable new husband slip into a semi-conscious state where a walk to the corner shop felt like a big achievement.
Our grand plans for Bringing The Gospel To The Bemerton were put on hold. The only moments of excitement in the year were the ambulance trips when his heart flipped out – 10 minutes of drama followed by more waiting in hospital.
We had to learn how to be together without any entertainment.
We had to learn how to love each other without any distractions.
We had to learn to be with God, to believe He was for us, when He didn’t appear to be doing anything about our situation.
Did we do any of this well? Well I can only speak for myself here, but the honest answer is no. I wallowed in self-pity. I got depressed, and I was angry with everyone, especially God. I internalised a lot of anxiety about not dealing with it well.
But we got through it.
And, hand on heart, I can say it was worth the wait.
Slowing down and living life at a pace we’d never imagined had its benefits. Steve heard clearly from God that he was being called to lead the church plant. And I learned that frenetic activity as a way to justify your existence is probably not healthy, or what God wants for any of us.
I see how we are now, how much softer, kinder, more patient, more trusting we are, and I think we’re better for it.
I feel nothing but gratitude when I look back. Please God, not again, but thank you for what you taught us in the wait. Even if I couldn’t see it at the time.
‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.’ – Isaiah 7:14
I always tend to anticipate things that are about to happen, where there’s a palpable sense of excitement. But what about those things that we anticipate that might not happen for a while (or indeed our lifetime)?
Isaiah was a prophet who began his ministry about 750 years before Jesus was born and didn’t see his prophesy come to fruition, but I am sure he anticipated, prayed and hoped for it every day.
That sort of anticipation, I think, is a parallel to hope – that longer-term anticipation we hold that has a transformative effect on us.
This is a time of year where the two come together: we are Isaiah with a vision of the the future;
we are the shepherds pausing the tending of our sheep to wait.
Anticipation is the act of preparation.
Preparing our minds, our hearts and souls, turning our thoughts a particular way, cultivating a certain expectation.
This is a good thing; it helps us to really ponder God and appreciate Him and what he has done for us.
But it’s also important to leave space to be surprised by God this advent. Often when we spend a long time looking forward to something, any deviation from the way we imagined it can be frustrating. That might be a missed train home. The oven breaking on Christmas Eve (this happened to us a few years ago). Or something worse, like an unexpected absence, or an argument you tried hard to avoid. God is with us in these things too, even if it’s not what we anticipated.
This is from a spoken worship poem, Blindness and Sight, by Gerard Kelly:
When we claim to have foresight,
when in reality
even our first sight is short:
Father, open our eyes.
When we collide with one another
like bats with malfunctioning radar,
not even noticing
the damage we have done:
Father, open our eyes.
When we walk through your world
as if we ourselves
had made it
and fail to recognise
the fingerprints you leave:
Father, open our eyes.
When we are blind to your presence
in the eyes of the poor,
blind to the perfection
that lies visibly before us,
blind to your handiwork,
blind to your care,
blind to the signs
that you scatter all around us:
Father, heal our sight.
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples… Luke 12:1
We can feel in Luke’s words the anticipation, awe and excitement the crowds must have felt when waiting to see Jesus and hear his words…
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear Luke 12:22
Sometimes, when we anticipate seeing a loved one again after a long time apart, we feel a mix of happiness at what is to come, but also slight fear of the unknown. What will happen when I see my friend again?
But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12: 31-32
Jesus tells us not to be afraid, but to trust in God our Father. In this period of anticipation, let us rejoice in what is to come. Let us not worry about life’s unknowns; let us be comforted and warmed by the love of Christ.
Transcendence,Feel the future in the instant.New bornsPromise ancients
I always feel anticipation the most when sitting on a plane just before take off. There is the excitement and thrill of going to a new destination coupled with a tiny bit of fear of the unknown. The excitement for vacation or a visit to see family and friends along with a little bit of fear that something could go wrong!
In the days leading up to Christmas we feel the excitement of our savior’s arrival to earth and the thrill of knowing that he came to save us. In this time of Advent, there is no fear of the unknown, but joy and peace!
“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
I had been waiting for today for a long time. The youth work project I run in Wood Green was invited to speak to 6th Formers in the local Catholic school as a way to raise awareness and engage our target group of 16-25s. We had the backing of the head and the 6th Form lead, and we had the dates we could go in. But I didn’t feel ready. I thought and re-thought what I would say and ask, and how I could make the project sound appealing.
I have done assemblies before, but for primary aged children and secondary aged young people who attended a special school. I’d never done one for 6th Formers.
So I planned, but was nervous. I had no previous experience (with this age group) to make me confident. But I trusted my carefully thought out reasons and the advice of my team. I had a stressful evening yesterday and I also had to get up at 05.30 to make sure all the resources were ready. So not only was I thinking about it all in my work time, but in time when I should have been sleeping. You know when you need to get up early, and your body/mind knows it, so you keep waking up in the night…
In the end I managed to get 160 students and teachers thinking about the church, and how it enables (or doesn’t enable) young people, and had the whole room interested and engaging with my talk. In thoroughly enjoyed every second of it, and the students even liked my little jokes. It went really well!
I knew I would feel much better afterwards, but that didn’t stop my anticipation wrestling with my confidence, my butterflies and my REM sleep.
Some thoughts about how this might link to Advent:
- What do we look forward to most about Christmas?
- Which bits do we prepare for, at the expense of other things we need (e.g. like sleep!).
- What might be new for you this Christmas, (like my audience).
- … or what should you try that’s new this Christmas?
The excitement of anticipation.
The image above demonstrates perhaps a more cynical form of anticipation. For reasons unknown this gentleman seems to be attempting to prepare himself for actualities that are most likely put of his control. We know that goal of this book, although most likely written to be entertaining, is impossible.
As followers of Christ, we know that God has ultimate control and in Him we can trust. What a relief it is knowing that we can put our hope in the Lord rather than in our own efforts to control life’s eventualities!
‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:6-7
Anticipation and waiting are connected, but they are completely different. Waiting can feel like a passive act. But anticipation… It’s excitement, it’s nervousness, it’s that tiny fizzle of energy in the pit of your stomach.
The song above always epitomises anticipation for me. Perhaps it is the “hum”, the one note that continues for such a long time – it gives the tingling feeling that something is about to happen, even if you don’t know what it is yet. If you have time, please take a listen today.
And remember the words in last week’s sermon:
“Awake, awake Zion,
Clothe yourself with strength!
Shake off your dust;
Rise up, sit enthroned Jerusalem.”
I love the sense of anticipation in an auditorium before a play.You see the stage set, take your seat and the lights go down and the actors come on stage and a story unfolds before you. Even if you are familiar with the story there are all sorts of things that can come as a surprise, and as an audience you are participating in a shared communal experience. I even like going to matinees where there may be school groups in. Their responses are unfiltered and authentic. At some performances I’ve been to they’ve been so excited that they have cheered the lights going down.
We may be so familiar with the Christmas story which is unfolding before us. But this time of anticipation at advent can give us time to reconnect to just how surprising and shocking is Gods revelation of himself as a helpless baby.
Be Still and know that I am GOD
Almost immediately on hearing the advent theme, I thought of the moment depicted in this picture: The Giant Stride. Laden with cumbersome scuba gear, this is the best way to get from the boat into the water. You simply take a big step.
This is a moment of intense anticipation. What will I find below the surface? Friendly sea turtles or poisonous sea snakes? Did I connect and double check my tank properly? I look forward to this moment because of what awaits — great beauty and truly incredible life unable to be experienced from above.
Let’s approach this season of waiting with the same expectation that what we are about to experience is something amazing. Look out for the beauty and diversity of life the surrounds us daily. And remember that what we wait for is a miracle even greater than breathing underwater:
O’er the hills the angels singing
News glad tidings of a birth
Go to him your praises bringing
Christ the Lord has come to earth
Spend a moment with this picture, and particularly with the face of Mary as she learns that she is to become the mother of Jesus. I stumbled across this little known painting of the annunciation (in the Tate Britain) and was struck by the anticipation on Mary’s face as she comes to terms with what she is called to and what it will mean for her and for the world. I am struck by the joy and trepidation. Because of course this calling will bring tears as well as blessing, and the quiet, ordinary life that she might have hoped for will never be. We don’t need to just imagine what Mary was feeling – over the course of her pregnancy she articulated in the most moving words, rooted in and inspired by the scriptures, what she believed the coming messiah would mean for the world. And that prayer has come to be known as the Magnificat. And so we start our journey through Advent with these words from Luke’s Gospel.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;he has looked with favour on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed; the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name. He has mercy on those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm and has scattered the proud in their conceit, Casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, to remember his promise of mercy, The promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children for ever.