Likewise a bus stop, a railway forecourt, a hospital, a letter box, and a Christmas stocking?

The answer: waiting. (For a bus; meeting someone off a train; waiting for news of a birth, death or a test result; the arrival of a letter or a package; and receiving a present). As for George Formby, the “Ukulele Man” of 1950s fame, one of his popular songs included the line “leaning on a lamp-post at the corner of the street, in case a certain little lady comes by.” In other words, he is waiting for his sweetheart.

And I’d like to suggest that the season of Advent, the four weeks or so leading up to Christmas, is chiefly about waiting. What are we waiting for? For Jesus, of course. Why? To celebrate his arrival.

Uppermost in our minds is his birth over two thousand years ago and the main business of Advent is getting ready to celebrate his birthday. If He really is the saviour of the world, then it should be a party to which everyone is invited. To be sure, that isn’t one big party in one location but lots of smaller celebrations: we don’t intend inviting the whole neighbourhood into our small home. But there is the notion that no one should be missed out. So this is the time of year when many charities get our attention to a degree that they don’t usually – and we feel a greater obligation to give a bit more generously to, say, charities for the homeless and hungry whether nearby or overseas.

OK, so not everyone feels like “peace and goodwill to everyone” but it is an ideal that we aspire to. I’ve long been uncomfortable with so many people having the Christmas party without a second thought to whose birthday is being celebrated but I have started to come round to the idea that at least there is usually a sense that it is a celebration to be shared. Some people seem only want to eat, get drunk, and not bother about anyone else. That may be a party, but it is not a true celebration I think.

Meanwhile, at the back of many Christians’ minds is looking forward to another arrival: the New Testament talks about the time when Jesus Christ will return again. It seems to be deliberately vague about the precise date, time or place but fairly certain that is will be sudden, unexpected and obvious to all. Any one who claims that they have calculated when this will be or say they have worked out exactly how to interpret the clues in the Bible are wrong. They deceive themselves – Jesus himself says that only God knows that kind of detail.

So what is a Christian to do? Be alert. I want to suggest that being watchful, “awake”, and alert is not a difficult thing to understand. We do it in all sorts of different situations already. At the bus stop we know not to wander away in case the bus comes while we’re window shopping; we don’t give up waiting for our friend if their train happens to be delayed; we wait in, all day sometimes, for a parcel we have ordered and so on. Even children could teach us something: they know about keeping awake on Christmas Eve and are often up early on Christmas day itself!

Jesus likens this waiting to servants waiting the return of their boss (Mark chapter 13 verse 34). The servants aren’t expected to do anything particularly different but to do the chores they know they have to do and not be complacent. In other words, not to say to themselves: “Why bother? He’s not going to come back today, is he?” And the point is that he might not – or he might.

If Jesus Christ truly is both Son of Man and Son of God, who lived, died, was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, then it is reasonable to believe that he will return again at some point. And, if that is so, it is something we can rely upon more than buses, trains, deliveries or even a certain little lady passing by.

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