St. John 16.vv.16-22

~ Jesus said, "A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me". Then some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by saying to us, 'A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me', and 'Because I am going to the Father'". They said, "What does he mean by this 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about". Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, "Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, 'A little while, and you will no longer see me , and again a little while, and you will see me'? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice, you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you". ~

"The bells of waiting Advent ring", wrote the poet Sir John Betjeman - and Advent is certainly a time of waiting! The secular world prepares for Christmas ever earlier as the years pass, and children caught up in the excitement of the festive season find the waiting well night intolerable - "Christmas is never going to come!".

For Christian people Advent should be a time of preparation, an echo of Maranatha, "Come Lord Jesus", the last words of the Bible. It is an invitation to the Christ who came, who comes, who will come again. If we think the visit is one of our own making, we make a mistake, for Christ himself is the initiator, not we ourselves. He seeks us out, he comes to us, he visits us.

His "visit", however, is not simply a greeting and chat. It is a "visitation", that is, a visit with a very special purpose. He comes in the hope that we will show him welcome and love.

Of course we may be "out" when he calls - too busy to attend to him or perhaps too fearful or complacent. If so, he doesn't leave a visiting card, but he comes and comes again. An encounter with the living Lord is inescapable, however much we may try to avoid it.

We may try to avoid meeting Christ because of a guilty conscience, a sense of impending fate, the "Sword of Damocles" hanging over us - ideas heightened by traditional teaching about the future Judgement; for some there is the prospect of a dark tunnel with no light at the end.

Our Lord assures us that before us there lies the Cross, not only a sign of self-denial but also a sign of God's invincible love for us. This Cross is "magnetic". "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all mankind to myself", said Jesus.

For the Christian the joy of Christmas lies not solely in the festive merrymaking but also in the knowledge that he who comes to us brings us joy.

We can be of good cheer because we know that God tempers justice with mercy and compassion; our Lord has been here before us, he knows our weakness and the temptations that beset us; judgement is not a terrifying hazard of the future - now is the judgement; what we do now is of eternal significance, our love and response or rejection of his love. All he asks for is our love and welcome.

We can be of good cheer because we know that God does not abandon us. He comes to us in the Incarnation and seeks us out. Though individually and corporately we make a mess of life, yet amid the pain there is joy, amid the hurt there is forgiveness, love and healing; in sorrow there is hope; in darkness a light that cannot be quenched.

He comes to bring us eternal life in this world and the next. We may have little or nothing to offer him, but he only asks our welcome and our love.

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