Taking the Wanting Out of Waiting

Advent Sunday Evening

6:30PM 27th November 2016

You can read the text below and / or listen to the sermon here

I was going to call this evening’s service an Advent Carol Service. That’s what it is. The trouble is, when people see the word ‘carol’, they assume we’ll be singing Christmas carols. Even though there are Easter carols and Advent carols, and, probably, Michaelmas carols, people are more familiar with Christmas carols.

There’s a bigger problem. You see, I say ‘Advent’ and you hear ‘Christmas’. It’s a strange psychological phenomenon…

In a previous parish, I was talking to a primary school teacher about songs for assembly. I said it was the start of Advent, she said, “Let’s sing something festive: ‘Away In A Manger’.”

Let me illustrate: imagine it’s late February next year. You say to me, “Alan, what are you planning for Lent this year?” (Ash Wednesday is on 1st March in 2017.) I say, “For Lent this year, I have decided to eat chocolate eggs. One a day, every day in Lent. I’ll have a little Lent calendar with chocolate eggs behind every window…” That’s 40 chocolate eggs. You say, “But chocolate eggs are for Easter, not Lent. In Lent, people normally give up eating chocolate rather than take it up.” I say, “But I don’t like Lent. I like Easter, so it’s chocolate eggs every day.”

It’s not quite fair: the mood of Lent is penitential – we cover ourselves with sackcloth and ashes and feel miserable. The emphasis of Advent is not quite that. Advent is about expectation, looking forward to the fulfilment of promise. The trouble is, we’re not good at waiting. Previous generations saved up for furniture. We buy on credit cards. One of them used to have the slogan:

Take the waiting out of wanting.

The modern world is best pictured as someone tapping their fingers on the top of the microwave shouting, “Come on!”. Amazon Prime: order almost anything and they deliver it next day. Amazon Prime Now will deliver in 2 hours. And it’s available in my postcode area. I’ve checked.

You may know the marshmallow experiment.

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards (i.e., a larger later reward) if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel.)

In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.[1]

We’re not good at waiting but Advent is about waiting hopefully. We look back to the way in which God’s people waited for their messiah. We look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus. We look forward to God fulfilling his promises. As someone has said, in Advent we celebrate God coming to us in:

  • History – the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem
  • Mystery – by God’s Holy Spirit, the promise of Jesus to be with us always
  • Majesty – the second coming, the promise of Jesus to return.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

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