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angst, anguish & advent – jody kilpatrick


Brain swelling.

Congenital heart defect.

Soft markers.

Open heart surgery.

Palliative care team.

Chromosomal abnormality.

Fluid displacing heart.

We have to wait and see.

We have to wait.

These were just some of the phrases I heard during my life-changing relationship with Maternal Fetal Medicine, the hospital department where I would regularly receive scans in the second half of my pregnancy, followed by difficult and uncertain news.

Pregnancy and Advent get tangled up for obvious reasons. But it’s worth remembering the risk and uncertainty of both. Advent is not the season of relaxing into forgone conclusions. It is the season of waiting.

Gearing up for Christmas, Incarnation, God-with-us: who doesn’t want to get there faster? We are invited to resist flustering our way through December and coming-to when there’s a hale and hearty baby in the manger. We are invited to sit with the heavy task of waiting.

Advent celebrates hundreds of years of biblical angst and silence. (Sorry, deuterocanonical books.) We’re used to Anna and Simeon’s flash of fulfilment in Luke – what we don’t have is the record of their years and years of difficult waiting. Nor do we have the stories of all the faithful people who didn’t make it to the temple on that wonderful day. But those stories are our stories too.

During Advent we remember again how profound it is to wait with questions, in terror and difficulty and uncertainty. We are a people who are always learning what it means to wait faithfully. Though we do know what’s coming at Christmas. When we wait, we wait in the presence of God who is known to us in Jesus Christ.

Plenty of preachers and preachees have feared for the future of their unborn babies – and in time faced what they’ve had to face. There’s nothing special about my experience. But my memory of those months of utter uncertainty, the challenge of living well while waiting, will inform me behind the scenes of my sermons this Advent.

At all times of the year, heavy hearts perch in our pews, fear and uncertainty shuffle down our isles. And I realise this Advent I have a rich opportunity to look them in the eye and speak the truth they long to hear.

What’s Advent like for you this year? Do you find yourself approaching it differently depending on what’s been going on for you and your community over the year?

poetry – jody kilpatrick


After a break of fifteen years, I recovered sufficiently from high-school analysis to enjoy poetry. I am very curious about what poets can teach preachers.

The main lesson for me is the possibility of profound brevity; memorable lines and word pictures that can be recalled and explored on various levels. I love words, saying something just so gives me immense satisfaction. I believe the less we say, the more space we leave for people to hear (and consider, and integrate).

There’s an art to making sure that brevity doesn’t undermine the fulsome truths giving it a leg up.

I leave a lot unsaid in sermons. I could write most sermons twice over with my unused research and reflection. The risk is never getting to the nitty gritty, gliding poetically over the surface. I do go deep – I just don’t attempt to do so with many aspects at a time.

Prayer and meditation help me distill what to say, and what to let go.

Poets can afford to be short when dealing with cultural knowledge of cabbage trees and sandwiches – it’s harder when your subject matter is Trinity and Ark of the Covenant. The rest of the church service can feed into the sermon rather than serve as a warm up. My recent Trinity Sunday sermon which referred to Psalm 8 and the Ark of the Covenant benefited from a wonderfully creative parishioner organising exploding volcanos and ark making prior.

I like to imagine a sermon turns on a light switch for people and with it on they can take a look around. Some might only glance for the duration of the sermon, others might scrutinise long after I finish talking, and others might meditate on one important sight.

I’m a long way from figuring this all out. I have a sense it wouldn’t work if we all preached like poets all of the time. But it would be a pity if some of us didn’t try. Sometimes.