Advent Retreat – Longing and Action


There’s a familiar joke, that you may well know, about the man who longs to win the Lottery. He prays fervently every day to God that it will happen. Eventually God becomes a little tired of these persistent pleas and says to the man, ‘Give me a break! At least buy a ticket.’

In that joke is a very important truth to focus on as this retreat comes towards an end. In a nutshell, what we long for we must be willing to work for. Three passages in the New Testament highlight the fact that fine words and wishes are not enough. As the saying puts it, ‘Fine words butter no parsnips!’

That is true in many contexts. If we want to learn a language, acquire a sporting skill or get fit; if we want to strengthen a relationship or heal an old emotional wound, we need to take practical steps here and now to work towards these goals, recognising that no-one, not even God is going to wave a magic wand over us.

Of course, not every longing especially in relation to the world around us and our own relationship with God can be fully realised. Some of our most profound longings will only be fulfilled completely beyond this world when we come into the nearer presence of God. But as a general rule, when we recognise a legitimate longing within us, we should go on to ask, ‘What can I do now’ to work towards the fulfilment of that longing, to take even a small step in the right direction?’

So, at this stage, go back to your list of longings, first discard those which relate to looking backwards or are simply unrealistic and unrealisable, and draw up a short list of longings where some action is possible. Don’t make the list too long (you can always make another one later) and that way you are more likely to get things done. Decide on a list of actions to take and give yourself a date on which to review progress. Lent might be a good time.

Some of you may watch the TV programme ‘DIY SOS’. In it a core team of builders and craftspeople are joined by a host of volunteers from different trades to transform the home of someone with a disability, or a child with special needs, or a family that has undergone some tragedy to make it more suitable to their needs.

At the end the presenter has words of encouragement for viewers, ‘No-one can help everyone. But everyone can help someone.’ We might add, ‘No-one can change everything but we can all change something.’

Longings can be turned into realities.


James 2. 22-25; 1 John 3. 18-24; 1 John 4. 13-21


Lord, our God,
let our striving for your kingdom,
not fall short through selfishness or fear;
may the universe be alive with the Spirit,
and our lives be the pledge of a world redeemed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


In this retreat we have explored the idea of longing especially in the context of Advent and the particular situation we face this year with the Coronavirus  pandemic. We have seen how longing is part of being human and that it can be a positive force for hope and change or something holding us back and even toxic.

Longing must not be allowed to distract us from the present moment and it must be linked to a willingness to take action.

So we move towards Christmas, a Christmas significantly different to our usual one. Then it will be New Year and 2021 with all its possibilities and its uncertainties. Let these words of St Augustine encourage us,

‘So my dear friends, let us sing, “Alleluia”, albeit not yet in the enjoyment of our heavenly rest, but in order to sweeten our toil in this life. Let us sing as travellers sing on a journey to help them keep on walking.’


O God, our helper and defender
deliver us in our weakness,
answer our longings
and vindicate our faith,
that we may see your glory
in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Jesus said, ‘Remember, I am with you to the end of time.’ Matthew 28.20

Some prayers copyright Archbishops’ Council 2005


Hymn: We have a gospel to proclaim

Hymn: Long ago, prophets knew