The idea was inspired by the opening of our Old Testament reading, one of the great poems of hope from the Book of Isaiah:
'The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing...'
But the emphasis of the sermon was on the darkness of waiting patiently. As we'd heard a few minutes earlier in our New Testament reading,
'Be patient...The farmer waits for the precious crop...You also must be patient.'
The bulb isn't terribly interesting or attractive at present. Neither does it show any sign of life within its dry, flaking skin. Its flowering can't be hurried along; nature must take its course. It needs to be buried in the earth, buried in darkness, whilst the hidden work goes on inside it. It needs the right conditions for its nurture.
Eventually, it should sprout. Eventually, it should break through the crust of the ground. Eventually, it should develop leaves, a bud, a flower. But it takes time, and for much of that time it's hidden in darkness.
Nelson Mandela had to wait patiently in the darkness of imprisonment. He had to wait a whole generation, 27 years, before the time was right, before circumstances changed. But then he became one of the fortunate, one of those whose dreams were fulfilled during their own lifetime.
John the Baptist was less fortunate. In the darkness and uncertainty of his dungeon, he wondered whether his watching and waiting had been in vain. Was Jesus the One who was to come - or would the wait be longer still? Jesus sent back the message: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor receive good news. The dawn was breaking; the signs of God's kingdom were all around. And yet it would take centuries more before all was fulfilled; still today, we watch and wait.
The spring flowers seem far off. We have the winter to get through first: the long, dark days, with the memory and the possibility of bad weather like that of other recent years. We wait patiently for the warmth and life which still lie months ahead. Perhaps we can do so curious to know how today's narcissus bulb will turn out.
The coming of Jesus can seem far off too. And yet, as we wait patiently, as the hidden work of God unfolds within our lives, we see shoots breaking out in the wilderness. We recognise Jesus coming to us in prayer and sacrament, in the fellowship and worship of the Church, in the poor and needy and in those who support them. We realise that we don't have to wait until the end of the ages to know his presence in our midst. And we can be strengthened and inspired to continue our journey of faith, seeking to love God whole-heartedly, and our neighbour as ourself.