With grateful thanks to Dylan, and to my colleagues and friends on the PRCL list, I preached something along these lines at our United Benefice Advent service in the Scout Hall on the Hill this morning.
Happy New Year!
Today we begin another cycle of prayer and worship Today we being once again to look forward – to the celebration of God breaking into our world as the babe in Bethlehem and to that final resolution and remaking of all things in accordance with God’s will, which we know as the Second Coming.
We look forward – and so do our neighbours outside the church, For once we seem to be looking in the same direction as everyone strains to see what lies ahead…but what are we expecting? What are we waiting for?
For our children, it’s pretty straightforward. The first window of countless Advent calendars will be opened tomorrow, and so the Christmas countdown begins… Not far ahead for the children lie presents… celebrations in school and at home, nativity plays and carol concerts, coloured lights and starlit magic. For their parents, though, there is a chill in the anticipations… Will there be jobs by January? Can Christmas be managed when there is so much less money around… Dare we look forward at all?
After a week of terrifying violence in Mumbai and unrest in Thailand, of continued financial turmoil and massive job losses, the concept of a “Happy New Year”, whether now or in January, looks unlikely to say the least. But this is Advent Sunday, and the first candle on our Advent wreath represents hope for all God’s people. So let’s try and lift our eyes from the headlines, to think about why we are here this morning. Let us even attempt, perhaps, obey Paul’s command and give an account of the hope that is in us. We DO Have something to look forward to.
Advent is a time when we look again at how our lives fit into the big picture of God's relationship with God's people, past and future. We are drawn, in a heightened way, into what it really means for God to come to us and be present with us…with us here in Selsley and Cainscross…in this year of economic anxiety and international terror which is, nonetheless, the Year of Our Lord. God with us…not removed from our reality but immersed in it…sharing everything that we lament, all the pain which we struggle with. Isaiah cries out in desperation for a dramatic intervention
O that God would rend the heavens and come down….
and I guess that is the sort of cry that many would identify with. We want to be reassured that someone is still in control, that things are not as chaotic as they seem…God seemed to be active in the past – and we want more of the same. In the good times, of course, we feel no need to call upon God. We’re in control of our incomes, our lives, our politics. We feel safe, self-sufficient…why would we want to bother ourselves with a God who asks so much of us? But at the moment, the world is full of frightened people, people who can see the darkness stretching ahead of them and are desperate for any potential source of light.
O that God would rend the heavens and come down
God rending the heavens….coming to us through brokenness…
The brokenness of our lives, and our world
The brokenness of the bread at the Eucharist
That is our route to God.
And, of course, it is one we’d avoid if we could.
Nobody wants to confront brokenness…
But remember, we are looking forward, aren’t we?
Advent is good news, right?
God is coming…God is with us…
But we need to remember that God with us has never represented the easy option…
The experience that Mark sketches for us in this "little apocalypse" helps us understand what’s going on around us now. The church in which he wrote was dealing with the fall of Jerusalem, the end of the world as they knew it…and they were expecting Christ’s return in a matter of moments. But as they waited, things weren’t easy. Perhaps each generation, in one way or another, faces what it sees as “the last days”. Certainly there are people today who feel with the collapse of the housing market, the potential loss of their homes, of jobs and pensions, that the end might as well come now.
Everything looks so different.
Certainties are swept away
Is this what God’s coming will look like…?
Wars and rumours of wars, all sorts of signs of the times…We could, were we so minded, label many of our recent headlines as clear apocalyptic proof. Actually, though certain Christians will claim with each fresh disaster that this is THE proof that we are living in the “end times”, I’m not sure that really matters. One way and another, all things will come to and end… We can’t carry on as we are forever - at some point the game is up. We don’t, though, need to worry unduly about whether that ending comes for the whole planet, or simply for each of us as individuals…Jesus makes it clear that attempts to work out when the end might come are simply a wasted effort. Much better to use the time now…for what matters is to be awake, alert, ready.
We are looking forward.
Forward to new life that will overcome the pain of death!
Forward to a change in the way that each of us lives our lives.
Forward to a recognition that our anxieties are second-order issues…because our deepest certainties lie with the One who does not change, whose love is constant through every twist and turn of our daily lives…
Yes, I know that some will speak of the day of the Lord as something to dread – and of course it’s in no way to be taken lightly. But we know something they seem to have forgotten. The person we call “Lord” is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, who taught and healed, who welcomed the outcast and broke bread with anyone willing to eat with him. Jesus who shows us, at each and every moment, that God is love, and that love drives out fear.
So don't panic. Panic spoils your concentration just as surely as sleep does. You need to focus, to be ready to respond to another person, to meet them with love. Don't panic when someone tells you about suffering in the present or suffering to come: keep watch, and respond with love.
That's our task today and throughout Advent.
Stay awake, keep looking forward and respond with love.
There will be earthquakes and wars and famines, recessions and riots, as well as more personal catastrophes and seismic shifts in our families and communities, but there is nothing that can derail this train, Jesus is here, and Jesus is coming.
In his Advent message Archbishop Rowan wrote this:
In Advent, Christians have for centuries thought about death and judgment, about heaven and hell. They’ve thought about the way in which when we’re up against the truth for the first time, when we really see what the reality of God is like, it will be a shock to the system.
I guess that for many, current events are precipitating that sort of reality…and yes, it is shocking and painful, but it can be joyful too. We need, each one of us, to confront the truth and allow ourselves to be changed by it…
The ABC continues
“God forbid we say `no we can’t cope with the truth, we’d prefer our own darkness'. And so part of our self-examination during Advent is looking into ourselves and saying, ‘Well can I get myself to the point where I can look at God and say well there’s truth and there’s beauty and light and love and it’s painful for me, weak and stupid though I am, to face that, and yet I’d rather be there with the truth, however much it costs, than be locked up with myself?’ During Advent, we try to get ourselves a bit more used to the truth - the truth about ourselves, which is not always very encouraging, but the truth about God above all which is always encouraging. The One who comes will come with a great challenge. It will be like fire on the earth as the Bible says. And yet the One who comes is coming in love. He’s coming to set us free. And that’s something well worth waiting for.
Happy New Year….
We’ve so much to look forward to, - so let’s be awake to make the most of it