Sermon for Evensong & Benediction Sunday 16 December 2018
Sermon preached by Fr Simon Cuff, College of St Mellitus
‘All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.’ words from our Gospel reading, the Gospel according to St Luke, the first chapter, the 66th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
If you’ve ever held a new-born, you’ll appreciate the question on the lips of the Judaeans in our second reading this evening. If you’ve spent time amongst the very young you can’t help but wonder what the lifetime of these little ones has in store.
What decisions will they make? What trials and tribulations will they face? What does the future hold in store? What part will we play in helping them discern and becoming the people God is calling them to be? Will they thank us for our efforts?
The last time I was with my five-month and twenty-two month old nephews they were less than impressed with my efforts to turn off Cbeebies and my attempts to help them learn the Salve Regina…
In our second reading, St Luke recounts the question on the lips of the Judaeans following the birth of John the Baptist, ‘What will this child become?’, before reminding us that the hand of the Lord was with him.
Whatever the future holds for any child is determined by the calling God has placed on their life. Their future is determined not ultimately by us, but by God. Elizabeth and Zechariah do not give the child a name of their own choosing, but the name chosen for him by God.
The hand of the Lord was with John the Baptist from even before he was born. So he is with us. God is present to us from our earliest days, calling us to himself – to his body in baptism, to feed on him at the altar in his Church.
Just as God is present to us even now, no more so than in the Sacrament we shall shortly adore.
God is with us. This is the truth we celebrate at each and every Mass, and the truth we prepare to celebrate especially during Advent. ‘The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’
God is with us in our mother’s womb, at every moment of our lives, and in our futures. In those futures he is calling into being.
Our first reading holds before us a vision for just how glorious such futures might be. ‘The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom;… the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy… everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’.
This glorious vision is ultimately a matter for the second Advent, when Christ comes in glory. But even now this vision holds before us the kind of world that we might hope to bring about, the kind of future we might hope for the children in our midst, for every child of God.
Our reading from Isaiah reminds us how we might play our part in God’s raising each and every one of his children. Playing our part in overcoming sorrow, sharing joy with others, enabling that life in all its fullness which following Christ brings.
We will never build the world described by Isaiah through our own efforts. At Christmas, God begins the transformation of the world which will end in Isaiah’s vision of glory.
God comes to us as a child. He takes us to himself. He becomes a child to bring all his children to himself.
God transforms humanity from the inside, so that we one day we might enjoy that vision of hope and splendour described by Isaiah.
Until that day, we live as God’s children here on earth. In Advent we commit ourselves once again to discerning his will and playing our part in the transformation of the world.
Until that day we live in exile, waiting to enter our ‘true native land’, as we sing in the O Salutaris. Our true home is in Christ, held before us during services of Benediction. The world for which we are aiming is the renewed creation prophesied by Isaiah.
The child lying in the manger brings us to himself and sets us on the path toward our heavenly home.
The man lying in the tomb breaks open all that which keeps us from our true native land.
The one lying in the monstrance reminds us of our task, to live as residents of another land, to bring all God’s children to that glorious kingdom, for which all of us await with expectation.
Until then we pray the prayer we pray throughout this season of Advent: ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus.’