Sermon for THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT Sunday 2 December 2012
Before pen was put to paper, or perhaps pigment to papyrus, the synoptic apocalypse, the story of the end times for the early church was constantly adjusted so that it could speak to the ever-changing situation facing the early Christian community. Luke’s version which we have heard in our Gospel this morning, unlike Mark, regards the Church as here to stay. The strength required in the stay of the early church meant that the lengthy periods of turmoil and chaos they endured had to be understood. The days, the weeks and the years were marked by “the distress of the nations” and human fear and foreboding at what was going on. As you would expect with any institution embracing a high doctrine of “hope”, because things weren’t strictly coming to pass, within the Christian community, slackness set in. There was a developing inattentiveness as dissipation, drunkenness, and the “cares of this life” occupied those who were once called to care about the next life in Christ. So in response to this, St. Luke called his contemporaries to watch and pray, he asked that they were reminded of the temporality of all things, and to be once again devoted to the Lord Jesus, to watch and pray for his presence with them again, for the great end, so that they might honour their membership of the Kingdom, rather than be consumed by their citizenship of the Empire.
On this Advent Sunday, we too are aware of the disasters which batter these islands, continents and the world, we know too well the distress of the nations, the plight of peoples and all that stuff, it’s well-rehearsed. Though I am no expert on disasters (in my opinion), what Luke’s community experienced then, and what we witness now, appear to be cyclical events in human experience and in nature. It seems, (and these could be the great last words), these signs are not yet for us the catalyst for the end times. Though there is a Mayan prediction that the world will end on 21st December, but I hope not before our lunchtime Carol Service at 12:30pm followed by mince pies and mulled wine (all welcome).
Floods come and go, as do wars, as do financial crises, they are the markers of an imperfect world which we can, and to our peril cannot influence. We live in a world which cannot achieve the perfection of what we perceive is to come in the Kingdom of God. We live in a world of compromise and dissatisfaction, where gender continues to be divisive, where sickness illuminates our weakness as a species, where some ideas have the potential to nurture that selfish Gene, that Gene which separates us from God, which shows the imperfection in the created order, and our arrogance. Yet, we do not have to pack up our bags and go home waiting for the next storm to come and go, or the coming war to maybe or maybe not annihilate us and stop being quite so hot on our Christian calling, on our following of Christ. Irrespective of all these signs, irrespective of what is to come, we are “to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.’ In amidst the daily rigour and chaos of this world, we are to remain distinctive followers of Christ. The storms which gather, do not camouflage us from God’s sight, wickedness and selfishness does not excuse us from being faithful to our baptism. We are called even amongst these traumatic days, to remain faithful to our calling, not to go mad, because we perceive God is occupied somewhere else, or to indulge our selfishness because we think the end will never come. We are to keep faithful to our baptism and to allow that mark of Christ in our lives, to transform the immediate world around us and transform ourselves.
These coming weeks of Advent provide us with a greater opportunity to watch and pray, also the opportunity to contemplate the celebration ahead of the coming Christ child, and what that coming, already achieved in our worlds history might continue to offer the world through our witness.
Perhaps we ask, is his coming most pressing and needed in the church, or does the incarnation still have an impact on wider society. Advent is perhaps, less us being ready for the great AMEN, but more us being ready for the beginning of something that we haven’t considered before. Not that we just see another church year pass, but that we take the opportunity of a new Christian year to try again and to be who Christ calls us to be.
Are we prepared with the prophets and with The Baptist, are we prepared to say with our Lady Mary, that we have something to say to this generation, or do we blend into false dates and witness to the world our being a religious habit which marks time, which sees decline and revival like an ever rolling stream, where we allow apathy and indifference to be the markers of our new life in Christ?
Whatever we understand by the end times, we must always be revising and reconsidering how we understand God. For amidst all of this, he is the one power. He is the one who brings beginnings and endings to pass. He is in creation and in his church, he is the power of God working in you and me. So let us unify ourselves so that this one power my energise us, and encourage us to bear witness to the world. As Meister Eckhart says, The masters ask, “has the Son been born?” we say : “No.” the masters ask, “Is the Son going to be born?” we say “no”. The masters are answered, “The Son is fully born.” He is being born anew, unceasingly. And that is in you and me.
Advent is a gift for us to prepare to recall that the Son who is fully born, is being born anew unceasingly and we are to bear witness to this, not to wars and famines and storms which gather. We might have come to the end of an old Christian year unsure about how we have presented Christ in our lives, in our homes and families and friends, but like any new year, come new opportunities. Cast off the old, do not be weighed down by failure, confess, be forgiven, pick yourself up and enter this New Year in Christ, with a new perspective of Christ in you and go and be glorious.
Christ has achieved all things, we are in the repetitive or cyclical progress towards whatever he has fully accomplished. But which way are we spiralling, away from or towards God?
Let us be a people who are dwelling in God, let us see how we are one with them. One sign of those who are dwelling in God is that they are warm; there is no half-heartedness, tardiness or disinclination in them to good works, or to faith. So in this Advent of our God, let it be with us, that we become ever more a people indwelling with God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And let us show forth in our lives, what we proclaim on our lips.
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Amen
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard