Herewith a version of Sunday's sermon marking the anniversary of the Buncefield blast.
A year ago at 6.01am all of us were woken by the largest explosion in peace time Europe. For a large number of us, the damage to our homes, lives and livelihoods has been small, and in most cases anything that needed attending to in terms of counseling, building work, and employment have all been resolved one way or another.
For a significant minority of people though in this village, the Buncefield blast lingers on in more than just the memory due to wrangles with the insurance company, incomplete building work, ongoing unemployment, children’s inability to sleep, and unresolved post traumatic stress. As Mike Penning rightly said on Friday night - those members of our community have become a forgotten people and and their struggle has become a forgotten story. So on this anniversary weekend I feel that it is absolutely right that bring to mind the almost biblical events of last year that affected us all to a lesser or greater degree, that we remind ourselves of the ongoing struggle for some, and that we commit ourselves to walking with them into the future.
This anniversary weekend we are also confronted with this strange, hairy man, John, shouting in the desert about repentance. The Gospel writers associate him with a prophet standing in the desert scrubland. This prophet seems to think we only get to the comfort when we’ve faced the devastation. He’s on about the wilderness, as well. What’s more, he seems to think that we are sitting in a desert because that’s what we have made of our lives. He suggests that we’ve pulled up our roots, and turned away from our ground, our source of water, which is God. Now we are so weak and dry that we drift about aimlessly.
With the Buncefield blast still ringing in our ears, and the prophet in Isaiah linked to John certain that we only get true comfort when we have faced devastation - a devastation still present amongst us, what sort of a community should we be as we prepare to greet the Christ child?
Repentant. John calls us to repentance, to live a new way. To give ourselves so completely to God, that our lives take an about face away from the wasteland that we so often make them, filled with lifeless doubt, crippling guilt, and choking fear of today and tomorrow, to them becoming places where life springs up and new growth is nurtured which is completely dependent on God for it’s future.
Advent is our readying ourselves for God’s coming to us. In some senses this is not a joyful season but one that helps to acknowledge that our world, our society, our lives, our faith are all broken and the only help and hope open to us is in God. Advent is also our readying ourselves for our coming to God and therefore being repentant is not just about breast beating at our willful ignoring of his will for us, rather it is as much about our longing for wholeness, healing and hope.
An Advent community is a repentant community, because it knows that we try to survive on our own without God at our peril. As an Advent community need to work to bring ourselves and others to him, broken and incomplete as we each are yearning for forgiveness and love.
As advent people, on this Buncefield anniversary weekend of all weekends, we need to work for healing and hope for those in our community who continue to be affected by the events of a year ago - listening to and sharing the story of our community, supporting the most vulnerable amongst us through acts of practical love and working together for the future of all.
Seeking justice and judgment. Hear the words of God through Malachi - God says he is like a refiners fire and a fullers soap, purifying and refining the descendants of Levi. Isaiah too prophesies the leveling of the land before God. We as an advent community need to be prepared for God’s judgment whilst also longing for his justice.
The story of God’s involvement with people in the scriptures speaks again and again of God’s coming and his coming again, to conclude the work he began at the first moment of creation and to restore and renew, but also to identify that which is irrevocably broken, to bring to light the things that we as people do which have willfully hampered God’s purposes for us and our lives.
Advent communities seek justice and are aware of God’s coming judgment. Since the Buncefield explosion a year ago, there has been a growing need for justice and judgment for residents and business people alike.
As an Advent community, on this Buncefield anniversary weekend of all weekends, we need to continue seek justice and judgment and to call for closure for our community. Part of this justice and closure must come through a full and transparent public inquiry, not so that the finger of blame can be pointed at particular people because their job was not done properly, but so that the community can know stage by stage what happened and why it happened. God’s advent justice for this community is also about our insurance companies acting with a single voice and acting as one and acting now. God’s advent justice for this community is also about those who have the power to ensure that as far as possible this sort of event doesn’t happen again, make sure that it doesn’t.
Hope. Hear the words of Isaiah, liked to John the Baptist - all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Salvation, literally saving from an irredeemable event, from an impossible situation offers hope. The story of God’s involvement with people is one that speaks again and again of God stepping in and lifting humanity out of the deepest darkness we insist on putting ourselves into
As an Advent community, we must be about sharing hope; hope that the darkness is temporary, hope that the bleakness of life is being overcome by the coming of Life itself, God himself in Christ.
As an Advent community, on this Buncefield anniversary weekend of all weekends, we need to be the voice telling our beleaguered community God’s story of hope. Part of this story is already being told not in words but in actions. Look back over the last year and see how this community has come together and supported one another because we had to.
As Christians we are purveyors of hope - hopes invested in a soon to be born child, but not just any child but God incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus - saviour. But it was throughout this child's life that hope exudes as even at teh end in death and resurrection - hope is revealed. Hemel Hempstead, heavenly homestead as it literally means. knew the presence of the coming God a year ago. It must continued to do so now as we hold our community’s hand, and walk together into God future in hope.