Yet another week when I am not at HT!!! Herewith the sermon I preached at St B's this morning. Advent carols this afternoon...
You, like me, might have already received at least one Christmas card so far. I have to say that I find myself becoming more and more depressed at the encroachment of Christmas earlier and earlier into the rest of the year. Now I hasten to add that I am rather concerned that I might be sounding a bit ‘bah humbug!’ about all this but I long for Advent each year.
Advent is becoming more and more about spiritually preparing for Christmas, but it never was intended that way. Advent was always traditionally about longing for change and hoping for liberation, and the coming of God. Traditional Advent themes focus on the prophets, patriarchs, John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary who fortell these events, and on death, judgement, heaven and hell. Advent is not about the Christmas lights, cards, shopping or whatever it is we are more than likely reoccupied with.
I long for Advent as it traditionally is, because I am reminded annually that the mess I make of my life, the pain and suffering that I see, the pent up screams for justice, and the need for life-changing hope.
Hopeful. Advent is the season where we long for God’s coming to us. For centuries faithful men and women throughout the Old Testament had watched and waited for God to come and liberate his people - freeing them from oppression, slavery, and occupation. With the angel’s words to her, Mary knew that generations of waiting were soon to be over. In this holy season as we anticipate remembering God coming to our world bringing justice and judegement, we need to be hopeful that God has moved the constant battle with evil and suffering, into it’s endgame.
The coming Christ is the one who can open the gateway closed by God at Eden because of sin and who stands at the door open in heaven inviting us in. In Advent, Christ is called the Key of David - a symbol of authority at the palace of Jerusalem - and it’s bearer had the authority to admit people into the royal presence. The key in question was a cumbersome affair carried on the shoulders, and the analogy between key and cross cannot be downplayed.
With the coming of God comes wild hope, but not a crazy utopian dream. Peace in nations begins with peace in people. Free nations begins with free people. Liberation of lands and political systems begins with liberating the human heart. Advent people are hopeful people, people who know that it is only the coming Christ child who can unlock the doorway to God and the doorway to humanity as God created it to be.
Trusting. Mary’s words to the angel. “Let it be to me according to your word.’ show a radical obedience to the will of God. In this holy season, as we anticipate remembering God coming into our world - restoring, healing - we too need to become people who trust God. As God entrusts himself to his creation in the vulnerability of a helpless baby, so we need to entrust ourselves to his will. In advent, Mary reminds us that her trust is not a blind acceptance. All that she had been told would happen had happened.
We need to trust God, as incredulous and unlikely as that might seem. God is trustworthy and true and does not revoke his promises. In Christ, all God’s promises already in place. His first coming at the Incarnation confirmed the reliability of all the Old testa ment prophesies. The enduring presence of of the Holy Spirit in his church, by which the endgame has begun, assures us that he will return again. God’s future has begun, here, now.
With the coming of God comes a need to trust him, but not a crazy utopian dream. What Mary knew, we must know. God has consistently proved himself to be faithful through the pages of scripture and the lives of men and women over the ages, all that Mary heard from the angel she saw fulfilled. Advent people are trusting people, people who have come to know that trusting God is not a last resort when all else fails, but the place to start.
Proclaiming. Mary’s words ‘My soul magnifies the Lord!’ remind that Advent’s purpose is to proclaim God in a world that largely ignores him. As a tiny baby, that is to say so unobtrusive in his humility, he needs to be magnified to been seen. In a world that ignores him and yet needs him more and more - the we need to sing the Magnificat in our live all the more loudly. In a world that gives status dependent on wealth, on body image, on clothing, yet longs for love, forgiveness, healing and hope, we need to proclaim him all the more.
Advent longs for coming of God to us, but it also is the time to remind us that God waits for our coming to him. At the incarnation he comes to us and will come again at the end of time, in the meantime he watches out like the father of the prodigal son - waiting to embrace us in eternal love.
Advent is traditionally as season of repentance - seeking to mend broken relationships, hearing words of forgiveness - so we also need to return to God, discovering as we do in this holy season, that it only when we return to our creator that we find our true status - as children of God - forgiven, healed, hopeful and reconciled.
In the Magician’s Nephew, C.S Lewis describes a wood the children reach by magic - the wood between the worlds. Through it they enter Charn - a dying world, Narnia in the making, and then on back into their own world. In the wood, time is stopped and they can hardly imagine the adventures that await them. Advent is the wood between the worlds, between the wold that cannot imagine Christ and the world in which he comes to be the only picture of reality that we have. At this point we stand in a world where God’s great act of incarnation and redemption is only a shadow, a child growing in the dark of the womb. To be Advent people is to be people in the wood between the worlds, longing for the Coming God, and to allow him to bring to birth in us, the coming of his Kingdom.