Sermon – Advent 1

I forgot to set the camera up this morning (still needing a couple of people to be the camera team, I think). So, no video from this morning. Here is the text though:

The tradition in churches like this one is to try to make something special of Advent. Whilst the rest of the world is going tinsel crazy, we have a plain church to focus our minds on things that matter. Whilst the shops are full of presents for everyone and the jangly music of Christmas Carols is everywhere, we tend to go in the other direction. There will be no Christmas Carols here until we have kept four Sunday Advent Eucharists. The crib (which is over on the left hand side of the church this year) is bare. The animals are there alone and have nothing to do but munch from the manger. There is no baby there.

Once we have had our four Advent Sunday mornings, there will be a tree and decorations and Christmas Carols galore – though even that is a concession – there are those who belong here who think that is a concession too far and that we should be Christmas-free until the child is actually born.

We can have Advent carols though – and we will have them in plenty tonight at the Advent Carol Service. And I want to begin with the words of a good Advent Carol to make us think about what we really believe about the coming of Jesus Christ.

It goes like this:

You better be good, You better not cry
You better watch out, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He knows when you are sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake
He knows when you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

There is something about the sentiments of that which do belong in Advent and not Christmas.

The news that we get in Advent is that there is something around the corner – the coming of Jesus Christ and we had better get ready for it or else bad things will happen. (That’s the second coming we are talking about, by the way – Advent has always had a touch of the apocalypse about it).

The news we will get in a few weeks time is altogether different – the news then is that God is coming into our world whether we are ready or whether we aren’t and goodness of God is for everyone, regardless of how we behave or what we do. Whoever we are, we are loved by God.

These are two rather contrasting comings. The one telling us that the Christchild is coming and ready or not, God loves us.

The other telling us that the End Times are coming and we had better get ready or else bad things are just around the corner.

Goodness knows why anyone thinks our faith is a crutch – there is some tough love mixed in with the kitsch and sentimental. There are some tough lessons that we all need to learn in this life. And Advent is as good a time as any to learn them.

Advent comes with a rush and tells us to get ready. And the message is not to get ready for Christmas, it is to get ready for eternity.

(Advent actually is an older celebration that Christmas, which Christians started celebrating rather late in the day).

There is an urgency about this season. There is no way of avoiding it.

The readings that we get at this time of year have urgency built into them. They come from people who believed that their world was coming to an imminent end.

We tend to forget that the early followers of our faith were up against it all the time. The truth is, people who are up against it tend not to pray peaceably. They tend to pray in rather violent images. The earth shakes, the sun and moon and stars are cast from the sky, the waves of the sea roar.

We can only understand this if we understand a little about them and the world they lived in. Not for them the seeming stability of soaring gothic arches, stained glass and a fabulous choir to aid them in their devotions. No. For all they had was the signs of the times around them. Persecution was the stuff of life. And their times were rough as well.

They were persecuted for their allegiance to Christ on the one hand. At the fringes of the corrupt Roman Empire on the other.

Perhaps there is no wonder that the writings that they produced had rather a frightening tone to them sometimes.

People who are up against it produce violent images. I sometimes wonder whether that is what is behind the violence of religious fundamentalism in our own faith and in the other world faiths today. People of faith sometimes feel up against it as they are trapped between the noisy jangling of the new humanists like Richard Dawkins on the one hand and the relentless persecution of indifference on behalf of the many amongst whom we are found.

Maybe is it is because people feel that they are up against it that they feel that they have to protect everything in sight and warn everyone against any behaviour that seems remotely enjoyable.

You better be good, You better not cry

Ýou better watch out, I’m telling you why

Bad things are coming to town.

So, what are we to make of this. For we live between the expected apocalypse of the New Testament saints who taught us faith long ago and the frightening apocalypse that they fundamentalists try to teach us about today.

Are either of them being realistic. Is there anything in what either say which we should pay heed to?

Well, Anglicanism is sometimes said to be the religion of the middle way. Perhaps there is something that we can take for our journey from the images that are thrown at us by Advent.

Jesus seems to say to us – live as there is no tomorrow.

Some will believe that that means something frightening. I don’t think so. I think it means living in the liberty of God. Free to love. Free to care. Free to be joyful. Free to live fully. Wholly human. Wholly loved.

That’s what I take from Advent. I hear the call from long ago and proclaim it to you today. Get ready. Get ready to live. Get ready to love. Get ready to be whole.

Get ready, say our scriptures. Get ready for our God is coming. His coming is certain. Lo, he is coming soon.


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