There is something so exciting about this first Sunday in Advent.. for some who remember their school days when we awaited the coming holidays, & had to learn by heart all the Advent collects. I can still imagine Peter Crump learning all the collects of Advent. It's the time for the Pantomime, school carols concerts, Christmas shopping wonderful hymns.
And now only four weeks to go.. and in church we will read the prophecies from the OT about the coming of the Messiah; the church family prepares for the birth, the Nativity.
I've been looking forward to this season since last November 04, it feels like a long wait.
For me it has been a very hard year and for many around it has been a very hard year.. many friends have died, Phyllis Churton, the oldest member of our congregation, Nancy Stockton, Elsie Stoney .. Vera Burrows
Many have struggled in sickness James Bartlett, one of the youngest member of our congregation and Peter Overy, Fred Major, Neville Edgley
It has also been very hard for those who have suffered not with conventional illness but in broken and breaking relationships. Marriages, which seemed so strong, have discovered something terminal unto death.
So many have struggled with issue of rage hurt, forgiveness and being forgiven.
It's been a very tough year
So I was remembering the texts I've preached on in the past.. Looking through my sermons just wondering if there was one I would particularly like to re work and use again.. I wanted something good, healthy, joyful and grand.
I knew the hymns that George would pick would touch my soul..
But the readings for this year seemed to be about judgement, people crying out, betrayal, deception death and people trembling with fear in a word eschatological . the end times.. ... and in strange contrast it is the beginning of the Church year....
Well I'd had enough of all the feelings of the end being near of death; suffering and separation .
I was struggling to say something up lifting, encouraging and joyful ( perhaps mostly for myself)
It was then with some embarrassment I remembered that as a very new Christian I was fascinated by the end times that Jesus was soon coming and all the non believers would be condemned to hell and I would be whisked up into heaven.. How totally without love was that...I guess I was just pleased to be on the right side for a change
Unfortunately I soon realised I was on the wrong side again . I was getting mixed up with a cult within the church who "read the signs" , the fringe loonies of the Christian Church who thought they could interpret the signs of the times.
I seem to remember being able to play a particular record (was it by the Beatles?) backward and hear the devil speak.. and ('85) Mikhail Gorbachev who had a birth mark on his head which some claimed was the number 666 the mark of the beast !!
Jehovah Witness were always going to high places to await the end of the world.. whilst those at head office were buying up land and taking long leases on expensive properties.
It was all a little reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel trying to crack the code of Revelation or Daniel called The Jesus Judgement Code
So there I was on Wednesday wanting to read and preach about peace good will, love and trust..
And the Gospel reading was all about rumours of war earth quakes Tsunamis, famines, and strange things happening in the heavens. All of which seemed so horribly contemporary ..
The sun may now be destroying the earth because we may have weakened the ozone layer.
Not only rumours of war but an every day possibility
Aids; Bird Flu
Appeals for money to save a few from famine; money to by Christmas presents to save a few from bankruptcy; and no money for gas to keep our industries going.. I just recall from our own congregation George caught up in the bombing in London & Gaynor in Iraq ..
A general fear seems to be upon the peoples of the world.
I was going down hill quickly with a view that we're all doomed!!
Well it seems every morning recently, as radio 4 begins my day, I am being made aware of such fears..
My fear is that we have lost the plot
The whole scenario makes me shake with rage and fear for the next generation already born but not come of age..
I can shake with anger that I am a part of a world that can go to war for, and I may be wrong, for oil in in the M.E. Would we have gone to war for carrots? ..(as some American commander posed) no, it wouldn't have got onto the agenda of a Parish Council, but for oil.. the food of the West.. the life blood of industry.. well yes.. and we did .and now that war still rages on, and Britain seems now to have more carrots than oil
So what must I do. what can you do.?
Another thing that happened to me when I was a new Christian, I used to preach at Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon, hence heckling is no stranger to me.. & looking at watches to see if they are still ticking, yawning, & filling up hot water bottles during a sermon is quite light weight really !!..
But in Hyde Park many carried placards strapped to them declaring "The End is Nigh".. "Prepare to meet Thy God" .. So I wondered if that is what I should do, .. go through the village wearing one this ADVENT?..
Perhaps more appropriately a placard saying that Jesus' words are more relevant, on a world scale to day than they have been for many 100's of years.
Time for despair .. .. then Listen to this..Gospel reading vs 28
"When these things happen stand up on your feet stand tall with your heads held high because your redemption is drawing near"
Now this is more like the Advent I'm looking forward to..
Not looking around me at those things which have been so hard, not waiting for a bomb to go off, but looking up.. looking expectantly..
Maybe the end is near, very near and if that is so.. then I for one say AMEN come quickly Lord Jesus.
The promise of Advent is that God has made provision to redeem this messed up messy world.. How is that.. well it's not by bombing anyone's enemies, not by creating economic famine or sanctions or bankrupting loans. but .
in the form of a baby.. not born in the West.. not of rich parents in an oil fired centrally heated home but in a cave in the Middle East ..
So as we begin this season of ADVENT.. despite the awful pain we have experienced and the hard and sometimes life tearing choices we make and the apparent hopelessness around us I commend you to look at God in Christ Jesus who is our hope, our redeemer the lover and the judge.
The choice is ours.. Do we look at the progressively terrifying events in the world and perhaps in our own lives, wondering if judgement day can be any worse than what we have now ?. or we can
stand tall with our heads held high because our Lord and redeemer is soon to arrive."
This is not the end it is the beginning