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  • alisonwale


We were really hoping that our new interim priest would have been able to be with us in person, but her Visa had not arrived in time. Still, the Rt Revd Catherine Roskam was with us via Zoom from New York (that's dedication for you - it was about 4.30 am local time!) We are happy that she will be at Christ Church next Sunday. But for today, our Worship Leader, Alison, reminded us of what the season of Advent is about.

Readings for the first Sunday in Advent:

  • Isaiah 64:1-9

  • 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

  • Mark 13:24-37

  • Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

So here we are, at the start of the new Church year, on the first Sunday of Advent. Like Lent is a time in the church calendar to take time to consider the coming Passion of Christ, Advent too is a season set aside by the church as a time of preparation; it a time to pause and reflect on the Incarnation of God becoming man, the birth in humble surroundings of the Son of God.

Sadly, in these money-orientated times it has become another opportunity for companies to try to part us from our cash – selling Advent calendars that range from one with a chocolate treat behind every window to one produced by Porsche for a cool million dollars (I’m buying one for Catherine’s Welcome-to-Clermont gift!) There are also constant pressures for cash strapped parents to join in with Elf-on-the-Shelf, to prepare special 1st December North Pole breakfasts (whatever they might be!), to provide Christmas Eve boxes full of chocolate and new pyjamas and movies to watch. No longer is Advent a moment to take a step back, but rather another season of over-consumerism, of pressure, of the fear of not providing the “perfect” experience for our loved ones.

As one commentator has written: Advent gets drowned out, because the commercial Christmas has a very loud and powerful advertising industry backing it up, and it is hard to get anything else heard above that. And Christmas suffers from a kind of fatigue, because commercial Christmas has misappropriated just enough of the symbols and music of the Church’s Christmas to give the impression that the two are somehow related, and so by the time we get to the Feast of the Nativity on December 25, we have heard ‘O come all ye faithful’ sung by overblown garden gnomes and red-nosed reindeer so many times that we just want to get it all over with and forget it for another year.

We need to stop. We need to pause. We need to reflect.

The season of Advent is the time when we are challenged to consider our faith and lifestyles in light of the expected coming of the Messiah. This includes reflection on how we experience God coming into our lives now, and as we get closer to the Feast of the Nativity, it will include reflection on how the coming of the Messiah once took shape in the baby of Bethlehem; but primarily this time is about our anticipation of that which is not yet fulfilled, the final coming of the Messiah in glory to fulfill the ancient destiny of the world and all who live in it.

The reading from Isaiah reflects a longing for the coming of the Messiah that echoes through so many of the Old Testament prophets. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” he says, – a cry for deliverance for a people who had been deported from their country, who had known slavery and oppression, and it is not talking of a Messiah who was born in a stable, but rather an all-victorious King, who will smite the sinners and raise his chosen people to glory

But within this passage, there is an underlying recognition that we might well be among those sinners who the Messiah is to smite. And so Isaiah tempers his call with a call for forgiveness and mercy, saying Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. We know that we have sinned, that we are not ready to face you and to be judged, we are your people.

And for us, here in Clermont Ferrand, as we sing “O Come, Emmanuel…O Come, thou Wisdom…” the Advent challenge is to be sure that we are not just longing for a God who sorts out everyone and everything else and leave us unsearched by the blowtorch of truth and justice. We are challenged to open ourselves up to the possibility of God beginning the salvation of the world by refining and purifying us, and that, of course, challenges us to think about how we are living now and what needs to be changed and how willing we are to be changed to reflect the image of Christ.

With a challenge like this, it is tempting to put it to one side, and to think “I’ll look at that another day.” Or “My new year’s resolution will be to…give more money, or time, or to do this, or that…But Jesus himself reminds us that putting off the challenge is not possible, because we do not know when the second coming of the Messiah will occur. We need to pause now, and seriously consider how we are called on to respond to the challenge.

As I said last week, when I posed the question are we simply admirers of Jesus, or are we true followers, it is not easy. But we are never left without help. God does not leave us without the resources to tackle these things now. As Paul said in the extract we heard from his letter to the church in Corinth, God strengthens us and equips us with the gifts we need to live with integrity in the here and now as we wait for Jesus the Messiah to step back onto centre stage. And God knows, we need them! Paul says to those Corinthian Christians: for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind– just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you– so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift. But Paul could be saying that to us: WE have been enriched in him, WE are not lacking in any spiritual gift. And these gifts have been given to us, as individuals and as a community to enable us to live as Christ wants us to live, so that we are not found to be sleeping, but rather we are awake and alive and working for the Kingdom when the Son of Man returns.

There is a poem that really speaks to me, by Howard Thurman. It is entitled “The Work of Christmas” - but equally, it applies to the work of Advent.

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost, To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others,

To make music in the heart.

We desperately need this season of Advent to prepare our minds to see through the sentimental trivia that we are bombarded with every day and perceive the earth-shattering significance of that baby-born-in-a-manger story: the significance for the world, but also the significance for us. What part are we called to play in the work of Christmas? And are we willing to do it, so that when the Messiah comes and the Kingdom of God is complete, as Paul says, we can be counted as blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Remember, God is faithful; he will not abandon us, and by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. THAT is our Advent gift – better than new pyjamas any day!

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