Sermons from St
Fred Nye, Sunday,4th December,
Advent is probably my favourite liturgical season. It seems so much in tune with our human condition, that looking forward to something that is just beyond our grasp - an incompleteness, a restlessness that drives and inspires. And in our Christian tradition we look forward once more to the message of the angels – to the promise of peace on earth, good will among us all, and the coming of the Prince of peace and reconciliation. Advent is the season for yearning, and perhaps also the season when we call to mind God’s yearning for us, his longing for his love to grow and flourish among us, that his kingdom may come upon earth. Looking around us at our world today, that need for peace seems greater than ever.
Isaiah paints for us a beautiful picture of a world at peace, a world where the leopard can lie down with the kid, and the calf with the lion. But also, using the imagery of tree-felling, he tells us how this can come about: the old order has to be cut down so that out of the dead stump can grow something wonderful; radically changed new life. Isaiah expresses the hope that what is old and familiar can give birth to what is totally new and unexpected, and that there can be some sort of continuity between the two. The kingdom of God’s love can be renewed among us – in our own lives, in our church and group of churches, and in our weary world.
And then St. Paul takes us a stage further. Always remember (he says) – that the Kingdom isn’t just about us. It’s a pity that the lectionary leaves out the introductory verse of this morning’s epistle, because it is absolutely crucial – Christ, Paul says, didn’t please himself: Christ didn’t please himself. Jesus gave up everything to save us. And if we are to follow him we have to be prepared to abandon self-interest, even when it seems to us entirely justifiable. We have to put the common interest before our own, otherwise there is no chance of living in harmony, no way that we can ‘glorify God with one voice’.
The world is becoming increasingly divided along the fault-lines of wealth, class, race, politics and religion. What hope for the world if we cannot reconcile our differences within our own Christian communities? What hope for the world if as Christians we do nothing to heal the wounds of division between religious and ethnic groups, or worse still, rub salt into them? I sometimes regret that we live in a part of the world that is so monochrome; we just don’t get a feel for the tensions, and the wonderful opportunities for reconciliation, that a multi-ethnic and multi-faith community can bring.
And finally John the Baptist, in case we haven’t quite got the message, drives it home. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, he says – so repent!! Repent: stop, think again, turn around and make a new start. John preached his message at the river Jordan, which the Children of Israel had to cross before entering the Promised Land. And John stands there and says: there is only one way in to God’s new kingdom, and that is through the waters of repentance. God in Christ welcomes us to his Kingdom, but it is a kingdom of peace and justice where hearts and minds, our hearts and minds, are to be won by him, and for him.
Strangely enough John also uses the imagery of tree-felling, this time to attack the religious leaders ‘Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees’. And why did John have it in for the Pharisees and the Sadducees? It wasn’t that they weren’t committed and devout, far from it. No, it was because they weren’t prepared to change: they knew they were right. They knew that the status quo, the old religious law, took precedence over the law of love. When tradition becomes stubbornly sterile and fruitless, what can you do with the barren tree but cut it down, lest it take the light from the fruitful trees around it?
This Advent we are all waiting. Waiting, among other things, for the appointment of a new parish priest. And we have been told that she, or he, will be called to further the mission of all our four churches, including our own. If we are to grow as a church we have to accept change, and to find in that change new opportunities for harmony: harmony among ourselves and with a new incumbent, harmony among our four churches, and harmony between our churches and the community in which we live. Perhaps that should be enough for us right now. As to exactly where God might be leading us in the future – that is still hidden from us. This Advent we can only wait on God and offer ourselves to the Prince of Peace, the Child of Bethlehem, in longing and yearning for the coming of his Kingdom. And we could use as a prayer the words of T.S. Eliot, that not so long ago were printed as a preface in our weekday service book:-
‘I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing. Wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing. There is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought. So the darkness will be the light, and the stillness the dancing.’