Advent Sunday – 3rd December 2023
In this Advent of expectation draw us together in unity, that our praise and worship might echo in these walls and also through our lives. In this Advent of expectation draw us together in mission, that the hope within might be the song we sing and the melody of our lives. In this Advent of expectation draw us together in service that the path we follow might lead us from a stable to glimpse eternity. Amen
Every 3 years this set of readings comes up and it reminds me of Advent Sunday in 2002 (and makes my stomach churn as I remember how excruciatingly nervous I was). This day was notable for the reality that it was the day I first preached an adult assessed sermon to a congregation of grown ups at a 9am communion service in Llantrisant in South Wales. I was on placement in my first term at theological college, and though in the long run up to going to college and the selection processes, I had led lots of worship aimed at families and youth (and in my work life numerous presentations and training sessions about software and consultancy skills) – speaking theologically to just grown ups was a whole other matter, very intimidating and as was expecting me to share wisdom in a sermon (the first term at college had proved my Biblical knowledge could be vastly improved too). One of my tutors had poured over the preparation with me and was in the congregation waiting to assess my efforts!
At the beginning of this week, I re-read what I wrote that day – which like all good novice sermons had 3 points and a clear beginning and a summary at the end. My points are all still valid that we need to be always growing, to be ready whatever comes along (and alert to God’s hand in it) and to live in the hope Christ left with us.
Every Advent, we start back at the beginning readying ourselves to mark the coming of Jesus, and the wonder of it. It is hard to get our heads round imagining God preparing the ground of Jesus to come and working in a time ordered way (which is a dimension God is significantly beyond – not being limited to our linear existence but timeless – here yesterday, today and forever). God would have been lining up the prophets, putting the words they needed to speak in their hearts, and then selecting the key players (Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Shepherds, Magi) and the key venues and recruiting Gabriel to pass on his important messages.
It is hard for us to get our heads round this as we don’t know what life was like before Jesus came, we have only known how it is possible to know Jesus personally as the saving power in our lives. As St Paul put it in that first reading – Because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.
Jesus came to open God’s heart of love to all of us and he came as a vulnerable child to do it. This advent we need to ponder the wonder of that deeply – be open and reach out with the love we know to those around us. Christmas affords many opportunities to explain the meaning of the season, we must use the ones we have.
While I was on retreat 10 days ago I finally returned to Glasshampton Monastery. This is a thin place, where the gap between earth and heaven seems smaller, and also it has been a quiet house of prayer for over 100 years, and is currently looked after by some Anglican Franciscan brothers (the same order as are based at Hilfield). It is very special.
And here is a picture of the altar in the main chapel. It is all quite plain – I love the arches that lead to the vestry (which look a bit like a house in Bethlehem, and the simple stone altar and platform (with matching tiles)). In this picture there is a San Damiano cross – this is a replica of the cross that spoke to St Francis in his earliest days – Rebuild my church was the message it had for him.
On my first visit to the chapel for evening prayer, I had a niggling feeling that something had changed I couldn’t put my finger on what. The next morning at the daily early communion, which started at 8am, I was suddenly struck as we gathered around the table for the eucharistic prayer what had been niggling me. Jesus was not there. In this picture behind the san damiano cross you can see a grey cross on the wall. Previously – if we look at this picture (which I took on my last visit in 2019) we can see there is a large (about 5ft) statue of Jesus on the grey cross – which used to dominate the space and was a very acute visual reminder of the lengths Jesus went to to save us.
I was quite flummoxed by the fact that Jesus was missing! But in a way that is one of the things we are remembering in Advent and how important it is to us that Jesus came in the first place, the difference he made and his rescue plan for all people. I found out subsequently from the brothers at afternoon tea (the only time they really converse each day) that Jesus had fallen from his position on the wall a couple of months earlier, and one of his arms had broken in the process, or had given into the strain of anchoring Jesus to the wall. There was a discussion about the fact that at his annual dust on Holy Saturday he had been noticed to be wobbly! They are currently finding 3 quotes for the rather specialist business of mending him.
In our run up to Christmas, the last thing that needs to be missing in our hearts and lives is Jesus. This is a time when we need to reflect on how we are growing, how alert we are to God’s love for us and what God is up to, and how hopefully we are living bathed in the light of Jesus great love for us. St Paul talks about strengthening us and strengthening our testimony to his love in our lives. We need not to be found to be missing either, but living lives where our faith is growing, we are alert and ready for God’s touch and above all hopeful (no matter what may come and go). Jesus love for us as I said earlier (and this is where I will end today) – is in all our yesterdays, all our todays, and all our tomorrows forever. Thanks be to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit he left with us.
Let us pray
God of hope, who brought love in to this world, be that love that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought peace in to this world, be the peace that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought joy into the world, be the joy that dwells within us.
God of hope, the rock we stand upon, be the centre, be the focus of our lives always and particularly this Advent time. Amen
The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible 1989, 1995 ©
Prayers from an Advent Manifesto by Martyn Percy – BRF 2023 ©