Advent is a wonderful season of preparation and expectation. I think – actually do you agree – that having the candles there gives that sort of sense of hope of lights of anticipation, of expectation and holiness as well? That symbol has been for many thousands of years the symbol of the light of Christ – hundreds of years.
It’s a season when we remind ourselves to be ready and also the rather unequivocal warnings we are given of the consequences which follow from not being ready for God and God’s purposes.
There is in this season a wonderful sense of expectation, but not just expectation of Jesus’s birth at Christmas. It’s a more profound expectation of the fulfilling of God’s promises for the world through Jesus Christ, and even more importantly of the parts, the call, that we are called to play. The part that we’re called to play in making those promises fulfilled. A part we are called to play in making that kingdom of God present. Advent therefore is a season of reflection, of penitence, of preparation for God’s coming amongst us.
It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know God better. The same God who is mysterious, who is awesome, who is fearful, who is greater than the universe, who is transcendent, tantalising, infuriating, challenging, puzzling, is also the God who is nearer to us than our own breathing. He’s in our very souls in our hearts and in our lives; waiting for us to see him to notice him, to recognise him.
He’s totally committed to us in our joys and in our sorrows. He is the God who breaks his heart for us. The God who is peace and joy and healing and love. I know in the work that I’ve been doing in Syria I’ve been driven to tears almost despair at some of the things I’ve seen and experienced; but also its profound inspiration at the faith and the courage; and the life that I’ve seen in its people amidst difficult situations. The presence of God amidst faith and the light in its darkness.
No wonder the coming of God among us provides us with a deep sense of expectancy, of awe of hope of mystery. For he comes among us in many and various ways at all times and in all places, and so at Advent we anticipate that coming to us. We long and we yearn for that coming amongst us in hymns such as ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus’ and as we sang at the beginning of this service ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ come and be with us now.
But are we ready for the disturbance and the challenge which his coming would surely bring. As I said to us that said this morning: if Jesus walked through that door now would we be ready for him and what would he say to us?
One way of answering that question might be to explore those times in the gospel when we are called by Jesus to come and follow him, and there are many places in the gospel where this happens. First there first there is the ‘come’ of discipleship to Simon and Andrew the fisherman Jesus said: ‘come follow me, come after me, come follow me’ and immediately they left their nets and they followed him.
What was it about him that inspired that following that discipleship?
To a man with great possessions he said go, sell all you have and give to the poor and come follow me. Transform your life and come follow me. The challenge however full of love was too great for that man and the cost of responding to Jesus for him was too high, and the man went away sorrowful.
So when Jesus speaks into our situation and says ‘come and follow me’. What does that mean for each one of us, and how do we respond, could we accept the consequences, can we accept the consequences of following him. The ‘come’ of discipleship will cost us as well as fulfilling us. Then there is the ‘come’ of liberation: Jesus standing outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus and crying ‘Lazarus come out come out’ come out from your darkness come out from that which holds you in bondage, come out from sin and despair, come to new life. And it’s spoken to us as well in the prisons that we create for ourselves, in the bondages that we have for ourselves; but do we want to be set free can we break open those bonds and go and follow him?
We hear to hear to the calm of adventurous risky faith when Peter sees Jesus walking towards him on the water. Jesus calls to him ‘come’. Peter’s faith of course is really strong, he steps out but his faith doesn’t last very long, but the strong arm of Jesus is there to rescue him.
It’s very likely that at times Jesus will ask us to do things we are not sure we are capable of doing. Things which may be risky or not entirely safe that might lead us in unexpected directions. Even if the world counts us as foolish do we trust the Lord enough to step into the unknown and trust that the Lord is mighty enough to save.
What is the Lord calling each one of us in our lives, in each of our own contexts to do? We hear also many instances of the ‘come’ of invitation: ‘come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’. But are we willing to make the time for God do we really trust him? Do we put ourselves in his hands? Do we enable him: surrender ourselves to him: to enable him to refresh us?
And then there’s ‘come to the wedding feast for all is now ready’. Wonderful invitation to share in the kingdom of God. The same invitation is made every Sunday of the year when we invited to share in the Eucharistic banquet to feast with Jesus, to feast on Jesus. ‘Come draw near’ he says ‘share my life and my love’ do we make our excuses? And even after the triumph of the resurrection by the Sea of Galilee the ‘come’ of invitation is to be heard when Jesus appears and says his disciples in all their confusion, and their grief, and their bewilderment, and their loss: ‘come and have breakfast’. In the enormity of that situation an invitation which is so down to earth to share in the life of God in the everyday in the absolutely normal and actually in just in the ordinary sustenance come and receive what you need.
So discipleship, liberation, adventurous faith, invitation: these are all made possible by an inviting God who through the ages – and this is what the readings in this service – illustrate who through the ages has been inviting his people to come to him.
So how do we test this invitation? Jesus gives a simple – and often his words are simple – a simple answer. ‘Come and see’. We can only test out God by taking the risk of experiencing him and responding to his invitations. ‘Come and see’ and when we do we may see him both in glory and on the cross, but his love opened to us and his arms spread wide for us, and his arms reaching out to us, his Spirit reaching out to us, bringing healing and light and life amidst darkness and what we may have thought is despair. So are we ready?
Advent is a call to respond and to be ready for God and to be ready for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom right amongst us in our hearts and in our lives. Where does that fulfilment and that redemption for each one of us lie? In one sense the answer lies within each one of us because it lies in the response that each one of us gives to Jesus when he says simply to each one of us: ‘Come’ says Jesus ‘come, follow me, come and see’.