An address on the First Sunday in Advent

Mission is something that is done by all God’s people – not between individuals or clergy or the bishops or by projects themselves. Mission the work of the kingdom, is the task of the whole church community and that is what Advent is partly all about.

So reflection on Advent the beginning of the church’s year. The start of it all. A time of anticipation a time of waiting but also a time of preparing. Imagine Jesus were to appear here today walking through those doors right now, what would he see in the world around us, what would he see in us and what would he say to us? Have we responded to his call of two thousand years ago and are we ready to meet him? well we may feel a little nervous at the thought of those questions, we may feel that the answer is well not really. If we look around at the world around us if we look at our own lives and we may feel we have failed hopelessly to fulfil our call and we may be tempted to despair; but Advent is not about despair it is about hope. It’s also about renewing our confidence as we wait and reflect, as we recommit ourselves to be ready for the message of that gospel. That’s one reason why the churches year is so important in all our lives because every year our whole life is a journey of learning and the re – recycling if you like the reclaiming of that story, of the renaming of that story, is important in inserting in our lives and our souls that journey that commitment that growth that renewal.

The church’s year begins not in a great fanfare but reflectively challenging us to live not just as if we are living for the future but as if the future is with us now. Advent is about looking forward yes, to the fulfilling of God’s kingdom, but it is also about playing our part in initiating that Kingdom which has already been inaugurated in Christ. He has made that kingdom present in the world and we are called to make that present in our lives. In this sense the Advent message is the heart of the gospel message: God has come amongst us in Christ already. His kingdom is not just a future hope it has already come, and it’s right here in your heart and in mine. In this place, and in the world around us even if we do not discern it or see it, or crucially respond to it. Jesus did not die in heaven, he died here on earth and his kingdom is present: he lives in every circumstance where there is love and reconciliation, the struggle for peace and justice even amidst hatred and bigotry and it’s suffering and pain there is Christ there is the kingdom.

For God is at work even in the darkest places and even within the crosses that we all carry in our lives, at work and present, whether we know it or not, perhaps in whether we believe it or not, waiting for us to perceive him to hear him, discern him and respond to him. God calls us therefore not to despair. God is not in a distant remote place, and a distance remote time, but right now right here or right here right now, and if his kingdom is now then we are called to be a kingdom people following the way of Christ living in his hope and sharing that hope with the world around us.

The Prophet Jeremiah had no doubt that the kingdom would be fulfilled when God send a Messiah and that that Kingdom would be one in which justice and righteousness prevailed. Note that these above all things are the mark of the kingdom, for they are a sign of the all embracing love of God. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians he makes clear to the Christian community – in a cosmopolitan and multi-faith context, that the work of the kingdom is rooted in the love that they show to one another: we heard that in the brief passage from Thessalonians that we heard, and for those around them and Jesus reminds us in the Gospel reading for today that we will be judged by the extent to which we have responded to God’s call for justice and righteousness by the extent of – by which we have been instruments of his kingdom.

Are we ready to respond to this? Readiness requires patience it requires work and it requires time. That’s why Advent it is so important, and actually of course you know now we sort of leap into Christmas. Christmas sort of appears and mid October doesn’t it and the Christmas carols are out and and there we are and Christmas has appeared. It’s actually very sad that Advent has been lost amidst it’s all because Advent is so important in our preparation, that stepping back but being ready that preparing that waiting. That responding to the kingdom requires patience preparation and time (and actually just a little plug in because the team, we’re talking early next year, we will be doing some of that, in this parish reflecting on, early next year as a parish, in what our response to being the kingdom here in North Baddesley about. So watch out for that early next year. Am I alright in say saying this? they the team there? they’re okay; A day are they in early next year haven’t quite fixed a date yet when everybody will be invited to be thinking about what we as a Benefice in North Baddesley Ampfield and Chilworth with how we respond it’s about call to be initiators of the kingdom of God here in you know how we use what we’re doing to be initiator of the kingdom of God here in this Benefice

Think of all the preparation and the cost that goes into the visit of a head of state whether he’s welcome or not, or into a wedding or into a big party – I might have said years ago, actually was a Millennium, when I once um I once shocked my congregation by starting the sermon by saying I’m really delighted to announce that in the Millennium year the Queen and Archbishop of Canterbury are visiting one parish in every diocese and our parish has been chosen, and there was a wonderful whisper, gasps from the congregation – and then I quickly had to say I am sorry that’s not true. But imagine the preparation that would go in if we knew the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury were going to come to this place. Months of preparation and everything would be spotless and how we would be dressed you know – and everything would be … think of the preparation or any major events how invest our time our energy our resources.

Being ready for the kingdom, ready for the King requires no less commitment think of that question at the beginning again – if Jesus walked through the door now said ‘good and faithful servants’? How do we feel to that? So it requires reflection on what we’re about, who we are and where we come from and that work involves us all it’s not just a matter of the ministry team or the Vicar or whatever.

For mission is something that is done by all God’s people – not between individuals or clergy or the bishops or by projects. Mission the work of the kingdom, is the task of the whole church community and that is what Advent is partly all about. A vital preparation in our hearts to receive Christ’s call and having responded to be ready for Christ himself in every day of our lives through out the churches year whether it be Advent or Christmas or Epiphany or Easter or that long period of ‘green’ you know the ‘Ordinary Time’ the ordinary events of our daily lives every moments of our daily life.

So whilst we consider that the world around us remember that amidst all the darkness and there is so much darkness and pain in the world around us remember that there is light. That light shines in the faith in the goodness in the Spirit of Christ which is present in every situation and particularly in those people who have discovered the presence and the love of Christ, and are showing it in those situations; and it shines in in many ways, in this, in many situations in each of our lives and here and all sorts of things that would happen as well but it shines also in every acts of love and compassion that is shown amidst all struggle and pain and darkness, in our lives and in the world around us. So we need not despair.

Advent reminds us that the kingdom is here light, that’s why this afternoon we have candlelit service. light shines amid darkness, darkness.The light of Christ is coming, has come, into the world and we are called to be lights in that world and

I’m going to finish with a reflection which I’ll read from … this book was published and must be I think I’ve probably had it twenty years Vanessa have you seen Nick Fawcett? yes and Nick Fawcett had actually several he’s produced several books of reflections: and he sort of imagines the he’s imagines that he’s John the Baptist or Mary or a disciple or a person of the biblical context and and he imagines a sort of monologue a dialog of somebody reflecting on on a particular passage, and this particular reflection is is is imagining that’s a first century Christian reflecting on the passage that we just read on the Luke’s passage on ‘when you hear of wars and instructions do not be terrified for these things must happen, nations will rise against nations’ and so forth and these will happen now, will happen soon. So here’s an imaginary meditation of a first century Christian

He was wrong wasn’t he? Let’s be honest about it. He made a promise which he wasn’t able to keep.There have been wars and rumours of wars chaos confusion unrest and upheaval all the things he predicted; but the generation has come and the generation has gone with neither sight nor sound of his coming. We’ve seen nation rise against nation famine earthquake flood there’s been persecution sorrow untold suffering, brother betraying brother, families divided amongst themselves just as he said it would be. In fact there’s only one thing missing one piece left to complete the jigsaw and that’s him; the one it should all be about. So that’s it isn’t it the end of the story of the death of the dream – no point believing any longer. Unless maybe we’ve missed something. Misunderstood what he was trying to say. Is it possible? Is that why he spoke of heaven and earth passing away but his words standing forever. Could it be the further fulfilment is yet to come. The kingdom is here now. Growing all around us if only we have eyes to see it. Come to think of it isn’t that what he said the kingdom of God is among you; in every acts of love and deed of kindness, every word of witness and testimony to his saving grace, bit by bit it’s taking shape; another brick in the wall, another thread woven into the tapestry each bringing the day of fulfilment a little closer. It may not be quite the time scale we imagined nor the one he had in mind either, but if that causes us to doubt maybe we’re looking at the wrong thing, in the wrong place at the wrong time. The signs are there plain enough just as he promised they would be; but don’t despair don’t lose hope: Springtime is upon us the summer is near.

So let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ you promised proclaimed the kingdom of God as a present reality. Forgive us for all too often seeing it solely as a future hope. You talk to serving you on earth. Forgive us for being more concerned with praising you in heaven. You spoke of meeting you in our daily lives here and now forgive us for focusing instead on our encounter in the life to come. Open our eyes to your presence around us, our ears to your call in the cry of those in need, our minds to the growth of your kingdom in all who work now to make known your love. Teach us in all the pain and turmoil of our world, all its pain and suffering, to recognise the need of your coming again and your invitation to bring that day closer through our service. And help us finally to hold onto the conviction that you will come to finish what you have started, to draw all things to yourself and complete your new creation. In that faith we pray. Amen