Are we there yet?
I expect most of us have heard that at some point from the backseat of the car on a long journey. Our journey is not a physical one. But I think we can all be excused for thinking, are we there yet?
It seems like the shops have been full of Christmas stuff, decorations, wrapping paper, etc. for weeks now. And we’ve only just got to the beginning of December. But I think we can all be forgiven for thinking ahead, spreading the cost planning.
There’s so much to get ready and to do. Food planning, which family members are going to be where, who are we travelling to see and who’s coming to us who and what to buy. for. Then as all the wrapping of the presence, putting up the tree, it seems like we do need a month or so just to plan and shop and do and when I look at my diary, from now on, it’s full of Christmas stuff. Carols at school Nativity plays to attend, some of which is very difficult to find reference to the birth of Christ at all.
We’ve got carols and cakes here, and at Chilworth, Carols around the fire at St. Marks, Midnight [Holy Communion] to prep for and Christmas Day. There really doesn’t seem much time for any quiet reflection, prayer and spiritual preparation. Advent just seems a bit of a blur.
Which is why I have been so pleased to come across a book, which will be my guide through this Advent season. A reminder of what this season is actually all about. Not the birth of the baby in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, that’s already happened. God has already shown himself to the to the world, sacrificed himself on the cross, so that we may know ourselves forgiven and loved more than we ever thought possible.
No, what we are waiting for. What we need to be prepared for, as our readings tell us this morning is for the return of Christ. That day when he will come again to take those who he finds ready and waiting back to himself. That is what Advent is all about. And it is that for which we must be prepared. We don’t want to be one of those left behind.
So I thought this morning, I would just read you a passage from that book I mentioned earlier, which for me sums up the essence of Advent, putting aside what is frivolous and unimportant, and concentrating on what is of the most great importance, our own salvation. The book is called ‘When the time was fulfilled’. And this piece is written by Alfred Delp Alfred was a pastor in Munich, who secretly helped the Jews who were escaping Hitler’s Germany into Switzerland. Condemned as a traitor, for his [opposite] opposition to Hitler. Delp wrote these pieces in this collection in a Nazi prison camp, shortly before he was hanged, in 1945.
The Gestapo offered to Delp his freedom if he would just leave the Jesuits – give up his faith. But he refused. like Christ, He humbled Himself and was obedient unto death. And he writes: ‘I see Advent with greater intensity and anticipation than ever before. Walking up and down in my cell, three paces this way, and three paces that way. With my hands in irons, and ahead of me an uncertain fate. I have a new and different understanding of God’s promise of redemption and release.
Two years ago, I was given a little angel for Advent. It bore the inscription rejoice for the Lord is near. A bomb destroyed the angel and killed the man who gave it to me. I feel he’s doing me the service of an angel now.
The horror of war would be unendurable, unless we kept being encouraged by the promises that have been spoken. There are always angels of Annunciation, speaking their message of good news into the into the midst of anguish, scattering their seed of blessing that will spring up one day in the midst of night. They call us to hope.
These are not yet the loud angels of rejoicing and fulfilment that come out into the open, like the angels of that first Christmas, but quiet and inconspicuous. They come into rooms and hearts as they did then quietly they bring God’s question and proclaim us to the wonders of God, for whom Nothing is impossible.
For all its seriousness, Advent is a time of inner security because we have received a message from on high. Oh, if it ever happens that we forget the message and the promises, if all we know is the four walls and the prison windows of our grey days, if we can no longer hear the gentle step of the announcing angels. If our souls are no longer both shaken and exalted by their whispered word, then it will be all over with us.
We are living wasted time and are dead long before they do us any harm. If we want to be alive, then we must first believe in the golden seed of God, that the angels have scattered and are still offering to open hearts. Then we must walk through the grey days of our time as announcing messengers.
So many need their courage strengthened. So many are in despair and in need of comfort. There is so much harshness that needs a gentle hand and an illuminating word, so much loneliness, crying out for a word of release. So much loss and pain in search of inner meaning.
God’s messengers know that the Lord is casting seed of blessing into these hours of history as well. Understanding this world and the light of Advent, means to endure in faith, waiting for the fertility of the silent earth the abundance of the coming harvest. Not because we put our trust in the earth, but because we have heard God’s message and have met one of God’s angels ourselves.
Advent is the time of promise. It is not yet the time of fulfilment. To eyes that do not see it seems that the final dice are being cast down here in the valley of death, on the battlefields, in the cities of violence and poverty in the souls of millions who have lives of desperation. Those who are awake However, sense the working of those other powers, eternal realities, which shine their light of radiant fulfilment to come.
From afar sound, the first notes not yet discernible as a song or melody. The new song of God’s future is still far off, and only just announced and foretold, but fulfilment is happening. It is occurring today. And tomorrow, the angels will tell them what has happened with loud rejoicing [for] voices and we will know it and be glad. Amen