The alarm bell is ringing.
Things are going to change. It’s no use burying your head in the pillows and hoping that the day will go away. It’s time to wake up.
I really don’t like the importation of Black Friday into the shopping calendar, as if preparing for Christmas was about getting reductions in the gifts you buy for your nearest and dearest. But here we are, two days after Black Friday and it’s Advent, and time to wake up to spiritual realities. This is where the preparation for Christmas really begins. Jesus is coming and we need to wake up.
Jesus comes to us at Christmas as a little babe, the Son of God who leaves the glory of heaven to live among us and get alongside us. And we know that come the 25th December we will rejoice and celebrate, but in the meantime we get ready.
My baby grand-daughter is now 8 days overdue. She might be born at any time. We are excited, but cautiously excited, because our first grandchild was stillborn in September. We know about making all the preparations, only to put everything away again, because the child has died.
When baby Jesus arrives, he is born under the shadow of the cross. We rejoice at the birth. The bells ring. The angels sing Alleluia. But we know how the story goes on. Black Friday comes at the end of his life, not as a commercial preparation for his birth.
Advent is about getting ready for Christmas, getting ready for the coming of the Christ-child, getting ready in our hearts and minds, getting ready for what the coming of this child will mean to us, opening our hearts so that we allow ourselves to be changed by this baby.
Advent is rich in themes and stories. We unpack them like gifts in the four weeks before Christmas. It is not just chocolate we take out of our advent calendars each day, but the layers of Advent meaning.
Wake up! That is the first theme. We are sleep-walking. We get comfortable in our lives and we assume that this is how it will always be. The reality is that things change all the time, and we need to engage with that consciously. Advent is a call to wake up to what God is doing. Wake up to the Christ who is coming.
Christ who comes to us at Christmas is not just a baby in a manger. Advent is our annual reminder that we are waiting for Christ to come to us again. It is all too easy to think that, well, we’ve been waiting nigh on 2,000 years, he’s not going to come back now. Because he will return, in his own time, and we need to be ready. We say it each week in the liturgy: Christ will come again. And he will.
The language of the second coming of Christ is wrapped up in apocalyptic images: cosmic changes, earthquakes, raging fire. It is the language of great change.
Getting ready for the coming of Christ means doing some spiritual work. Advent is a time of fast. In the Orthodox tradition, fasting means not eating meat, fish or dairy produce – a much more serious proposition than giving up biscuits or beer. In the Church of England, we have diminished the discipline of fasting, which is sad. In a world of consumerism and Black Friday Deals, it helps to balance our priorities, a tool to help us turn again to God. Repentance is another discipline – sin creeps in when we don’t really notice, the things that divert our attention from Christ himself. So we take another look at ourselves and our life styles and think – where is Christ in all of this?
So there is work to do as individuals, reconnecting with who Christ is for us, turning again to our Lord, sweeping clean our internal rooms.
But there is work also to do as a church. Paul tells the church in Corinth that Christ will strengthen them as a church as they wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are to use the gifts that God has given them, not just as individuals, but as a church.
In the life of this church, you are getting ready to advertise for a new incumbent. The new priest won’t be entirely your own. You will have to share him or her with the Parish of Bensham & Teams. There have been meetings to discuss how this might work, how our two parishes can work more closely together. Your leaders are bringing about a new vision, a dream of how things might be. Things will change. Whoever is appointed, things will change, because a new personality inevitably brings different gifts and different opportunities. That’s not something to fear, but something to celebrate. Your new incumbent will open new doors for you, and I very much look forward to working with him or her and with all of you.
As the people of God in this place, you have so many gifts. You are bright and educated and able. You have experience of making things happen, of making a difference in peoples’ lives. In my parish, we have the opposite. We have people who struggle with life in different ways.
Christ will come again! In the meantime, I pray that our parishes can work together to do Christ’s work across these two parishes. Together we are stronger and more able than working singly and alone. Then maybe we can be midwives to the birth of Christ in the hearts of the wider community.
That is my dream, this Advent! What’s yours?