SMC 2nd December 2018
So, are you ready for Christmas? With the season of advent we can finally start thinking about Christmas. These four Sundays of advent encourage us to prepare for the coming feast of the Lord's birth and for that day when Christ shall come again to judge the living and the dead. I can safely say I have not bought any Christmas presents yet but Anne-Marie and I have managed to buy some cards. I am sure many of us here have taken advantage of Black Friday deals and got many of the presents you intend to give. And well done you! But are you ready for the spiritual celebration of Christmas? All Christians should be at Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to worship the new born King. On Christmas Eve there are Masses at 4pm and 11:30pm here at St Mary’s and at the Good Shepherd at 6pm. On Christmas Day there is Mass here at 10am. Work out which of those four you can come to and maybe if you normally work but are having some time off you’ll be able to come to Mass on Boxing Day at 10am or the day after at 10am: yes, there will continue to be Mass every day. There are spiritual preparations to be done.
Advent looks forward to the fulfilling of a promise that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son. It’s a promise articulated in the first reading, “in those days I will make a virtuous branch grow for David.” Elsewhere in the Old Testament (Isaiah 11:1-3; Jeremiah 23:5) there are prophecies concerning the root of Jesse and it’s in effect the same language: something growing out of something that is nourishing and strong. A branch not growing without a solid base, not inventing itself out of nothing, but something secure, tested, trustworthy. This is a kingdom to fulfil the promises made to David of a future people after His death, one that will have a house for the Name of God to dwell in peace with His people (II Samuel 7). This Kingdom Christ established by His life and person and the final revelation of its victory will be when He comes again in just judgement.
With this solid foundation of Christ Jesus we are to prepare for our death and the end of the world. I know a two year old who has just started speaking. His latest words are “please and thank you.” He asks his parents for something and they remind him to say please and thank you and so he says “Please. Thank you” even before he’s got whatever he wants! He’s not quite got the meaning of the words and the concept that time has to pass between saying please and thank you. We get used to having time as human beings, we end up taking it for granted that we will have another day, another week, another time to put something right, to forgive someone, or to know Jesus. If we are to follow Jesus all the way to Heaven we must get used to living without time, outside of time.
Three little suggestions:
My friends, we must have an urgency in wanting to sort out our spiritual lives. Hear the encouragement from our second reading: “make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live” (I Thessalonians 4:1). Have at least one thing you want to improve in your spiritual life this Advent. There is a deep yearning for this spiritual maturity in our land today but there are many charlatans, givers of false hope and empty promises, experts on lifestyle choices, meditation practices and harnessing internal energy. This cacophony of people offering that which only Christ can give is a foretaste of that which our saviour speaks of in our Gospel today: “nations in agony, and bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves” (Luke 21:25). Never have we been in so much need of silence in our lives and silence in our worship that, having focused on Christ, we may sing his praises all the louder!
We are not to misunderstand the words of our Lord when he says, “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars.” He doesn’t mean that if we read our horoscopes we will discover any truth there. The astrological signs associated with our birth dates do not determine the sort of person we will be: what sort of God would imprison us and our personalities by such limitations? So also with fortune tellers and palm readers, we do best to remember the words of psalmist, “put not your trust in princes nor in any human power” (Psalm 146:3). God creates us free to be the people He wants us to be having made us in His image and having polished up that image through our baptism. We realise how important urgency is when we realise how free we are and how wonderfully intelligent we are.
This urgency remind us also to avoid is using ends to justify means. For example, when people lie on their CVs - which is wrong - but justify it because they need a job to provide for their family - which is a morally good thing to do. If we’re to be ready to die at any moment we’ll want to love and support our families but we’ll never want to lie because that might be the last word we utter, our soul judged on that action. We’ll not let arguments rule our lives if we’re living aware we might not have time to mend those relationships. We won’t put off our spiritual growth because we may be judged for eternity today.
As we think about how we live our lives ready to die, ready for the Lord’s coming, I thought I ought to consider whether our church and parish community sufficiently lives up to the call to be ready and I asked myself what that should look like. Part of it will be us getting the balance right between having big plans, ten year programmes, multi-million pound extensions - which all those sound impressive don’t they? - but I’m not sure they’re really living ready to die. The fool who wants to build barns has big plans that will take a while to achieve (Luke 12:16-2) and we know he couldn’t put any of them into action because his “life was demanded of him.” Equally, it would be irresponsible not to have any plans. And we do have some: plans to remove the lower half of the rood screen - once we have money to do it - to open up the worship space and enable us in the Nave to see more of the beauty of the sanctuary. And I hope still to form support groups so we can care for each other and for newcomers better.
A second part of this is that I try not to have too many committees in the parish. I think there’s a great wisdom in the joke saying, “God loved the world so much He didn’t send a committee.” Committees can become consumed with taking minutes and serving themselves, keeping itself going while losing focus of the goal for which we strive, namely the proclamation of Christ and the conversion of souls through the sacraments. I hope the absence of too many committees and groups help us all to become involved within the life of St Mary’s. We don’t have a social committee so if you want to organise an event jolly well speak to me and let’s get on with it. We don’t have a mission committee, it would simply be great if people took some of the Christmas cards inviting people to Mass over Christmas and delivered them. It helps us stay focused on what is important.
The trouble with preparing is that we confuse is all too often with delaying, which isn’t what its about at all. It’s about getting on with the task today so that if this is our last day we would have lived it ready. Let’s live these twenty three days of Advent with a spiritual urgency, not making decisions on stars or suns or other pressures, not saying that because we want to achieve something honourable doing something dishonourable is permitted. And let us pray that our life together here at St Mary’s will be one where God’s priorities flourish as we his faithful people minister to Him in His Temple. Amen.