Posts Tagged ‘advent’

An argument for Advent

December 13, 2015

Advent – Sunday number three; the Sunday of Joy.  Candles – check.  Tree – check.  Unreasonable sense of anticipation – check.  Presents wrapped and meal plans made.  Malls crowded and favourite Christmas music on repeat.  Nearly everywhere else, the arrival of Christmas has been acknowledged – even embraced.  So please explain, Mr Lackie, why we are still trudging around with John the Baptist? Let’s get on with Christmas!

Am I just a scrooge in a gown and stole – dragging out this ‘advent’ nonsense out of some perverted sense of superiority?  I have, after all, been rather stubborn about the need for Advent as a distinct season – certain hymns – a pattern of readings – a habit that I really believe is necessary to properly prepare us as the people of God to celebrate the birth of our Saviour.  And John the baptizer plays an important part in that preparation.

John’s is the voice that sets the stage – strengthens Jesus’ connection with the prophets of liberation – with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Zephaniah, among others.  John demands repentance – and gets it – from the people who flock to the sound of his voice.  John’s abrupt and often harsh proclamation is used by Jesus as a starting point.  Jesus is a superior story-teller, and a more imaginative teacher, and he takes up John’s task after Herod throws John in jail – and the core of the message remains the same.

Today’s passage from Luke’s gospel is actually John’s shining moment; the number one sermon in John’s arsenal.  ‘Repent, you snakes, and bear fruit that proves your repentance.’   This has been his only message, but on this day, the congregation is moved to respond.  It is real repentance that causes the people to ask their questions.  “What should we do?”

You’ve convinced us, John – now help us; and John’s advice sounds…well it sounds like Jesus.  Share what you have – reach into your overflowing closets and cupboards and share the wealth of your abundance.  To the tax collector, don’t fudge the numbers; don’t take more than you are owed.  To the soldiers; don’t abuse your power.  Is this not the same message that Jesus offered, in dozens of different ways?  Love one another – enemy and friend alike; Love God and neighbour, for this is all the law.

Sure, John puts all this in the context of hellfire and damnation; the ax at the root of the tree, the unquenchable fire – but the message is consistent with the kingdom that Jesus proclaims.  Luke even calls John’s tirade “good news”.

But why do we need this, you still want to know.  Why, on the ‘Sunday of Joy’, don’t we hear some Joy, for heavens’ sake…

Let’s consider the state of our celebrations to this point: Society has pushed us to a frenzy of buying and planning – the lights are beautiful, and the music is touching, but we’ve been exposed for almost a month now.  The crowds at the mall are losing their patience.  Some retailers are running out of stock.  Tempers are short and Christmas lists are long, and no matter how often we promise ourselves that “this Christmas will be different”, collectively we continue to use the season to increase the stock value of major corporations without really adding anything useful to our own lives.  There are a few surprises – and some delight in the eyes of the very young, but what have we gained by launching Christmas in November?

In the church, however, certain stubborn souls have insisted on a sparser season of preparation – Advent.  Our readings and reflections encourage a different perspective.  We consider the coming of Christ, both as an infant and in his risen glory, as an event that frees us from all kinds of bondage, even the bondage of self-satisfied comfort and excess.  Four weeks of waiting; of careful contemplation of the consequences of committing to the kingdom of God – this is the season that prepares us to live according to the call of Christ.  And JOhn’s simple, strident advice speaks to our current situation.

What would our Christmas celebrations look like if we took John at his word?  If, rather than emptying store shelves of trinkets, we emptied our closets and cupboards for the good of those whose cupboards are always empty.  If businesses, rather than maximizing profits at the expense of workers and consumers, decided that quality and integrity was more important that constantly rising stock dividends.  What if the people entrusted with power remembered that power should serve the people; if we overturned the old playground rule of “might makes right”and sought peace and the welfare of all, without resorting to threat or violence to achieve the comfort of only a few?  That would be a different sort of December, wouldn’t it.   John and Jesus both suggest that THAT is what the kingdom of God is like.

Christmas in the church is a late addition to the list of holidays.  It is an important recognition of God’s desire to be with us, to “take flesh and live among us”, and as such Christmas offers a way to begin thinking about the Kingdom of God.  and that kingdom is so different for what we’re used to, we need time to get ready.  Time to consider the hope, the peace, the joy and love that form the foundation of that new life that Jesus offers.

Next week, our thoughts turn to love – the love of a mother for her child, soon to be born – the love of God, who takes such a chance to come in the flesh – and we still won’t have reached the point of miracle.  Patience is needed.  Preparation is important.  God has changed the rules and God’s love will change the world, and we are not yet ready.  Amen


Hungry for Wonder

December 17, 2011

I am hungry for wonder –

my wife can attest- I am always on the lookout for fantastic things…

and my driving occasionally suffers as a result.

It is a very delicate rationalization from being “aware of your surroundings” as a driver,

to being constantly on the lookout for wildlife.

But I can’t help it. Birds of prey, deer, fox – whatever there is, I’m eager to see it.

The animal kingdom , when encountered free from fences and artificial enclosures,

constitutes something miraculous for me.

And when I find the object of my search – something strange happens.

My brain declares that particular stretch of road a wonderful place –

a place ‘most likely to produce a close encounter with nature.’

And then each time I pass the spot, my eyes are drawn to it,

hoping again to see something wonderful.

I am, you might imagine, quite often disappointed.

The wonder is never where I expect it to be.


You have (I hope) your own idea of what passes for wonder –

perhaps it is the ever present beauty of nature –

or the reliable faithfulness of a particular friend –

but fast approaching is the closest thing to “universal wonder” that we have

in this age of constant information and the resulting ‘de-mystification’ of all things.


Heavenly visitors, bringing tales of an infant redeemer.

Soon will the shepherds dance and the wise men bow.

Christmas is coming,

and a great many people, some without any particular religious conviction,

will mark this wonderful event with feasting, song, and a kind of self-serving generosity

that is encouraged (and enabled) by secular retailers and purveyors of pretty things.

It is wonderful – don’t get me wrong, I’m still a big fan of the fuss we make at Christmas –

And wonder being in such short supply these days, I’ll not destroy the joy for you –

especially if you are one of those

for whom Christmas is the pinnacle of all that is holy, happy and good.

But since we are meant to be the bringers of glad tidings in the form of Gospel,

I will put before you this interesting idea I have.


The wonder of the season is never where we expect it.


This is true, I think, throughout the whole of Scripture.

God’s promised help comes in unusual ways, to unlikely people,

and we, as God’s people, often see wonder in these encounters

where there was originally strangeness and horror and dread.

It is only over centuries – generations of hearing the story

and interpreting for our own time the ‘things God has done’

that we find wonder and peace and hope and joy.


It took a long time for the story of Jesus birth to take its familiar shape.

And for me, the wonder of the Christmas story comes under suspicion

when we remember that Mary was first of all an unwed teenage mother.

That God would appear in a vision to one such as her was (and is) preposterous.

That God would commission such as Mary to be a source of revelation to the world is ridiculous!

A woman who dis-honoured her potential husband

by arriving for the nuptial celebration carrying a child of unknown origin

(or any origin, for that matter) would not be tolerated under the statutes of the day.

And even in the most pious of homes,

to credit “the spirit of God” for the conception of said child

would be seen as the weakest of excuses.

The wonder here is first how did Mary survive to honour her contract with Joseph,

and ultimately honour God’s call to bear a son…


No, the wonder is not where we imagine it too be.


Our sacred images of blessed Mary, meek and mild, are constructed by what came after.

Angelic visitors, received without hesitation, are fitting heralds of the one

who endured the cross and rose victorious from the grave.

But for now, we have wonder in an unexpected place.

A quiet girl in a quiet room, dealing with an unexpected pregnancy,

and giving God glory for this most unexpected (and, perhaps unwelcome) event in her life.


It shouldn’t have been wonderful – it might have been tragic –

but our experience of her child, grown to manhood

has made his birth a source of wonder, joy and hope

that has endured throughout our time, and promises to endure beyond time.


Let us give God glory for all the ways

we experience the wonder that is the result of the birth of Jesus,

whom we call Christ and King. Amen

those who come ‘before’…

December 5, 2009

There is always someone making predictions

concerning the wandering ways of the people of God.

Repent – return – open your eyes and see what you have done –

open your eyes to see what God is doing.

There are always going to be prophets…

but Malachi has his particular project, doesn’t he…

Malachi can’t be speaking about us, can he?

We could (we do!) say the same of any of the prophets we find in Scripture –

we are content to select those passages that suit us

and ignore (with smug satisfaction)

those bits that sound too…well, too old-school for us.

Offerings that are pleasing – we don’t need to hear that.

The sacrificial system that Malachi was commenting on is not our system.

Christ is our refiner, and that is all we need to know, right?

Yes, there are prophets for every time and place;

prophets for every situation and circumstance –

and some of them fade into obscurity,

but there are others who won’t let us rest.

And they are determined to drag us into a new relationship with God,

whether we like it or not.

Malachi won’t let us rest.

His words threaten us – frighten us –

refining and sifting do not seem like comfortable pursuits –

even less does being refined and sifted…

“who can endure this coming?”  asks the ancient text.

Who indeed?

It is a question that remains current,

no matter what you think the prophet is speaking of.

There are no direct allegations that connect Malachi’s words with our situation –

prophecy is rarely “about” us – so much as it is “FOR” us…

but who can endure the news of this great act of God that is coming?

I refuse to worry about any specific judgement that God may render –

to spend our time worrying about whether or not biblical prophecies can be connected to specific current events is not a worthy use of the revelation of God that is Holy Scripture –

but I do believe that God is always doing something among us –

something that we cannot endure…

God sends a messenger – who tries to waken us to the foolishness of our ignorance of God

(and our absence from God, which is sin)

and the message is consistently “repent”, renew your connection with the Almighty

look at the ‘new thing’ that God is doing among you…

Over and over again we are given this word.

Over and over again we debate how the word is to be understood.

Over and over again we decide

that the prophet is speaking to someone else (for someone else).

The repetition is tiresome, and we move on to other concerns.

Not content with Malachi’s warning words,

the lectionary brings us another messenger in John, son of Zechariah –

John, whose message of repentance, whose warnings of judgement,

sound very familiar to our cynical ears.

The thing about repetition – especially repetition in Scripture –

is that it usually signals something of great importance.

And the message of great importance is not “God will destroy all you wicked”

but rather “God is reaching out to us all.”

We may well be indifferent, distracted, even bored

by the incessant warnings which these ancient texts seem to hold,

but we cannot deny that throughout Scripture, and our own experience,

God is demonstrating a remarkable persistence toward humanity.

Those prophetic voices have been given a gift of special awareness.

They can see the glory we are missing.

They have discovered the extraordinary among the ordinary –

and have a knack for getting our attention.

Malachi warns that our ‘impurities’ must first be purged.

John declares that our way to forgiveness involves genuine repentance.

The message is consistent – that we are missing an opportunity

to participate in the ongoing work of God’s Kingdom on God’s own terms.

And so – even here – even now – we are called to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’

God’s messengers continues to drag us – willing or not –

toward that redeeming light that is our salvation.

We are called from our wandering paths – encouraged to clear our vision

that we might see the glory of God that is come in Christ.