A sermon preached by Bill Beaver at St Mary’s on 4th December 2022
About six times I have tried to write this sermon for the second Sunday in Advent
Rich as its readings are, and there are few preachers more keen than I to summon in your mind’s eye the prophesies in Isaiah or the joy of trudging expectantly over stubbled fields to Bethlehem, repenting, hoping with a lamb in your arms.
Yet how can I write of the joy of Christ’s birth, albeit tinged with the knowledge of his forthcoming sacrifice, when staring us in the face is the brutal fact that our world is going to the dogs.
-Our homes are too cold, the weather is dire,
-Any savings we have are going for a Burton
and half the world is regularly consumed by floods or fire, take your pick.
-The economy more than echoes the 1930s.
-Refugees arrive to a disappointing, so called ‘welcome’.
-There are more strikes now than at any one time in the 1970s.
-Middle aged people who should be working aren’t. Almost 400,000 Britons of working age, 50-64 are economically inactive and, dare I say it, unhappy.
-Want to get rich? Invest in antidepressants.
Last year almost 8 million of us took drugs for depression.
-And about the only thing the politicians are good at is kicking the reform
of the non-existent social care system down the road, leaving the NHS to bleed to death.
-Alas, no one has yet had the gumption to slip Putin a Novachok cocktail.
-And it costs 60p to send a paper Christmas car that is 12 bob, 12 whole shillings!
And now to add to our collective, oppressive sorrow, the Census Bureau and the media
have just gleefully announced thatnobody belongs to the church anymore.
Like Elvis, Christianity has left the stage.
Yet, to quote Gershwin’s Sportin’ Life, ‘It ain’t necessarily so’. The problem is that Christianity in this country is so all pervading, so much of the air we breathe, the life we lead, that the people of this country forget to give credit where credit is due: namely, to Jesus, the Son of God, and his teachings.
The people’s outrage at immorality and dishonesty in public life which has resulted in changes in government comes straight from Jesus and the money changers, a story without equal in other scriptures. And what about the 98% in favour of stopping a vicious, unjust war in Ukraine? As the Archbishop of Canterbury reiterated from a bunker in Kyiv on Friday Christ taught much about putting wrongs right. And why do so many Britons support overseas and local charities? Because such compassion and generosity are a constant theme in the Bible. And how wonderfully generous are you, who willingly support Christian Aid, our own chosen charities or help at our joint Anglican-Methodist food bank?
And the answer is Jesus, drawing on his Jewish background yet completely counterculture for his time, he taught his disciples and still teaches us, his latter day disciples today.
So we are still and will remain a Christian nation because its values, our values, are at the heart of our national DNA. Christ is still there in the marketplace, in our homes, at work, and how we act. So we can put the doom merchants back in their boxes. They simply are ignorant.
But whereas unlike most people who skate through life, we want to see what is under the bonnet. You and I are not content to take it all for granted. We are active in seeking truth and ‘Sir, we would know Jesus’ is our urgent, daily cry.
We are here today because we are not content to be passive, tiptoeing through life hoping to make it safely to death. We want to celebrate God’s love made manifest in human formand emulate his injunction, his commission to live our lives to the full,
our every action and thought grounded in generosity of spirit, of service and of giving
all of which are hallmarks of you, the avowed Christian of this parish and this church.
You are missionaries. You believe that with God’s help you can make the world a better place, make the rough places plane. Hence your generosity, your commitment, your strength all of which springs from knowing that you are loved and yearn to do what He would have us do. It is great to be God loving, God fearing, not least now, for Advent holds a promise of wonder and awe for we followers of Jesus Christ who thrill at this season of expectation in our hearts and minds when we prepare ourselves afresh to welcome Christ into our lives, the adventus of his incarnation, God made man made manifest.
And what is especially special about Advent is the realisation that we have a destination, when in a mere three plus weeks Advent will give way to Christ’s birthday party.It will be a grand party to which we are invited and we do not want to show up empty-handed. We want to give the Christ child, St Mary and St Joseph a present: we want to give ourselves afresh.
We have three plus weeks to make ourselves fit to knock at the stable door. Three plus weeks to get our act together. And this is where Advent becomes even more special in our mind’s eye, for Advent takes on shades of Lent, where our shriving, our discipline, our determination to draw ever nearer to God in Christ, is what will make us fit to kneel at the crib.
Now in former times people looked upon Advent as the season when we mortals endlessly petitioned Christ ‘to come to us and put our lives aright’. O Come, O Come, Emanuel rings in our ears yet, and it is a big yet, surely, it is we who should go to Him, to come to Him.
And this is the true message of this festival, for there is light and life in all he brings
and boy do we need it more than ever. Yes, our world is in the biggest mess since, as my old drill sergeant used to tell me in dulcet tones, the biggest mess since Christ was a corporal. And to close my catalogue of woe, in so many ways the comfortable post-war way of life is over. Everything feels grim and desperate.
So the answer is to make something of this, your advent. Give him yourself anew as you trudge towards the warmth of the stable for in Christ is our only purpose for living.
in God is love and the welcoming recipient of our prayers in which we ask afresh ‘Here I am. What do you want me to do?’
Re-discovering purpose, encouraging ourselves and others to opt in rather than opt out is what He commands us to do.
Over and over in His short life, he taught that being selfless is more satisfying than being selfish. Never mind finding yourself, give of yourself as Christ did.
This is where satisfaction lies.
And here at St Mary’s Iffley you have proved this over and over: interacting with communities, bringing hope as well as help. You know the only antidote to the malaise that besets the world is doing what God wants us to do.
And so as we trudge through the snow to Bethlehem we won’t be coming empty handed at all for we know in our hearts and minds that we in our small, individual ways, as followers of God in Christ, can make this benighted world better,making a difference however small, connecting across the generations to dispel the awful darkness which is the world today.
Remember, girding your loins afresh, helping yourself, helping others find purpose, righting wrongs, is real, all-engaging, purposeful work be you 19 or 90.
It is a moral priority and, eventually, satisfaction will come in its wake.
And so we come back to the real meaning of Advent and all-disempowering darkness will be dispelled by the warmth of love and light, the light of Christ.