Tag Archives: Advent

Last Friday…

This sermon was preached at the St. Andrew’s 8am & St. Peter’s 11am Holy Communion services on 15th November 2015. The readings were Daniel 12:1-3, Hebrews 10:11-25 and Mark 13:1-8.

Our readings today direct our thoughts to the time when Jesus will return in glory to this world, His world. It’s appropriate for us to look at this today for a few reasons – next week we celebrate Christ the King, then enter Advent as we prepare ourselves for the coming of the King of Kings born into the world as a poor, homeless peasant child; and today we cast our minds back to this time last year as we bid our dear Ian farewell as he went on ahead of us to wait with Jesus for the end times.

Alongside that we have the devastating attacks that have taken place in Paris this Friday, where at least 129 people were brutally murdered while doing nothing more than enjoying an evening out.

At times like these it’s not unusual for our thoughts to turn to the end times – not just our own time, but the end of everybody’s time. On most days this seems so far off as to be inconsequential – but at others it seems so real, the line between this world and the next so thin, that we can almost touch it.

For some this is a comforting thought, for some it is downright terrifying. For some it would depend on what day of the week you asked them.

All three of our readings have elements of Jewish apocalyptic writing – a style that usually anticipates a great crisis to befall the world, but in light of a current crisis afflicting the people it’s written for.

It looks to explain what’s happening in the material world by talking of what is happening in the parallel spiritual realm, with everything happening on earth representing and matching up to a larger, heavenly struggle between good and evil. So it reads into earthly events cosmic significance, and anticipates future events on earth in light of the coming battle between the forces of God and the devil.

This attempt to make sense of current events and experiences by casting them in a larger, cosmic framework should, theoretically bringing comfort or reassurance to people who find themselves suffering or being oppressed. The problem with this style of writing comes, however, when the words are taken out of context and applied to any given situation being faced in a person, or peoples, lives. This is one of the biggest mistakes we make with the Bible full stop –  taking the words away from their original usage, meaning and intended audience & try to apply them with a large trowel to any situation we see fit.

This is not to say God does not speak to us through the Bible, that we won’t find passages that encourage, challenge, strengthen or comfort us, but to understand how they apply to us & what God wants us to take from them requires an understanding of why they were written in the first place. Otherwise it’s like taking the instructions for a washing machine & applying them to a tumble dryer – they’re both big white boxes with a window in the front, but they have different purposes despite their similarities.

And this is the point Jesus is making to His disciples in our Gospel reading today – not the thing about washing machines, obviously, but the warning not to try to lay specific words given for one situation over a different one, even if there are similarities.

To set the scene, chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel has Jesus challenging the perceived authority of the religious elite at the temple.

Obviously Jesus is secure in the knowledge that God has supreme authority, but for his disciples to hear Him openly criticising the scribes and the Pharisees in public must have been a big indicator, a big wake up call, that their friend and teacher really was prepared to live and ultimately die to give glory to God the Father. With this in mind, I tend to hear the disciples acclamation about the wonderful stones and buildings in a tone of voice that says, “Teacher, have you seen this place. Are we seriously going to take this on?” In response to this, Jesus immediately plays down the perceived permanence of the Temple – after all, while the ancient holy place may have seemed immovable only God Himself is eternal, meaning everything else is temporary in comparison.

He then sits down with His closest companions and answers their very obvious follow-up question – when is this going to happen? To understand His answer again relies on knowing the context Mark was writing in. This Gospel is seen as the earliest of the four in the New Testament, probably written between AD 65-70, and is generally accepted to be the good news as recalled by Peter, which Mark wrote down. So, in light of the Roman-Jewish war of 66-70, which led to amongst other things the destruction of the Temple, this passage seems to be specifically addressing a given point in history.

Contrary to popular expectations in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic circles, war, catastrophe, persecution and the fall of Jerusalem and desecration of the Temple were not sure signs of the end of the world. Though these things had just occurred, ‘the end is not yet.’ The end of history is instead to be associated with the coming of the Son of Man in glory. From now on, for Christians, the return of Jesus replaces the Temple as the focal point of hope for the full realization of the Kingdom of God. The intention of the text is therefore to call the followers of Jesus – those sitting on the Mount of Olives, those reading the Gospel as the Temple was destroyed, and us sitting here today – to hope for the coming of the Christ the Lord.

You see, our situation today is similar to that of the first readers in at least one important respect: The historical signs which many people associate with the end of the world have occurred countless times by now, but the final coming of the Son of Man still lies in the future.

We should call Mark 13 to mind whenever we see news articles, hear broadcasts or even come across people or preachers brandishing calculations that conclude, “This is the time!…” When we read about the Paris attacks, when we see the news footage, it’s easy to believe the world is broken and it’s time to scrap it and start again. But this is where our historical situation is quite different from that of the first readers. The cosmos did not collapse, nor did the Son of Man come in clouds with great power during the lifetime of the Twelve, or during any of horrific events of the past, meaning our Gospel passage offers us a balance. It both gently corrects and reigns in apocalyptic enthusiasm on one hand, while challenging jaded scepticism on the other.

But more than that, this passage also reminds us that, in reality, Jesus will return. Maybe the trumpet is set to sound in about 6 billion years, when scientists predict the Sun’s core will run out of hydrogen, leading it to collapse then grow in size, consuming the orbits of Mercury, Venus and eventually the Earth as well. Or maybe the world will end tomorrow, or the next day – “No one knows when that day and hour will come” as Jesus reminds us in Matthew’s Gospel. So there is never a better time to seek to repair, restore, or even begin a relationship with Jesus – than right now.

This understanding of the need to watch, expectantly, for the return of Christ should help us realize that we really do need to be mindful of God’s presence in our own lives, and allow Him to act through them.

It may be that some of us here need to start believing, really believing, that actually Jesus really does love you; that He really did die for you and would have done even if you were the only person to ever have existed.

Some of us may need to realise that our sins can, and have, been forgiven.

Some of us may need to reach the conclusion that there will never be the ‘right’ time to have the conversation about faith with our friend, loved one or work colleague that we keep putting off, despite the Holy Spirit tugging at our sleeve like a toddler wanting a biscuit every time we see them.

But all of us need to realise that whatever we are facing at the moment, whatever trials or triumphs, pains or pleasures fill our waking and our sleeping, Jesus is right there with us through them, and is preparing us each day for the journey home to be with Him.

Friday’s atrocities may seem like the beginning of the end – in the apocalyptic narrative they serve as a reminder of the fragility of our earthly existence. But the Good News of Jesus Christ should remind us – should convict us – that no matter what happens in this world, the cosmic battle between good and evil has already been won. Death has been destroyed by the resurrection, so we can stand with confidence and proclaim that these terrorists, committing acts of evil while hiding behind a false interpretation of the Islamic faith, may at worst destroy our mortal bodies, but can never take our eternal soul.

The writer to the Hebrews captured this perfectly in our reading today.

“We have a great priest in charge of the house of God. So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water. Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.”

Our hope is founded on the glorious reality that Jesus lived, died and rose again to set us free from sin and death.

We can confidently welcome the stranger, stand firm with the oppressed and marginalised, whatever their background or beliefs, and all because our hope does not rely on mortal men but on the grace and power of the eternal God.

An easy way “to help one another to show love and to do good” is by example, by the way we talk about those who are fleeing the very terrorists who are claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks, or by how we relate to those in our communities who, over the next few weeks, will find their lives made even more difficult purely because their faith has been hijacked, twisted and defamed by people looking for an excuse to kill and destroy.

As Martin Luther King Jr once said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Our job, especially as we approach the reflective season of Advent, is to listen to Him, help those around us to do the same, and shine His light of love into the darkness of our world as we continually watch for His return in glory.

Amen.

MLK jr

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Advent 4.0: A Good Sermon To Die Hard

This sermon was preached at St. Peter’s 11am Eucharist on 21st December 2014 – the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The readings were 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Romans 16:25-27 and Luke 1:26-38.

Your starter for ten – what’s my favourite Christmas movie…

Die Hard. Yep. That’s right. Die Hard. It’s tricky to do the film justice in a paragraph, but it’s widely recognised as one of the greatest action films of all times, turned Bruce Willis from a comic actor into a Hollywood tough guy & is referenced to this day in movies, comedies & cinematic in-jokes.

For those who’ve never seen it, or haven’t for a while, Bruce Willis is Detective Lieutenant John McClane, a New York City police officer who has travelled to Los Angeles in the hope of reconciling with his estranged wife Holly at her office Christmas party. While he is changing his clothes the building is taken over by terrorists, led by the excellent Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, who are looking to steal the $640 million in bonds in the company vault. They hold the employees hostage, execute the boss & set about their elaborate plan, not reckoning on the tough cop lurking unseen in the building. McClane sets about taking out the terrorists & trying to rescue the captives while the LAPD & FBI try unsuccessfully to sort out the situation their way.

Some of you may think this is a strange choice, especially for a man of the cloth. But, as we see in our Gospel passage today, the old “God moves in mysterious ways” cliché really holds water.

To many of us the annunciation in Luke is a familiar story. But, like so many of our readings at this time of year, their familiarity can lead us to miss their significance as we rush headlong to the manger and the birth of Christ. In it we see a really human reaction to an extraordinary spiritual event. Luke emphasises Mary’s response to the angel – the response of a young woman, promised in marriage & old enough to know where babies come from, who knows what is expected of her when she is wed… and the consequences of what happens to girls who are seen to have done such things before they are married. Yet she is somebody who is innocent enough, possibly naïve enough, to trust the angel’s words, to accept them wholeheartedly, and to allow God’s will to be done through her. But just stop a moment and consider Mary. She isn’t at all an obvious choice for this job. While it’s true for Christ to be both fully human & fully divine he has to be born of a woman, why one unmarried? Why one so young? Why create such scandal?!

At this point she doesn’t know how Joseph will react – we know the punishment for a woman caught in adultery, spelled out very clearly in Leviticus 20:10 and John 8. There was a strong possibility Joseph could just get the stones out – she can only trust he’ll do the right thing. And although society has moved on from that point of view, at least in the west, we shouldn’t forget how some girls and women who fell pregnant outside of wedlock were treated by those claiming to represent God even within some of our lifetimes. You only need to read or watch ‘Philomena’ to get an idea.

So Mary only has her faith in God, her trust in the angelic messenger, to carry her forward.

Surely her cousin Elizabeth would be the far better choice – respectably married to a priest in the line of Aaron, barren and “in her old age” so able to provide the ‘miraculous’ element of the birth – maybe calling to mind Sarah and Abraham, to give the establishment something to hang the story on to? A far more sensible, “White Christmas,” “It’s A Wonderful Life” kind of choice.

But God needs to create the scandal – He needs there to be no doubt in Mary’s mind the Christ-child has been conceived of the Holy Spirit & not of man. So Mary through her willingness ends up carrying the weight and expectation of the whole of Israel and, ultimately, the whole of humanity. She accepts what is said as true and allows Jesus to make His home inside her, with the full knowledge that one act will change not just her life forever, but also the lives of those around her too. And when we read this passage alongside the section of 2 Samuel we just heard, it strikes me that since the beginnings of the people of Israel, since the Exodus where they became God’s chosen, He sought to be amongst His people in amazing, new and unexpected ways – appearing in the burning bush, leading and guiding them in pillars of cloud and flame, giving assurances of his presence in the Ark of the covenant. But as time went on, the people sought ways, for good or ill, to contain God and keep Him set apart in a special place where they could go and worship, but at an appropriate distance.

David has the bright idea of settling God in a house – after all, God has blessed him with a safe & settled place, so why should he not repay the favour. But God turns this around –

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house… Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.”

This as a king is a great thing to hear for David – ideas of a long lineage & settled kingdom for the people of Israel may have filled His head. But God is getting at something even more amazing. Think of the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, tracing “the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Eventually Solomon does build a temple, the Hebrew people come & go across the centuries, the temple is rebuilt after destruction, and God does live with them, remains with them, through their trials, troubles & triumphs – but through the incarnation, the word made flesh through Mary’s willingness to accept the task given to her, God finds a new way to dwell with his people – by dwelling in His people.

But I can’t help thinking we, all these centuries later, have begun to make the same mistakes as our spiritual ancestors. Standing here, opposite that amazing wall, you can almost feel the centuries of prayer, blessing and worship surrounding us – the great cloud of witnesses joining with us this day and every time we meet here to glorify the risen Lord. But if the Christmas story, if Mary’s story, teaches us anything, it’s that God’s plan for His creation is to live in us, work through us, thanks to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and His gift of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Mary chose to let the Christ come to birth in her & through her, we are challenged to avoid leaving God in church as we walk out on a Sunday, avoid leaving Jesus in the manger as we pack away the Christmas decorations, and let Him be born in us today and every day.

Think back to where we started. The whole plot of Die Hard revolves around John McClane being the only one who can save those who are held captives – as he is on the inside. We all face varying degrees of darkness inside ourselves. Some things, some people on the outside help, and some hinder. But without the presence of the saviour within, the darkness has more opportunity to overrun, to seek to hold captive or even to destroy the good. Part of the climax of the film – so close your ears if you don’t want to spoil it – is the terrorists take all the hostages up to the roof in an apparent concession to the authorities. In fact, they plan to blow up the roof, killing the hostages & faking their own deaths so they can escape. What looks like a path to freedom, created by the goodness in society, is actually the path to destruction.

Only the saviour on the inside can rescue them from this and lead them to freedom. Only the true saviour, Jesus Christ, can lead us to real freedom by His Holy Spirit living in us. To accept this can seem a big ask. It has scary consequences – the metaphorical sticks and stones may be thrown in our direction, the terrorists and elements of darkness won’t like the light emanating from us and will seek to extinguish it. But as we just heard from the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans,

“God is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed.”

As advent draws to a close, as we prepare to celebrate the light of the world breaking through the darkness, dare we follow Mary’s example & accept God’s will, allow the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon us and let Jesus Christ, the son of God, make His home in us, make us His holy temple, and build His kingdom in and around us?

So don’t pray for the courage of a vest-wearing New York cop – pray for the courage of a young Middle Eastern virgin. Don’t look for help from a tough guy with guns and explosives, but from a defenceless baby in a manger. We don’t need an action hero, but we do need a saviour.

Amen.

One Direction?

This homily was given at St. Andrew’s 8am Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Advent (7th December). The readings were Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-14 and Mark 1:1-8.

I need a new sat nav. I’ve said that on numerous occasions to my wife – usually when we’re heading off the wrong way on a journey, or have missed a turning. It’s always the sat nav’s fault! I know, I know, a bad workman & all that. But I feel mine is particularly poor.

When I was training down in Oxford we used to pop up here occasionally to see the family or to visit the parish when we were exploring coming here, and each time, on the return journey, the same thing would happen. I would approach the last roundabout before where we lived. The sat nav would instruct me to go straight over. But I knew that if I turned left, took the first exit, I would just go round the corner & be home. The machine’s plan was to go straight over, join a main road, drive down it for about a mile, turn right round a roundabout there, drive back in the opposite direction, re-approach the same roundabout I had crossed but this time from what was originally the third exit, go straight over & then be home, which would take about 10 mins. So I would ignore the machine and turn left. The female voice would say “turn around if possible” then “perform a u-turn” – then suddenly realise where we were & proclaim “you have reached your destination.” I would say “I need a new sat nav!”

I think there seems to be a tendency in the Biblical material, both Old and New Testament, of people in power saying “we need a new prophet!” It’s fair to say the messages of those who we hold in such high esteem now were not well received at the time – you only have to glance through Jeremiah to see what he went through just for honestly declaring God’s word. Even Jesus noted this – in both Luke & Matthew he proclaims

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

John the Baptist was used to this kind of treatment. A figure of fun to some, “ye na, the gadgie in the hair shirt, always got a few locusts on the go,” a real nuisance, a threat even, to others. But his message was as simple as that of the sat nav – “turn around if possible” – “perform a u-turn.” In Greek the word is metanoia. It means literally to “turn, to change, to reverse oneself.” It’s not a religious word – just an everyday word for turning around and going the other way – but it’s use in the New Testament shows it is not a mere “change of mind” but a complete reorientation of ourselves.

And this was probably what annoyed the Sadducees & the Pharisees the most about John. They thought they were right – chances are they weren’t deliberately disobeying God or trying to mislead the people, they’d just got lost along the way, but that made things worse. They couldn’t see they were on the wrong road. And surely this shouty bloke washing people in the river couldn’t know more than they did, with all their strict religious observance and proper way of doing things. A bit like how that scruffy carpenter from the poor family couldn’t have a closer relationship with God, or forgive sins…

They felt like I do when the sat nav starts telling me to do things. They didn’t want to listen – he had to be wrong, especially when he started accusing them of taking people the wrong way.

But unlike my sat nav, John was completely on the right track. He was pointing people to Jesus, the Son of God – the one they were all supposed to be heading towards!

So this second Sunday of Advent we think about John & all the prophets who direct our thoughts to the long awaited Christ, who instruct us to be ready, to turn away from the things we do that are not part of God’s plan for us & get back on the right road. And we don’t always want to hear it. I’m not all that bad, I do most things right. But there are things that do need work, things that need revaluating, redirecting. And the last thing I want us to find is we get so caught up making sure things work as they always have, that they keep heading in the same direction, that we miss God wanting to take things in a slightly different direction & end up travelling away from him.

Advent is the time for working through these worries – for taking them seriously, for earnestly seeking the Father’s guidance in making ourselves ready for the imminent arrival of the Christ, for repenting for the things that are wrong in our lives, & strive, with the help & guidance of the Holy Spirit, to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish. He will help us do it.

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd;  he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

We just have to be prepared to make sure we are listening to the right voice, maybe stop looking for excuses, and “make a u-turn.”

Amen

Black (and Blue) Friday

This sermon was preached at St. Peter’s 11am and St. Andrew’s 6pm services on 30th November, the First Sunday of Advent. The readings were Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, and Mark 13:24-37.

It amazes me that, amongst all the pre-Christmas hype that starts from back around mid-August, as shops push harder & harder to remind us of the true meaning of the season –

spending shed loads of money on stuff we don’t really need, eating & drinking enough to sustain us through the first few days of the New Year’s resolution diet, maybe something about penguins?

– that the advent calendar remains popular to this day. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that the majority of them aren’t purchased to countdown to presents & Santy, or to provide the excuse for that early morning chocolate fix we miss through the other 11 months of the year.

In fact, this year the “Ship of Fools” website asked readers to vote for the best/worst (depending on the way you see it) Badvent calendar – the calendar that was furthest from the true meaning of Christmas as could be. Nominations included a Barbie calendar with accessories for everybody’s favourite disproportionate doll behind each door; a heavy metal calendar with a hard-rocking Santa sitting on a spiky seat, foot resting on a reindeer skull – well maybe after all the glasses of sherry he’d fancied a “Donner” kebab…; or maybe he’d been working through the whisky advent calendar, yours for just £149.99 with a different dram behind each door – maybe perfect for St. Andrew’s day, if we want to use racial stereotypes? And then there’s the palatial mini-manor fold out calendar with 24 different nail polishes, probably for when Mary had her feet up on the back of the donkey & blinging up to meet the kings.

The eventual winner was by our friends at Ann Summers, featuring a naked man reclining by a Christmas tree, eyes smouldering into the camera just inviting you to remove the strategically placed present. Behind each door resides chocolate recreations of various bodily parts – and no, not hands, ears, or spleens. I was going to say use your imaginations, but actually don’t!

So all across the land, a huge number of people are, for fair means or foul, counting down to, waiting for, Christmas.

And despite our national obsession with queuing, we as a nation aren’t very good at waiting anymore.

We’ve moved from the satisfying crackle & hiss of a proper record starting up, (that’s vinyl for the young hipsters amongst us), the sound of anticipation filling our ears as we gently placed the needle into the groove, to the CD with its crystal clarity and ability to skip to wherever we wanted to be, to the digital download where we get the music instantly available without even leaving the house or waiting for the postman. We can get strawberries in December and Easter eggs in January. Instant credit, payday loans and BrightHouse finance deals mean we can get the goods we want without the hassle of saving up so we can afford them.

But these things all come at a cost. Digital music means more illegal downloads to the point where it’s reckoned that 42 per cent of people surveyed believe its ok to illegally download music and films for personal use. This rises to 57 per cent among those aged between 15 and 24-years-old.

It’s estimated one site, set up by a lad from North Shields, cost the music industry £240 million. Growing strawberries all year round, or shipping them across from overseas, has financial and environmental implications. And as the Archbishop of Canterbury is keen to highlight, the credit industry boom is costing people more than just the thousands of percent interest they are charged.

And then we get on to Black Friday. Anyone who saw the news on Friday & Saturday of shoppers’ queuing for hours to get into stores at a minute past midnight to fight over tellys with £50 off must think the world had gone mad.

“Darling, Happy Christmas. You wouldn’t believe how many people I had to punch to get you that…”

But it’s a sign of how our perspective can be so easily shifted by the society around us – things are a bit more subtle than the “don’t forget the Fruit Gums, mum” slogans of old, but shops have been winding up the populous over the last few weeks for these “once in a lifetime” deals, then herding them around like cattle (in some places) before producing a small pallet of limited stock. Somebody I know put a picture on Facebook – the top half was people clamoring for some electrical goods on sale in Manchester, the bottom people in a third world country reaching out for food.

And do you know what. Some people will have bagged a bargain. And I’m happy for them. Some will have to look at themselves in the mirror the next day & contemplate their behavior. I pray for them. But there’s a very good chance that an awful lot of people will find that deal they fought so hard for, in some cases literally, will be repeated later in December, or in the Boxing day sales, or the thing was cheaper online or in a different store, and they’ll feel cheated – if only I’d checked, taken my time, waited…

So waiting is sometimes a good thing, and Advent is the season where we wait, we anticipate the arrival of the Son of God. And we watch. Advent is a time to make ourselves ready for the coming king, to prepare ourselves. We’ve spoken a few times over the last few weeks about anticipating the return of Jesus, and how believers in Christ, those already walking with Him and in relationship should not fear the Day of the Lord as we are already children of the light, and have been given gifts befitting of this status – but also the great responsibility for the building of His kingdom this brings with it.

Advent affords us the opportunity to really focus this waiting, to consciously set time to prepare ourselves.

There is so much darkness around in our world at the moment, and I don’t know about you but sometimes I think we all must feel just like Isaiah at the start of our Old Testament reading today:

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence — as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!”

If only God would come down, break into the here & now & solve the problems, stop the wars, heal the sick, make everyone kneel before him. But then, as we look at our own lives, our fears, those little dark corners where the things we’re not proud of or unsure of lurk and hide – so maybe we don’t want that just now; maybe it’s easy to see where Isaiah was coming from when he continues,

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.”

This is all quite scary stuff. If only I had some time to prepare. I don’t know the day or the hour, but if only there was a way of making a difference in my own life, someone who could help me make the changes that would put those wrong things right, that would help me to make a positive difference on those around me, to help them to find the way, the truth, the light in these dark times:

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

He is with us, he can help us to be the people he has called us to be, to be the change we want to see. “In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind… so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s words give us hope that we are equipped for the task. Yes, it can be painful – facing the truth can be like turning on a lamp first thing in the morning, when the light burns your eyes and leaves you blinking. But then, as our vision clears, we see things as they really are. And that’s important – we need to be prepared, which is why “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So my request this advent is we all try to commit to one thing that will help us prepare for Christmas – really prepare for Christmas. I’m going to read “Walking Backwards To Christmas” by Stephen Cottrell, which tells the Christmas story in reverse-chronological order, helping to get to grips with the darkness in the narrative as a counterbalance to the way we usually approach the nativity. But find something that works for you – Bible readings, a devotional book, music, art – just approach it sincerely, prayerfully and dare to allow the Spirit to move within you as you do it.

Mark’s Gospel reminds us

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

We see the darkness around us. The whole of creation is straining to see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Let us prepare ourselves, as his elect whom the angels will be sent to gather, for His coming. For God is faithful; by him each one of us has been called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

He will find us ready because, if we let Him, he will help to make us ready. Amen