Today is Advent Sunday. Advent is the season in which we affirm all that is real in our lives-for good or ill –and all that is real in the providence of a loving God. Get real we sometimes say to one another in an argument and that use of the phrase has overtones of judgement. Truly it is an Advent saying. So let’s get real but remember how the poet T S Eliot penned his famous line. “Human kind cannot bear very much reality”. Too true! Alas. When I was in another circuit I penned an article entitled CAMRA-Campaign for a Real Advent. That campaign continues somewhat against the odds.
Sadly we know that most people prefer sentimentality and nostalgia for a vanished age that never really existed. Have yourself a merry little Christmas just like the ones you used to know. Get out that Advent calendar with a different luxury chocolate for every day.
Courage sisters and brothers – get real-embrace the reality of our situation and the reality of God’s love. Remember that you and I are Methodists and what is a Methodist but a Christian in earnest.
The times are dark. Of course it is always dark at this time of year-the days short and getting shorter. We withdraw into our own worlds and binge on old films and TV repeats. Netflix and I player plus comfort reading-chick lit- the novels of Barbara Pym. We go to bed early. I speak of my own experience of course.
Another poet now: W H Auden in his opening sequence for his “Christmas Oratorio”:
Huge crowds mumble-Alas our angers do not increase,
Love is not what she used to be
Portly Caesar yawns; “I know, I know”.
Who can speak against the darkness? Surely the shepherds abiding in the fields who keep watch over their flocks by night rather than dwelling safe in their episcopal palaces.
St Paul however says to us; Wake up cast off the works of darkness-put on the armour of light! Smell the coffee.
But the times are especially dark this year. War in Europe, in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. The environmental crisis grows steadily more alarming and the response from governments increasingly feeble. Then there is the cost of living crisis and the threatened disruption occasioned by strikes. The Churches too are experiencing difficult times: financial crises, abuse scandals, and declining membership rolls. By schisms rent asunder by heresies distressed to quote a favourite hymn. From the same hymn my wife who is an Anglican churchwarden often quotes the line about the tumult of her war and her longing for peace for evermore.
Our leaders both in Church and state seem distracted by peripheral issues and unable to offer us a vision for the future. Small wonder then that we draw the curtains, sit by the fire and turn our attention to a media landscape of escapeism.
But St Paul says: wake up, smell the coffee. Put on the armour of light!
The armour of light. What might that mean for you and I?
The Christian life is a journey-a journey of small steps. Every step we take in this world is a step towards either darkness or light. Every harsh word, every act of resignation in the face of challenge every act of submission to hopelessness, every mean and lazy decision is part of the works of darkness. Every act of forgiveness, every act of love however small, every temptation resisted is a step towards the light. We must put on the armour of light and not submit ourselves to the clothes of darkness.
You and I can’t reform the world but we can at least be pointing in the right direction clad in the armour of light. Look towards the east O Jerusalem and see the salvation that is coming from God.
Paul insists that salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. How can he say this? How can he say this to the Roman Christians who he’s never met? Sometimes scholars say that Paull was simply wrong and that to expect a second coming is simply a mistake.
I think however that what Paul wrote is profoundly true in two senses –that God’s promises are to be trusted, that his promises will be fulfilled and that our call is to put on the armour of light and work together for the coming of the one who will bring in the fullness of God’s love. In so far as we are doing this we are sharing in God’s work of salvation and meeting the coming Christ in the one who needs our help. Salvation is nearer then when we live this way than when we first believed.
That’s one sense.
The other is to insist that that the Christian life is a journey from darkness to light-a series of spirals upwards towards the fullness of revelation when we come to understand that God is all in all. Today is the first day in the Christian year-a new turn in the spiral and each turn brings new truth, new insights, and new revelation.
The poet who expressed this most beautifully was the Italian: Dante-who in his Divine Comedy describes the downward spiral into hell and the upward spiral to the summit of the heavenly mountain. Flicking over the pages of the National Geographic magazine in Waitrose recently I came across a beautifully illustrated article about him-one of those pictures is on the screen now. You see even the magazine rack in Waitrose can be a vehicle for Divine truth.
Forward then together into another turn upwards of the spiral staircase-speaking out against the darkness and putting on the light of Christ and rejoicing as we by words and deeds light Advent candles in the darkness to signify the hope that is rekindled within us.
You know we Christians are always looking forwards in hope which is why the last words of the New Testament are the words of Jesus.
Surely I am coming soon.
And our response:
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.