Isaiah 64:1-9; Ps. 80:1-7; 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

In the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Just before we begin I don’t know if you noticed like I did, but when that last hymn was sung, the light went out. ‘In the bleak mid-winter’: if the theory that we began with is correct, it is because the light coming from the choir during the singing of that hymn was such that it didn’t require that light. That’s because they’re no longer singing, so what is it about that hymn that did that? As soon as that hymn began I went back to primary school and snow, that’s where I went back to. And immediately it called up images of an email I had during the week from what I call my ex-family back in England and it’s this stunning snow covered landscape, and there was a part of me that really, really wanted to be there. And I think the light went out because this is an awkward time of year, it’s a very awkward time of year. Yes, we’ve got all this northern hemisphere religious framework - it doesn’t belong here - and yet it touches us deeply, because somewhere it is drawing something out of our past, whether you were born here or whether you are the 258th generation Australian, there’s still something deep within that can be called out and I think it gets called out during the season of Advent, because during Advent what we need to come to terms with is where we are and where we desire to be - where we belong, where we do not belong - and it’s got nothing to do with continental shifts at all, but it has got everything to do with ourselves and our call into being. So we’ve got four weeks of this - lights going on and off. We could be walking down the street tomorrow and the sun will just go off and you won’t notice because you’ll be so full of light you’ll think it’s still daylight. And there’ll be other times when you’re down at the beach thinking this is a beautiful day and darkness will descend. That’s Advent - let’s work with it and find our place in it.

We begin a new year - we going to spend most of this year with Mark’s gospel. Some say Mark’s gospel is the easier of the gospels, but during Advent the readings are going to draw us into a world that longs for the presence of God. We’re going to hear characters from scripture longing for God. ‘O come, o come, Emmanuel’ is not so much an anthem or hymn to be sung, rather it’s to feel. Initially it might feel like your diaphragm’s starting to spasm: it’s actually your heart knotting up in longing, because the readings draw us to the place within us that also longs for the Divine, to knowing that this is not where we belong - this is not the world that is called to be. The world that is called to be is a world that is the fullness of life for all people. It is waiting to be revealed, it is the longing that is within us. And the reading from Isaiah kicks us off into Advent, it’s the first of our Advent readings, it’s where we get the first clue that points to the encounter with the Divine at Christmas.

Verses 4 and 5: “You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways”. Good news, good news? The downside of that is that God does not meet those who do right. Rather he meets those who gladly do right - a stunning world of difference between doing right and gladly doing right. And he also meets ‘those who remember you in your ways’. Gosh, there’s another world of difference - I thought I could get away with just doing right, doing the right thing. No! I’ve got to find the place within which will call out of me, ‘gladly doing right and remembering God’ all in the one package. Doing right -I mean going to church on Sunday- doesn’t quite seem to fit what Isaiah was talking about. He was talking about something deeper: find the place of longing out of which gladly doing right is given birth. Then in verses 8-10 we get this analogy - the potter and the clay. It’s an analogy of our true nature, the nature of all humanity - ‘we are all your people, oh God, formed as a divine creation by the out-working of the Creator’. We’ve actually moved on a bit from the days when this was written - the clay and the potter are all right for those in Sunday school, it’s a wonderful analogy, we are now old enough to get in touch with the fact that we have been formed as a divine creation and as an outworking of the divine creator. A divine creation - next time you’re looking in the mirror, preferably with no clothes on because that’s the worst sight you’ll ever see, as you’re looking in the mirror just think: ‘This being has been formed as a divine creation’. Then when you’ve stopped laughing, look again and try it once more. Then go away from the mirror, close your eyes and sit down and stay with it, because the funny thing is it is so hard to see out there - we need to look in here and see it, and we can find it, because it’s there, it’s there. As a people and as a being and as a person, as a whole, we’re formed as a divine creation and we are called to gladly do right and remember the divine creator.

So what is asked of us, what is the promise given to us and what is the hope that we hold for tomorrow? No longer children, no longer right and wrong - the simplicity of black and white. The one thing that we have stumbled on is that the rules of right and wrong, the law of right and wrong, is not written in any book, it’s not held by any church. As Paul said, it is written on our hearts. The religious Right seems to think that we can acquire rightness from outside and it will happily give us lists of things to do and not do. Can you believe it that churches have actually said that it’s wrong to dance, it’s wrong to kiss?! I mean we know that this doesn’t fit. That can only be a book of rules to give us a right and a wrong from the outside. If we go within we will find something quite different. The more we get in touch with our inner ‘right’, it’s funny, but the world starts to look different. The right that we find within ourselves somehow doesn’t seem to match any more, and what we see outside begins to look not right. And I think there’s a ‘therefore’ or an equivalent sign that can go there that says ‘what is often condemned from outside as wrong or not right, we should actually feel within that this is right’. That makes Advent and the journey to Christmas even trickier, because you’ve now not only got to - there isn’t a reference point - we’ve got to get in touch with that sense of rightness. Luckily there’ll be a little flashing light called doubt that’ll continue to flash on and off, on and off, on and off, so that we won’t necessarily get sucked into it........

[PH quoting from a note handed to him: “Can the owner of the white BMW blocking driveway in front of the garage please move it because the builders need to get out cement.” Someone’s now wishing they hadn’t parked there, look. We’ll have a quick commercial break. It’s a sign: if you bring a BMW to this church don’t park it in front, put it IN the garage!]

We may well have been told, we might even think that we know what it is to be and become Christians, but there’s something else required and Advent calls us towards it. It is to actually realise ourselves as Christians. And the wonderful thing is, the book hasn’t yet been written - the Anglican Church hasn’t got it, it helps us get there but it hasn’t got the book that is the way. If it did have the world today would be different. It’s taken it a few steps - it’s up to us to actually realise, to realise and to make real.

The second reading - it’s always good to get a little bit of Paul between the readings - because Paul has actually thought some of this stuff through and done something with it. He didn’t stay at home, he didn’t keep going to the temple of Jerusalem, he didn’t try and act as a peacemaker between the emerging change, the new light seen by the early church within the Greek community. Rather he knew what was right and that was the divine word is to change the world - don’t sit with it, take it out and explore it. He was as much looking for its realisation as preaching and teaching, and what we find in a very short passage from Corinthians is: verse 9 says: that God is faithful, ‘God is faithful and by him we are called into the fellowship of Christ’. That matches Isaiah almost completely: the creator has created and formed us into, into something that is divine - the fellowship of Christ. We’re called into a oneness with the Creator, we’re not a clay pot on a shelf that the potter’s now left behind, we are formed, God is faithful, we’ve been called into a oneness with Christ.

Paul’s response to that call we can glimpse in verse 4, for Paul’s response is, ‘I give thanks always’. That’s the remembering God. He never says ‘oh, I go to church on Sunday’, he says ‘I give thanks always, I remember God’ and therefore Paul is able to give grace and peace to others - Paul is able to bring grace and peace alive into the world. He makes another observation in this short reading, in verse 7: ‘They are indeed richly blessed’, he says in verse 7, ‘you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ’. And that’s the paradox of Christmas - you don’t need anything, we’re not waiting for Christmas so that God will give us something to allow us to reveal the Divine. While you’re waiting, you’re not lacking in any spiritual gift - it has already been given. And the paradox of Christmas is that the nativity is for us to reveal, as opposed to being a revelation to us. Now obviously it is both. But what I want us to think about this Christmas is perhaps the nativity is not God revealed to us - God saying, ‘Here’s the divine child I give to you, look this is my word made flesh’, but rather, it is a call for us to be the nativity. We are the nativity of Christmas. If we bear Christ in the world then we become the revelation of the word made flesh.

Now we’ve quickly still got to do the Gospel.

There’s already in Advent - they’re short readings but there’s already so much there that says, ‘Golly, I’ve got to come to grips with this in the next four weeks so that I can be there, there at Christmas - truly there, fully there, under the star’. The gospel reading from Mark has got a future orientation - the language is what’s called apocalyptic - it’s using imagery - bear in mind that in the days this was written, the culture, the mindset, the paradigm was very much living in the present. This was not written at a time when people had retirement plans, this was not written at a time when people had worked out their next year's holiday or in fact their 2007 holiday. This was written at a time when people lived very much in the moment - they’ve got enough food, enough work for two days or one day. They didn’t actually think much beyond that; so to get them thinking beyond it you actually did need imagery that was out of the ordinary. And as soon as you see apocalyptic writing - it’s like the Book of Revelations - it is not the raving of some loony, rather what it is, it is pointing to the future, which, because the future can only be pointed toward, the language must be, must have that sense of mystery. What Mark is telling us about the future, though, is that power and glory will be revealed. We will see it, we will see it. ‘There will be a gathering’, in verse 27. Verse 28 uses the image of the fig tree to say, to tell us, that where we experience growth - and even the most dead among us has glimpses of growth - where you experience growth then you know the Divine is near. Summer is coming, the light is dawning. Verse 30 talks about this generation - not that generation, this generation, every generation. Every generation holds the reality of the divine promise. Verse 31, ‘heaven and earth will pass away but my word will not pass away’. My word, the very essence of creation, therefore the essence of our formation, therefore the essence of our being, will not pass away. Get beyond the mortality stuff, we don’t need life support systems, we need systems that will enable us to look at and embrace death, so that we can be fully alive; that’s what it’s saying. Verse 33, verse 35, verse 37 then just have one message for Advent - be attentive. Don’t just allow Advent to go, to wash over you, don’t fall back into, ‘I’ve got that party, I’ve got this to do, shopping then, food then, and Christmas then’. Don’t allow that to happen - stay with Advent, inwardly; see what Advent is calling out of you, for it is calling it also out of us. Allow Advent itself to call you into Christmas: follow the star.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Advent 1

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