Readings each Sunday Vanderbilt lectionary library and Textweek

Advent 2C December 6, 2015 Textweek

Malachi 3: 1-14; Song of Zechariah; Philippians 1:1-11; Luke3: 1-6

Second Sunday in Advent 6 Dec 2015.pdf
Second Sunday in Advent 6 Dec 2015.mp3

These sermon notes were prepared before the sermon was delivered and so do not transcribe the actual sermon word for word.

The image, or icon of a tree has been on our graffiti wall and throughout the service sheets for some time now, it is a symbol of growth that has been slowly greening and putting forth new leaves.
And as we journey through Advent, the tree will take its place, as it will in many homes, as the Christmas tree; an icon of Christmas that pre-dates the manger, just as the cross, the tree of Easter also predates the manger.

The classical painting “The Mystical Nativity” by Botticelli places the scene of stable and manger within the entrance to the Easter tomb; Botticelli saw beyond the obvious in the story of the nativity and sought to engage the viewer in a bigger and deeper narrative.

Mystical Nativity

Mystical Nativity Botticelli
The painting was created by Sandro Botticelli in 1501, thus freeing it from copyright laws. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mystical_nativity.jpg

The birth in the Christmas nativity is our birth, our coming into the fullness of creation; and that is given expression within today’s readings, as living reality, such “that we, might serve… without fear, in holiness and righteousness … all our days.”

To help us engage more fully in the reality of Christmas, and in the reality of the nativity it can be enlightening to look at ourselves through the mirror of an icon, to see ourselves in another story, or to critically explore the attributes of another in order to gain insights for ourselves.

So, let’s explore the tree, greening and growing into Christmas, with our own advent journey in the background.

What is the ‘being’ of a tree?
It stands rooted in the earth; and its grounding and foundations stretch into the darkness underground. We really know only the tree that we see, and yet we also know there is more, for half the tree is underground.

Are we the same; and do we have a similar knowing?
Most of the time we only look at that which is obvious and visible; however to realise the fullness of humanity perhaps we have to know the fullness of ourselves and of each other.

If we only see the obvious then we can easily make Muslims ‘the’ terrorists without seeing that underneath there are roots that manufacture weapons, roots that create discontent, roots that benefit from fear and roots that deliberately set one against another for agendas that are dark and hidden underground.

Trees also give us a comforting and subtle glimpse beyond death, for we tend to see them as lasting, and certainly outliving us.
They do however have another important attribute associated with their longevity; they become more valued, more valuable and more tree-like as they get older.

Perhaps this is a truer icon of life’s orientation, one that we have lost; in our culture age is linked to decay and so is devalued.
Has life’s orientation been distorted by rampant consumerism, that same force that has distorted the Christmas nativity?
Advertisers and producers know that the young have still to acquire many things, they desire more than what they have, and the older generation has found that it already has more than what it needs, so economically the value for marketing is directed toward the young, the old being devalued and of less consequence.

Maybe we should learn, and even teach, the life orientation of the tree, growing and ageing always into a greater wholeness and greater fullness of being.

Trees are very much creatures of Advent; for like the Magi they follow the light, and it is the heavenly light that guides their journey into fullness.

Perhaps in the orientation of the tree we can recognise again an icon of being that mirrors many of the teachings that we have become uprooted from.

“Be still and know that I am God”; unlike us, trees have a knowing stillness.
And firmly rooted in the earth, they stretch always toward heaven, they seemingly “pray without ceasing” with arms forever lifted in praise and undisturbed by the everyday busy-ness around them.

Many would say that trees are at their most beautiful in the changing colours of autumn, and for many that is also a time of harvest and fruit bearing.
Perhaps this is a purposeful re-writing of the ‘doctrine of the fall’; for there is no banishment from Eden for picking fruit, only a primitive misreading of the icon in order to establish original sin.

The beauty of autumn, the fall, is in the unselfish giving of leaves and fruit, the self-emptying and the letting go in faith that the coming of light will always bring forth new life and new growth.

In the carol “O Tannenbaum’, the last verse sings:

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
Your dress wants to
teach me something:

What might we learn as we look at this Christmas icon, how do we see ourselves when we look into the mirror of the tree.

Are we a people that are the very material of the ark; do we hold the whole of life sacred and safe?
Are we the people that will hold the body and blood of Christ; becoming one in stillness so that resurrection can take place?

These questions come from looking at the tree, now we might imagine the questions that will arise when we find ourselves in the nativity, and ponder during advent, our arrival in the manger.

Advice from a Tree

By Ilan Shamir

Dear Friend,
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter
Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night.
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Be flexible
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!

Peter Humphris