You’re settling down to watch a new mini series on TV. It’s a six part drama.
I don’t know what your preference would be? A murder mystery? A Historical romance? A Sci-Fi adventure? A true life drama?
Anyway, episode 1 is going really well. You understand the plot! You’ve identified the goodies from the baddies.
But then suddenly a caption comes up on the screen.
“Six Months Earlier” it says. And the action shifts to another place, another time and the characters seem entirely different.
Then it comes back to the present day without telling you and after the commercial break another caption comes up.
“Three years later” this one says, and the action bears no relation to anything you’ve seen so far.
And then of course, if this is a Sunday evening after 9pm – you might just have a little doze and when you wake up – you have no idea what’s been happening.
The season of Advent is rather like this in church! Last week just when we expected to hear some stirring of the Christmas story in our readings, we went thirty years later to find ourselves almost at the foot of the cross and this week we go – maybe five years earlier and hear about the adult John The Baptist exhorting people to get ready for the coming of Jesus.
But – we’re thinking – in my world its not even Christmas Day yet. No stable yet. No Christmas tree, and yet we are catapulted backwards and forwards like a pendulum.
And this morning, our services are quite penitential and reflective in their feel – but this afternoon there will be the glorious glow of the Christingle and if you’re going the whole hog – you can join me at the Garibaldi pub at 6.30pm for an event rather worryingly advertised as Festive Fun with Fr Andrew.
Switching mood. Switching places. It’s a Vicar’s lot really – but we’re all drawn in to that at this time of year.
It strikes me that we live in days when the impact of past, present and future come at us in all sorts of ways.
What was it we used to value before Co vid? How did we go about things then? How do we go about things now?
There used to be frantic pantomime rehearsals by now. There would have been Christmas Fayres – Lads at Large – Ladies at large parties – the coffee shop helpers would be visited by Santa.
Let’s be honest – the beginning of our Gospel reading is an especially dull passage. It sets the scene for John The Baptist’s ministry and is going to some pains to place that in the context of history.
Who were the kings and rulers? What were their jurisdictions and how long had they been in charge. Why do we need to know that?
I think Luke wants to say – these events are not fanciful stories – they are anchored in a moment of real time, they are rooted in history as much as the date you were born or the day you got your first job.
But these events, these spiritual events, cannot just be contained in one place – they overarch all time and every place.
And the words of John The Baptist are part of this.
“Prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight” he cries to us all – you need to sort out your lives and make room for Him especially the places where you might want to put up signs that prevent access.
“No through Road” to God “Temporary Diversion” away from too much church. “ Access for residents only”- who are all these people? We can put up these signs across the years of our lives and keep God back to the pages of the bible .
John begins His ministry – not in the temple or the synagogue or the city street – but rather in the wilderness – which can be translated -amongst other possibilities as the place where you have the best chance of meeting God.
Whether you currently find yourself caught up in twenty years ago or four days later – and whether that’s joy or sorrow for you – or whether your dozing in the chair, or dozing in the pew right now, He comes to meet us across time and space.
The song of the angels is not a one night performance with a restricted audience of shepherds and sheep – it is a song to ring in the ears of each of us.
The star that guided the wise men does not just point the way for those kings and then remains static over Bethlehem – it shines into all our lives and leads us from wherever we happen to be to the place where God wants us to be.
Years previously – the prophet Malachi was moved to say the words that form our first reading – and from that place he pointed forward to the Gospel written many years later when John The Baptist would be stepping forward. – But even he makes it clear that the arrival of Jesus reaches back into the days of old and forward to the future, to restore what once was good, but we thought we had lost.
There are many messages in all this – but one might just be – don’t give up on the things from your past that lie in tatters or where you feel guilt and regret and so they get hidden behind a “No Through Road” sign. And don’t let the prospects of the future fill you with fear of things that you think you will not be able to cope with.
The love of God – the salvation He offers through Christ – does not stay in one place or time – but swings like a pendulum over our calendars and event planners and over all the joy or sorrow of human living.
Twenty years previously or Three years later – the drama that is our unfolding life now, only makes sense when we can feel his drama inching its way in there.
LUKE 3: 1-6