Rev. Andrew Cunnington
30th November 2014
Building a Stable From Collapsed Structures

It felt as if the wind was whistling right inside the house.

I got out of bed to take a look and drawing back the curtains, the road was full of moving objects.

Dust bin lids and empty milk crates. Bollards and sacks of rubbish. All hurtling along in the great wind as if they had little legs making them run.

By the morning, it was devastation everywhere. Tangled telegraph wires and fallen trees collapsed into each other. Front gardens full of litter. The roads blocked. No light. No heating. Freezers defrosting.

More trees fallen along the road to St Margaret’s Ifield and at the church one tree narrowly missed crashing into the Lychgate. The church yard was like wreckage. I had a wedding at 12. People turning up with saws and wheelbarrows to help us cut our way into the building.

And Charlie Willoughby, really too old to be there, cutting out great stumps of trees and loading them into his wheelbarrow.

The great storm of 1987. Who will forget it? While that hurricane roared, it felt as if everything was collapsing around us.

And then the doorbell rang on Christmas Eve and it was this bloke Charlie Willoughby standing there. His wife Joyce was regular in the choir, but Charlie never came to church. Now though, He stood there with a box.

“Happy Christmas Fr Andrew” he said presenting it to me proudly and inside the box was this.

The most beautiful stable!

“Charlie, where did you get this from” I asked “ and why…?”

“ I made it myself” he said “Out of that tree that fell in the churchyard and nearly smashed the Lychgate. Out of the broken branches and tree stumps we cut so the wedding could take place that day. I’ll never forget it!

It was one of the most treasured gifts I have been given. Not just for Charlie’s love and care, but the Gospel truth behind this stable.

Out of that which is collapsing, Christ will make his home. Out of that which causes us to be fearful he will build a shelter for his love.

Our Gospel reading rings with the sad truth of today. It describes the collapse of everything we thought we could hold on to. Not just relationships or institutions, schemes or structures, but the sun and the moon failing to give light and the stars crashing to earth. Everything being shaken to its very foundations, and the people of God, the Disciples of Christ, seeing it all and wondering what on earth can be done.

The Christian church is being shaken to its roots. Persecutions and ransacking in many parts of the world. Canon Andrew Whyte called home from Baghdad. Ever diminishing resources. Ever increasingly sidelined. No matter our creed, colour or opinion everyone seems set on turning on each other. It is dangerous to be on the streets in many places, risky to trust anyone, and we retreat from seeing what’s going on around us into mobile phone and social media world where we can choose our reality, and we have seen, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Where Black Friday riots are caused by cut price television sets.

Mark Chapter 13 is a tricky old chapter to come to terms with, because it was written to a backdrop similar to ours. Roman occupation. Jewish persecution were the order of the day for those who first set this text down in writing, maybe thirty years after Jesus spoke of these things. It must have seemed they were living through a great storm.

Jesus doesn’t say – you must fight back. Jesus doesn’t say – take up arms. He doesn’t even say denounce your enemies. Rather lamely, it feels he just says “Watch”. He just says “Stay Faithful”. He just says “ You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds and with great glory”

Just Watch! But not as a passive spectator at a dull game of football. Watch, not as a TV watcher who is looking forward to what’s on after The X Factor. Watch, not to ridicule and judge and find wanting.

Watch! As someone who is so expectant of something happening that they cannot even sleep. Some form of goodness emerging from collapsed things.

Watch for the coming of the Stablemaker. The one who will take hold of any form of wreckage that’s going of things and make them into a sheltering place for God’s love into which all who want it may be drawn.

And watch because maybe the stablemaker will use you and I as his raw materials. Maybe he will take hold of the things we see happening around us that we neither understand nor know how to deal with.

Advent is the time for stable construction. For delving into the wreckage of the things we got wrong and the things we don’t like and allowing the creator’s hands to build from them a dwelling place for his love.

And if that was the case what would be the raw materials you might have to hand. The tree stumps, the broken branches, the twisted tree trunks that block the way, for you. Let God have them and then watch, watch and see what he might build.

Charlie’s stable had no figures. This stable is bare. There is a Christ child to place in pride of place, of course there is, but around him, don’t look for shepherds and wise men, not today, rather look for the place in this shelter of love where you might put yourself, and leave space around you in this stable for other figures – people for whom the times are tough, people for whom, unless you place them near to Christ, might struggle to get there on their own steam.

What a strange stable load of scoundrels we would all make. Draw them into his love, the masked face of the radicalised, the violent stance of the gunman, the political leader who is never going to admit he’s flummoxed, the friend you can’t seem to help, the annoying colleague, the one your heart goes out to, the one to whom your heart is shut.

What sort of stablemaker builds a stable out of the wreckage of the collapsed and then fills it with the needy souls and then sets himself in their midst as the tiniest child and dares to say that is the solution?

What I say to you, I say to all. Watch!

ISAIAH 64: 1-9 MARK 13: 24-37