Rev. Rosemary Webb
3rd December 2017
Stay Alert

Perhaps it’s me, life can be funny, but somehow things suddenly seem to have altered. I am not really talking about major things, but everyday things, things you look at each day. Now for me that has been one of my flower beds. We created a new one some fifteen years ago. I diligently picked a number of shrubs, carefully reading what it said on the label things like maximum height one metre, width 1.5 metres. And once they were planted I thought, well that’s it, I can sit back now and enjoy them, nothing else to worry about. And that was fine until last August when I suddenly realised that going down the steps (our garden is on two levels) was becoming quite difficult, and when I had a good look I could see that all those plants I so carefully chose were far too high and wide, I was amazed by how I hadn’t notice that until it was too late. But can’t life be like that.

Today, Advent Sunday, we are entering the season of waiting, of preparation, when I say preparation I am not referring to making sure we have all the presents and food bought, although I know that is important, but of making sure that we are ready for the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, that our souls are ready to greet him into our lives. That we have room in our hearts for him, that unlike with my flower bed, I have not let too many things crowd my mind, that I have slowly become unaware that I have not kept enough room in my heart for God.

So why the purple vestments, why is the liturgy called penitential? Why do some churches not respect Advent? Well I am not sure about that, but I think we are lucky that we do. I think we all need something to make us stop and think. My flower bed made we realise how we need to clear out of our lives all that is unnecessary, all that separates us from God. It is easy to drift through Trinity, to let things become routine, but now we must stop and think; think of the real meaning of Christmas.

And today we have the Advent ring for the first time this year. Reminding us that Advent is a season of hope, waiting and longing. It is circular to symbolise the eternity of God, who is, was and always will be. The holly and the evergreens are an ancient symbol of immortality, life, growth and the everlasting love of God. The candles are to remind us of God’s presence and that each week as we light another candle we are moving from darkness into light.

In the Gospel reading Jesus began by by saying ‘take heed, watch, for you do not know when the time will come.’ He is warning us that we must be alert, that we must always be ready for his return, we mustn’t be so half asleep that we miss it.

In some ways we need to be like the wise men, not just alert, but willing to respond, willing to carry on while wondering why we are doing it, what the true meaning is.

It is believed they probably travelled 800 or 900 miles, perhaps from the area we now call Iran and that they knew some of the Old Testament stories. The prophet Daniel is known to have lived in that area. We know the story of their long journey from the East, but do we think what it must have meant, and the time it must have taken? However wealthy they were, however strong their horses, it certainly was a trek, not like nipping up to the Cathedral for a service.

When Jesus used the word sleep he wasn’t so much talking about us being tucked up in bed asleep, but being blasé, unprepared, indifferent, perhaps thinking that we have nothing to learn.

It is, I think, important to remember that all the messages Jesus gave his disciples are also messages for us now. We are today’s disciples and just as they were responsible for spreading the good news in their lives, so we are called to spread the Good News now, and perhaps even more importantly always be alert.

We need to think about the second coming, if it comes in our lifetime, will we recognise Jesus, or will we be like the Pharisees and Sadducees, and be so convinced that we know it all that we too ignore our Saviour.

There maybe many uncertainties in life, and whilst we do not know when the second coming will be, or what it may be like, we do know it will happen. We only need to look at the Old Testament and see how all those prophecies were true.

So what are we expecting, another baby born in poverty; some hero in shining armour ridding us of all those people we do not like? What will the second coming mean? If we talk about the physical arrival of our Lord are we in danger of forgetting that he is always with us. Do we forget to look for his presence in our lives, do we miss his healing presence, overlook his guiding hand.

Of course, it is good that know all these things, but is that really enough. In a world where there is so much suffering, so much hatred and greed, what more can we be doing, to make the Good News come alive to others?

Yes we can pray, but we can also convert our prayers into actions, we can make our voices heard. And I am not talking about standing on street corners preaching. I know the internet brings many problems, but it also brings many opportunities, for charities can bring us details of people who are being wrongly imprisoned, suffering torture and persecution. We can find out how to go to meetings to give our support or sign petitions on line.

To be alert that our world is not slipping back into the bad old days of powerful dictators. At home we can bring food to the food bank, help in various ways in the many outreach projects in this area.

But also we can talk to our neighbours, perhaps just smile and make a passing comment to someone we pass in the street. We live in a society where so many people can go days without someone to talk to. We can invite someone who we know is lonely to come to our church, you may think I don’t know that they go to church, but we can invite them to drop into our coffee shop where someone will talk to them or to the Thursday lunchtime music, and you can assure them they will not be preached at.

When I was in training we were taught that a large majority of people start coming to church through friendship not faith. If we all stop and think about it there are so many ways in which we can show God’s love to people. Too many people in our world think the only way to teach people about God is to call them sinners. Which is so sad because it is the opposite of what Jesus taught – Jesus called us to love everyone even our enemies.

Last Sunday, perhaps more in the past than today, used to be called ‘stir up’ Sunday, signified by the stirring of the Christmas cake, but most importantly a reminder that this Sunday is Advent Sunday, a time to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christ’s birth. That we ensure we do not drift into Christmas, as in a dream, and miss the true meaning of it.

Stir up, Lord our will when it becomes weak, and set us back on the right path when we go astray. Keep us vigilant for the signs of your presence and the voice of your calling so that we will not be found inattentive and so absorbed in our own concerns that we miss the work you have called us to do.

Mark 13: 24 end
Isaiah 64:1-9