Rev. Andrew Cunnington
1st December 2013
This Advent Journey… Coming With Me? …I Knew You Would!

I’m going off after this service, with just my backpack on my back.

I can’t tell you exactly where I’m going, but I do know this, that I’ve seen a light up ahead, no bigger than the candle you have held in your hand this morning. It’s shining in the darkness and it’s pulling me.

For this place is like Nazareth was to Mary and Joseph. A home town. Everything is familiar and easy and good. I know where I live and where I can shop. I know where to catch the train and I know some of the faces that go up and down Station Road every day.

This light though, it’s compelling me. To leave the well known behind and step out into the unknown as if I was on an adventure. To go to a place I’ve never heard of till now, where rumour has it, God and man are going to meet up in the most extraordinary way.

25 days of walking they tell me. Madness in December, and I know this is all a bit sudden and that you’ve got dinner in the oven and that, but I was just wondering if you might like to come with me.

Advent begins today! So what’s the state of your life’s journey? What’s the adventure?

It feels as if the beautiful Susannah and I are on an Advent journey together.

As Strictly Come Dancing nears its annual climax, so I am on the edge of my seat, hoping that Susannah will win.

Now it had seemed to me that “Strictly” was a television show which had run its course, I was getting tired of it dominating Saturday night on the Vicarage goggle box, until Susanah Reid stepped onto the dance floor. I have always liked her from when she was just a BBC news presenter and now she is on this brave, wholehearted journey, towards dancing stardom.

For a moment my support of her stumbled – for she is a season ticket holder at Crystal Palace, but my loyalty knows no bounds. I may have to, for the first time ever, pick up the phone and vote.

And just as Susannah is being put through her paces week by week, so am I, as I discover to my horror, that my small part in the parish pantomime requires of me not a little dancing, both with my twinkle toed partner but also out there, completely on my own.

And now, we’ve got a proper choreographer amidst the panto entourage, and she seems to be relishing the chance of putting me through my paces.

So we’re both on a journey, Susannah and I. The newsreader and the Vicar, and I wonder which one of us will be left standing come Christmas.

For some people, be they contestants on Strictly or members of our panto cast, the journey towards dance perfection is a short one. They already have experience, they already have grace and co ordination, but for others of us, like me and Susannah, the journey is a long one.

So this Advent Sunday, I ask again. What’s your journey through this life looking like? What’s the adventure?

Whether we like it or not we are on one. Sometimes the way is easy and familiar, like hometown Nazareth, and sometimes we are way out of our comfort zones, like 25 days to get to Bethlehem, and not even knowing if there will be any room at the inn when we get there.

This morning is like a family setting out on holiday in the early hours of dawn, and the little ones asking “Are we nearly there yet?”.

We can’t just jump into Christmas Day, we have to take our time getting there through this purple season. We try to see the world in a completely new way in these coming weeks. For it will take us a bit of time to get used to the fact that there is no old man up in the sky, but a rather a little baby, down on the ground.

That through the miracle of the candle in your hand this morning he comes as close to us as the best of dancing partners and who requires of us the learning of new steps, so that we can tell the world about the difference having him close really means.

Tonight we hold our Advent Carol Service and it’s about all this sort of thing. I remember the first time we did one in my last parish there was a family who I’d never seen before and the children came to the service with tinsel in their hair.

At the end mum and dad complained to the churchwardens, “ Call that a carol service” they chuntered “ Where was O little Town of Bethlehem, or Away in a Manger, and where’s your Christmas tree and your flashing lights”. It was almost completely dark most of the time.

You can’t just jump in at the end of the journey, if you’re going to come to Christmas morning and really know the difference it makes, you have to start here on Advent Sunday morning. And there is no getting away from it. It’s a long way to travel.

I love our Old Testament reading from Isaiah. It speaks of the very world you and I pray for daily. A unity amongst the nations. A peace between the peoples. An acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God, of reliance on nothing but the light of the Lord.

When the people first heard this prophecy, it must have seemed like a mission impossible for them. Jerusalem was in ruins, the people were in exile, the old customs were in danger of becoming extinct. It was such a long way back, did anyone really have the energy, or the belief, to start out?

We read those words to the backdrop of today’s political wranglings and tensions and realise that the way is just as long and steep now.

It’s Advent Sunday? What’s the journey you’re on? What’s the adventure?

In the gospel reading Jesus is really saying are you ready to stride out in order to find the light and will you take each step knowing that your destination might be right there as you put your foot down now, or right there round the next corner. You never know when it will come, but unless you set out and travel, you won’t find it.

For he was not born here in Nazareth? It’s over there in another place, the name escapes me, but it’s 25 days walk away.

There is a light shining in the darkness. It was right there in your hand just a few moments ago. I saw it before you blew it out.

There are steps to take on a journey that could be tough. Are you going to take them, knowing that if it is tough, that only makes it all the more real and holy.

Give it a name then, you say. Give this light a name and I will think about it.

I will. Emmanuel is the name. Bethlehem is the place. God with us at the house of bread. Imagine if that could be true.

Worth the walk I’d say. Worth an adventure. Worth learning the steps of a new dance.

Coming with me? I knew you would!

ISAIAH 2:1-15 MATT24:36-44