A sermon for Advent
Some words of Jesus from St Luke’s Gospel that we heard a few moments ago – ‘You must be ready.’ ‘You must be ready.’ Tonight, in the darkness we begin the process of getting ready for Christmas. Getting ready is what Advent is for! ‘You must be ready,’ says Jesus.
And getting ready is what most of us are already involved in. There are lists to be written, letters and cards to post, presents to wrap, decorations to be hung, food to buy and prepare. There is an awful lot of getting ready that is going on around us, and in which we are all involved. Most of this, at least, is good. It is good to be organised, to send out love to friends and family, to give presents and to celebrate at Christmas. But if that were what Advent is helping us to get ready, then it should have started at least a month ago, and the most organised of us (and this would never include me) could have some days off between Advent and Christmas.
Advent is a time of preparing to meet Jesus. You must be ready, says Jesus. We must be ready to meet Jesus. But we are not good at being ready to meet Jesus. So I want to suggest three reasons why we are not good at being ready to meet Jesus and three ways that we can get ready over the course of Advent.
The first reason why we are not good at being ready to meet Jesus is that he comes to the places that we are most in pain. As we have lit lights in the darkness this evening, so the Light of the World comes to the darkest places. Jesus comes to the darkest places of this world, even to Syria where he has walked before and where there have been Christians for far longer than there have been Christians in England. And Jesus comes to the darkest places of our lives, to the places where we hurt, the places where are ashamed, the holes where great loss is found. It can be hard to have the light shining here, hard to admit to our weakness and our vulnerability. Hard to see where the light is sometimes. We need to prepare, to get ready, to meet Jesus when he comes to the places where we are most in pain. So for a moment, let us in the silence of this place, hold before God the places where we are most hurting. Let us ask Jesus, the Light of the World to come to our places of pain.
Throughout Advent, in the days and weeks ahead, one of the ways that we can get ready is to keep holding before God places where we are in pain and to ask Jesus to be present there.
So the first reason that we are not good at being ready to meet Jesus is that he comes to the places that we are most in pain. And out preparation is to hold those places before God in silence and ask Jesus to be there. The second reason why we are not good at being ready to meet Jesus is that we are not good at recognising him when he does come to us. Jesus comes, not as the great leader raising an army to defeat all his enemies, but as a child born to an unmarried teenager. When he grows up, he associates with all the wrong people and ends up dying on a cross. This is not what we expect. As we rush through life, ticking off our lists and doing all the things we do, we can miss Jesus when we meet him in the person in need, in the homeless woman on the street, in the child delighting in a game, in the refugee needing shelter, in the man with mental health problems making a noise in the high street. But Jesus is in all these people, and in many others. So this Advent, as part of preparing to meet Jesus, let us try to spend some time with people we don’t normally meet. They could be people who live on our street, who we have never spoken with; they could be people who we bump into in town; they could be people we normally avoid. Whoever they are, try and spend time with people you don’t normally meet, for that way we are learning to recognise Jesus and preparing to meet him.
We are not good at being ready to meet Jesus because he comes to the places we are in pain, because we find it hard to recognise him, and because he surprises us in little things and in big things. The spiritual writer Gerard Hughes spoke of a ‘God of Surprises’, but all too often we would prefer it if God would turn up when we want him, and not at other times. But God is all around us, in the small moments of wonder and the great moments of decision. If we would be ready to meet Jesus, we need to learn to delight in the surprising ways in which he turns up. There is an old and very helpful spiritual exercise, which involves sitting down at the end of the day and asking where Jesus turned up to meet us and saying ‘thank you’ for the ways in which he meets us. Why not try it during Advent? Sit down at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be in church, it could be in your front room with a cup of tea, but sit down and ask yourself, ‘Where did I meet Jesus today?’ And then say ‘thank you’ for all the times you met him. As we learn to be surprised by Jesus in little ways, we will learn to be surprised by him in larger ways.
‘You must be ready’ says Jesus. We need to be ready to meet Jesus, and we are not good at it. But this time of Advent is here to help us be ready to meet Jesus. There are three things that I am suggesting we can do. The first is to hold our places of hurt and pain before God, and ask Jesus the light of the world, to come to those places. The second is to spend time with people we don’t normally meet, so that we can learn to recognise Jesus. The third is to review a day, and to say thank you for all the times that we met Jesus, and so to learn to be surprised by Jesus. Hold our places of pain before God; spend time with people we don’t normally meet; and say thank you for the times Jesus surprises us. You don’t have to do all three everyday, there might be one of these things that particularly draws you; or you might find doing it once or twice a week is enough to help you get ready. But let this Advent be a time of getting ready beyond the shopping and the cards. This Advent, use one of these things to help you get ready to meet Jesus. And may you have a blessed Advent and a joyful Christmas when it comes.
“You must be ready,” says Jesus, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
First given at St Matthew's, Pentrich, 29.11.15.