Canon Roy Arnold
This sermon is delivered in absentia (by Veronica) because I have gone to our grand-daughter’s musical debut on the Double Bass at a school carol concert – so I know full well that we have to have school carol concerts in term time, and that they are very popular (sometimes ticket-only events).
And I know we feel that we must catch Christmas by its coat-tails, to keep up with the advertising, and the carols in the supermarkets, and the Salvation Band at Handforth Dean… but it does seem such a terrible shame to the let this marvellous, frightening season of Advent fly out of the window.
Strangely enough the liturgical framework is still there: O Come O Come Emmanuel… with clouds descending… and all the rest…. and the Bible Readings full of such terrible warnings about the end of the world… all decidedly un-Christmassy… these traditional Advent themes of the Four Last Things: Death and Judgement, Heaven and Hell.
And even when John the Baptist comes on the scene in these Advent readings we may mistakenly think that he is foretelling Jesus coming as an infant (Baby Jesus), but not so. John was preparing the Way of Lord… soon to come… as a grown man… of Jesus coming with his message of the Love of God… coming with this message of Love to a world just as unloving and as unlovely as it is now… a world of violence (personal and national), drugs and drunkenness, abuse of children (Jimmy Savile and others including clergy we must admit), lack of integrity (South Yorkshire Police Force and Hillsborough) and greed (the collapse of banking probity)… and we could go on. All of these crimes or misdemeanours happening because (I suppose) people think they can get away with it… keep their dirty deeds under wraps.
But – as we know – more often than not, THE TRUTH WILL OUT. Sometimes this may happen (as with Jimmy Savile) just after his death… or maybe a long time afterwards… Historical Crimes as we call them nowadays (such as landed a clergy friend of mine in prison). And I am going through this all too familiar territory because it seems to be the case (perhaps because of our putting traditional Advent teaching to one side) that everybody has forgotten the Day of Judgement… that one day all will be revealed to the loving and utterly fair Summing Up of our lives by Jesus, who knows all the secrets of our hearts (even yours and mine).
But all this teaching is smothered under a Charles Dickens Version of Christmas, and Ordering Turkeys, and White Christmases, while we leave it to the Jehovah Witnesses to knock on doors with their version of the Four Last Things. But then maybe we have left it too late to rescue Advent. I wonder what you think?
Maybe we ought to designate another time of the year for this season… and this teaching. Maybe early in Lent might be a better time (for us personally and in our teaching the faith) to remember Richard Baxter’s prayer which goes:
Keep us O Lord, while we tarry on this earth,
in a serious seeking after You,
and in an affectionate walking with You,
every day of our lives;
that when You come,
we may not be found hiding our talents,
nor serving the flesh,
nor yet asleep with our lamp unfurnished,
but waiting for our Lord,
our Glorious God for ever.