Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent
6th Dec 2020
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent 2020
“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low, the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places made plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed”. Isaiah 40.5
Our three readings this morning all act as one chorus and anticipate the coming of Christ as (literally) ground breaking. Isaiah and then the Gospel writer John envisage an altered spiritual and social landscape. It opens up a channel from which may flow a new and enriched communication of trust between God and his world. It will be one in which an experience of God in human form will shape a whole world consciousness. This is Mark’s ‘Good News’ - not just a single news item but the avowal of the transformation of lives in relation to the One who is to come. God is to be made more real than ever before…He has come to live with us and to be Emmanuel; God-With-Us.
Welcome back to Advent church! We have lived in these past Covid months with our daily routines resting on the explanations, instructions and the promises of politicians and experts, and by and large, we have learnt to do as we are told. Our lives have boiled down to what ‘The Jungle Book’ bear Baloo called ‘the bare necessities of life’ and this ‘bunkering down’ has felt rather weird and unnatural, and we have had to adapt to an altered social terrain. It has not been easy. In fact it has been painful, and the cumulative effect of so much provisional living has been to test us, with many experiencing more stress and strain, which has remained even after the determination to put on a brave face. On top of this many have lost their jobs and have had their livelihoods threatened or ended. Distressed relatives have been unable to visit their loved ones, students have been imprisoned in their campuses and children have led a more confined, constricted existence than would otherwise have been the case. Many have unexpectedly buried their dead.
I met online this week with the Bishop of London and several other clergy, and we were all aware of how the timing of the pandemic has punctuated the time keeping of the Church's calendar. We began the first lock down in mid-Lent, anticipating the suffering Christ and now we are coming out of a second lockdown in early Advent and anticipating the revelation of God’s glory in the coming of Jesus Christ. The promise of Christ’s coming is for all Christians and the singular moment of God’s discourse to a world which is stressed and strained, a world whose life has been threatened. Our time has been measured in retreat and re-emergence, in remembering to go out with a mask and of keeping social distance.
The promised vaccine has come when church’s expectation, realised every year in this Advent Season, if expressed in new life emerging out of the old, of human hope itself being rekindled and of the expectation of a Christmas joy. Christmas has been fought for and won for all of us this year and we will be able to enjoy a Christmas window of greater freedom before we once more lead the careful life to which we have become so accustomed to. The incredibly impressive arrival of the Covid vaccine informs us more than ever more the need to practice patience both with the slow progress of things and the acceptance of further constraint with the waiting for the better times to emerge. In a grave crisis we rely upon unsung and unseen heroes and we give thanks for their commitment to the greater good of us all.
The message of Advent breaks through this year for the glad realisation of hope in all of us. It lies in the sure anticipation of the God who, gives himself to us in his Son Jesus Christ, and if we would open our hearts and souls, would come to us and abide in us. Because of God we have no need to behave as though we had been left entirely to our own devices, even though we are sometimes low. All time is God’s time. The great arc of the Church’s time has come full circle and we return at this time of the year to rekindle our spirits.
We return this morning to that same hope given in the prophecy of Isaiah and made visible I. the tested life of John the Baptist and which promises new horizons and, God willing, the emergence of a world which after pandemic and crisis, may learn from its experiences, may establish new priorities emerging out of them, and may sit more humbly and learn to love more fully our common existence in all its vitality and vulnerability. Christians may come to realise that ‘simple bare necessities of life’ are the bedrock upon which is built the one thing necessary, even God alone, who in the promise of the coming of his Son Jesus Christ, now lights our way into an equally God-promised future.
(On a Theme by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Look how long
the weary world waited,
locked in its lonely cell,
guilty as a prisoner.
As you can imagine,
it sang and whistled in the dark.
It hoped. It paced and puttered about,
tidying its little piles of inconsequence.
It wept from the weight of ennui,
draped like shackles on its wrists.
It raged and wailed against the walls
of its own plight.
But there was nothing
the world could do
to find its own freedom.
The door was shut tight.
It could only be opened
from the outside.
Who could believe the latch
would be turned by a pink flower —
the tiny hand of a new born baby?