Let me start by wishing you a Happy New Year. No, I haven’t lost leave of my senses for today, Advent Sunday, really is the start of the church’s New Year. And, just to prove, it my former blue coloured lectionary is now, as Isaiah might have put it a ‘former thing,’ and my new orange coloured lectionary is a ‘new thing.’
New Year is of course the time when people make resolutions and when they express a desire that things will be better. On New Year’s Eve, amidst the clinking of glasses and the sound of Auld Lang Syne the sentiment is oft expressed that the coming year had jolly well be better than the one just passed.
As Christians we can sympathise with this sentiment for our readings from Isaiah and Revelation both speak to the notion of out with the old, the former things, and in with the new. Advent invites us to let go of the past, without recrimination, and to look to the future, with hope. Advent invites us to prepare ourselves to meet and greet come Christmas morn the one who is hope: the ‘Wonderful Counsellor,’ the ‘Mighty God,’ the ‘Everlasting Father,’ the ‘Prince of Peace.’
Can I ask you this Advent to hold these phrases in your hearts and to contemplate what they might mean for you? Perhaps you could choose one of Isaiah’s descriptors for each week in Advent?
Can I ask you NOT to let them be simply majestic phrases from one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture, but instead part of your Adventide ‘daily bread.’ Indeed, if we are to accept St. Paul’s (Advent) invitation to ‘be imitators of God,’ for that is our very calling – yours and mine – then we do well to fully absorb and digest Isaiah’s words of prophecy.
I would like to suggest that our New Year resolution – again yours and mine – should be to become ‘imitators of God.’ When all is said and done, as St. Paul insists, this is our highest and most noble calling; it’s also a calling that we pray for each and every Sunday morning in the Prayer of Preparation when we ask that we might ‘magnify’ his ‘Holy Name.’ If I was to ask you all one Advent question it would be simply this: ‘to what extent do you wish to be Christlike?’ Is your deepest desire that you might 'magnify his Holy Name' for this is the extended preparation that Advent provides. William Temple, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, once said, and I absolutely agree with him, that ‘the world needs more and better Christians.’ More people doing better at imitating Christ.
My suspicion is that the route to more Christians is by us - you and me - becoming better Christians. When we become better Christians, through our fascination with and love for Christ, the result is that we grow in our commitment to justice, peace and reconciliation (Isaiah's great themes); we become the sort of people who can genuinely let the ‘former things pass away’ without bitterness or recrimination and as we become instruments of justice and agents of hope, and we become God’s partners in building a ‘Holy City,’ here ‘on earth as in heaven.’
This Advent can I invite you to deepen your prayer life so that you may become a better Christian? Can I suggest that you might do this by reflecting on those four wonderful metaphors Isaiah provides us with:
- Wonderful Counsellor
- Mighty God
- Everlasting Father
- Prince of Peace