Keep awake.

 

My worst experience with someone remaining awake was when Lilly, aged about two, stayed awake and screamed her head off all the way from the Pear Tree roundabout to Rock, in Cornwall. When we arrived at the end of the drive at the house where we were staying she promptly fell fast asleep. Should we wake or not then became the great parental dilemma. I think, despite all temptations to wake her, we let her sleep!

In Advent, or through Advent, we are invited to heighten our senses so that we are fully ready to receive our Lord at Christmas.  Advent invites us to do many things. I would like to pick out three. We are invited to watch, to wait and to prepare.

One of the peculiarities of Christian ministry is that you end up doing a lot of watching, waiting and preparing. Waiting, watching and preparing takes place every time I work with a family who are anticipating a death. It also happens every time I work with a couple preparing for marriage of for the baptism of their child. I do an awful lot of watching, waiting and preparing. Sometimes its joyous, but often painful.

During Advent you are all invited to minister to yourselves as you watch, wait and prepare for Christmas.

 

Let’s start with watching: Advent is one of the church’s two penitential seasons. The other is Lent. In Advent and Lent the church asks us to review the state of our own hearts and consider where we fall short. Are we carrying deep within unresolved pains? Do we pander to our petty resentments? Are there any relationships in need of repair? Can I encourage you to think on these things this Advent.

Waiting can sometimes be a highly frustrating process. Learning to wait well is a profoundly counter-cultural virtue. Yet for Christians, waiting well is a vital skill. Waiting well, I think, has two dimensions to it: remembrance and hope. Remembrance involves looking backwards and seeing that which God has already done and giving thanks for the tough times he has brought us through. Hope implies looking ahead in the anticipation of something better to come. In Advent that better thing is Christmas, and in Lent it is Easter. Incarnation and resurrection. So this Advent can I also encourage you to learn the art of waiting well; remembering with gratitude and anticipating with hope.

Finally, preparing. For me preparing implies consciously thinking, but more importantly praying, in advance of the event to come: Christmas.

 

When we watch, wait and prepare we become the sort of people who are alert, or in spiritual terms alive. In the epistle St. Paul uses the word ‘revealing.’ Watching, waiting, preparing and praying I would want to suggest are the spiritual means through which the glory of the Lord is revealed. If we learn to watch, wait, prepare and pray, we will have a wonderful Christmas when it comes.

This year we have produced a daily pray card for use in Advent. It can be used either in the morning or the evening. It is designed to help you minister to yourselves, to keep watch over yourselves and wait in a spirit of anticipation as you prepare for that ‘happy morn.’ Please do take one with you at the end of the service and use it each and every day as you watch, wait and prepare for Christmas, Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

I don’t know what picture is conjured up for you when you hear the word king? Throughout the ages notions of kingship and despotism haven’t been far apart. Although he wasn’t a king, Robert Mugabe this week stands out as the last in a line of tyrants who have sought to rule over their people with absolute authority using all means at his disposal to subjugate his people. Monarchs, kings, despots seem also to be extremely keen on their own personal aggrandisement; on getting ever wealthier. Think again of Mugabe.

But Christ the King is a very different form of king. This morning I have one simple aim: to stir you up and renew your fascination in Jesus Christ, the man who on his cross was described, with irony and sarcasm, as the King of the Jews.

Let’s just look at the kingship of Jesus:

  • Born in a stable not a palace.
  • A man who worked for his living as a carpenter.
  • A man who threw off all monarchical luxury and went into the desert to face all of his own temptations. Temptations which if he had ceded to them would have made him just like any other despotic ruler.
  • He was a king who seemed oblivious to human constructs and artificial boundaries. He was a man who scandalously included women, tax collectors & Samaritans in his group of followers and friends. He was concerned for the epileptic, ‘demonic,’ and paralytic. 
  • He touched lepers and, women with serious gynaecological problems. He wasn’t too concerned about humanly constructed notions of purity because for Jesus purity was located in, and flowed from, the heart. Jesus was a king who got a serious amount of muck under his finger nails as he did the dirty work of holiness.
  • He cared about the young, the old, the widow and the orphan, the outcast, migrant and refugee. It’s all in the gospel stories.
  • He sought to challenge each and every taboo, social, economic, ethnic or religious that had been imposed on society through kings, emperors, and priests.

His style of kingship was concerned – always - with liberation and not subjugation.

Yes, he cared about standards, but not protocols. He cared about how we relate to each other, how we care for each other and how we love each other.  These were Jesus’ standards for kingship.

Let them be our standards too. Let our concern be liberation not subjugation.

Over the next week can I invite you to do one thing only:

  • To renew a sense of fascination in the upside down and liberating kingship of Jesus Christ and to let his kingship penetrate your very soul. If you do this it will make all the difference in the world both to you and to others.

Give it a go! Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

Has anyone ever accused you of being blunt: perhaps even a bit too blunt?  Well, I suspect we could accuse the writers of today’s readings, especially Amos and Matthew, of being blunt, stark and to the point. And, their subject matter is not a nice wishy washy one for what they are talking about is judgement, ultimate judgement.

In the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids it is made clear that not everyone will be welcomed to the eternal banquet; not even those who say ‘Lord, Lord.’  In the reading from the prophet Amos we hear that God ‘despises’ the people’s religious ‘festivals’ and ‘solemn assemblies.’  These are hard words, blunt words. It is an incredible thought, is it not, that God may despise our worship?  We need to unpack this because worship is an integral part of our life and witness as a church. We are a church because we are a worshipping community.

 

So, what on earth are these passages about? I think that they are about God’s priorities and about learning the art of Godly living. They are about integrity and the throwing off hypocrisy. They are about the values that we bring to worship; values that are tried and tested not in church but through our daily living. And of course the values that we should prize above all others are God’s values, or kingdom values. We do after all pray the words ‘thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.’  So what values are we talking about?

For the prophet Amos, justice was the biggy. Amongst the prophets Amos towers as the defender of the downtrodden and poor. He also accuses the powerful and rich of using God’s very name to legitimize their sin. In many ways Amos is an angry prophet. But his anger in the face of the abuse of power is both righteous and just. Maybe we, as a church, should appropriate a little of Amos’ anger? 

Jesus always exercised compassion towards the poor, the sick, and the excluded. He always sought out the outsider and integrated them. There is an absolute consistency between the prophetic words of Amos and the life of Jesus. You would expect there to be given that Jesus is the ‘the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.’

 

If we are serious about holiness, we the church need to offer the hand of friendship and love to all. We need to be fired up by notions of justice. We need to be as angry as Amos in the face of injustice. We need to be seen to be deeply committed to God’s values.  

 

In 1991 the then Bishop of Kingston, Peter Selby, challenged the church with this question: ‘What is the shape of the community of women and men that you long for, and for which the Church is a preparation? ‘  He was writing just ahead of the vote to opening up the priesthood to men and women alike. But, his question can also be used more generally. We must always ask ourselves what should the church look like in this town especially to the poor and the marginalised? What values are we living out? And we should do so in the sure and certain knowledge that the church here on earth, is nothing other than a preparation for the church perfect in heaven. Saying ‘Lord, Lord’ is never enough. Seeking to live lives of holiness animated through a commitment to the rules of love, justice, hospitality and equality, by contrast, will always be enough. Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown