Sermon - Sunday 6th December. Advent 2: Micah 3, 1-4, Philippians 1, 3-11 & Luke 3, 1-6

Have you ever had the experience of being asked to do something that you really, really, didn’t want to do? I have. I remember going on a ‘leadership course’ in the mid 1990’s near Hereford and being ‘made’ to go potholing. I cannot tell you how terrifying I found it. In the early 1990’s, 1993 I think, I did what was then the world’s highest bungee jump: 111 metres off the bridge over the Zambezi between Zimbabwe and Zambia. I didn’t find it exhilarating and I didn’t enjoy waiting two and half hours to do it. I only did it because Sallyanne wanted to!

 Often the Church asks us to do things we would prefer not to. I am not talking about things like selling yet more raffle tickets, but deep, and scary things, things like a commitment to ‘holiness’ and ‘evangelism.’ Despite the scariness inherent in the words themselves there can be little doubt that growth in holiness and, yes, numbers must be part of our collective rationale. We know this because today’s Advent readings tell us so.

Micah calls us to holiness: ‘for he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.’ John the Baptist, reminds us of the need to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to be evangelists, and to baptise new members into the Church.  Proclaiming the good news is not an optional Christian extra. It is obligatory. We can discuss how the good news is best proclaimed, but we cannot duck the imperative to do so.

Compared to my potholing and bungee jumping experiences are the pursuits of growth in holiness and numbers exercises in Christian heroism? Are they matters of mind over matter or will power? I think not, and I also think that the prophet Micah and St. Paul show us a better, less self-centred way.

Paul refers to the fact that he constantly prays with joy for the Christian community in Philippi. And what is he praying for? Holiness: ‘and this is my prayer that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced – and this is a key phrase – the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.’ So let’s make sure we pray, because prayer works! It is through prayer that we grow in first holiness and then in numbers as our love for each other and the world becomes contagious. If we don’t accept that prayer changes initially us, and then the world around us, why bother with it? Micah stresses this point; let’s look at the passage I have already read but with a different emphasis:

He is like refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.’ In our prayers we need to open the door to God and allow him to transform us from deep within; that’s all!

So let me finish with a question: ‘could we this Advent, through prayer, invite God to come amongst us as a ‘refiner’s fire,’ because if we can it will produce an unquantifiable harvest of righteousness, and that is an absolute promise.  Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown