Advent 1 Year C – December 2, 2018
Jer 33.14-16; ps 25; 1 Thess 3.9-13; Luke 21.25-36
‘May the Lord strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before your God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints’.
‘You’ll see,’ they said. ‘Sometimes it does not even snow before Christmas in Montreal’
The anticipation of Christmas has certainly changed over time, with the pressure that we all know. I am sure that you will have been as annoyed as me by all the excitement over Black Friday and Cyber Monday – unless you really needed to buy something. And it was a shock for me to see Father Christmases happily installed everywhere around Montreal by early November, though I fully understand that they would have been more difficult to install once the snow had started to fall.
One needs to adapts to local weather circumstances, and like many, I certainly enjoy as many opportunities to see light in these months of darkness.
In any case, unless there is a major thaw, it certainly is going to be a white Christmas this year!
For the Church, it was business as usual in ‘ordinary time’ until yesterday, when colours changed, the crib was brought out of its store cupboard, and a team helped to clean and spruce up the cathedral in readiness for the season of Advent which we enter today. The new year for the Church has begun.
Advent, a gift of four for us to try and make space and ponder – in the midst of all the other preparations at hand – on the coming of God into the world as the miraculous child of a teenage girl all those years ago – and how welcome or unwelcome that child was made.
The stories are vivid, well known and immediate.
A few weeks for us to ponder how we can make God central again in our lives as we – with the rest of the church – wonder what it will be like when Jesus does return back in glory, as he promised himself.
And in truth, that particular prospect may sound rather daunting, as we read of the signs that will prefigure it.
Signs in the sun, moon and stars. Distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People fainting of fear and foreboding. And then, ‘the son of man coming in a cloud’ with great power and glory. (Luke 21.25)
‘Despite all this, we are to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.’
I don’t know about you, but it all sounds rather terrifying to me – and yet, there is much going on around us that sounds surprisingly similar to those words of Jesus, plenty of distress among nations as temporal powers continue to wage wars that cannot be won. Plenty of evidence of travails around the environment.
Are we are already living in this world prefiguring that second coming of the Christ. Are the birth pangs of something new already in motion? We are to watch, wait and be ready.
Because for those who can hold a steady vision, those who can see the signs, yet who can leave aside the worries of the world, there is the promise that they will be able to stand, head high, before the Son of Man.
This requires a remarkable amount of self-control and discipline, and a faith that manages to be unwavering even when storms rage around.
And so the purpose of this time of Advent, a time for us to resource ourselves, to make some new church year’s spiritual resolutions, resolutions to focus on what gives us life rather than what detracts or harms us; to focus on what connects us to God, rather than disconnects: to focus on allowing God be God to us and bless us as we remember God’s coming as a helpless baby, and as we await God’s coming again while seeing evidence of the presence of God’s all around us.
The journey of Advent is both one that is deeply personal, a privileged time to attend to our own soul and divine expectations, but also one that is deeply communal, rooted in our community at Christ Church Cathedral, gathered here in downtown Montreal and scattered all around this city, or whichever Christian community we belong to. Because it is together that we witness to the world of the metaphorical cradle we provide for the Christ to be incarnate and made flesh, for Jesus to come again, and again, and again.
How else would the world see what it means to have welcome Jesus in our lives and expect his return in God’s time?
The evidence will be not solely by the building we inhabit, or the music we make, or the prayers we say. But chiefly by the quality of our relationships, by the love and care we have of one another. This, at our best, shows to the world around us the transformative effect of the presence of Jesus among us.
The apostle Paul prays that the Lord may make the people of Thessaloniki increase and abound in love for one another and for all, and so he would pray for the people of Christ Church Cathedral Montreal today.
What is the quality of the relationships between all of us, and does it speak of divine transformation and transcendence and love? Does it show a quality other than the quality of the relationships we see in those who have not joined us on this journey of faith?
As many come through our doors for the first time during this period, will they leave thinking: truly, the quality of their love for one another and for the stranger was remarkable, a visible and active sign of their faith?
I would like to think that we are well on our way. Yet, at this time of Advent we may want to examine our communal life again, make amends where amends need to be made, and set out towards the light of Christ at Christmas with renewed vigour.
Let me finish with these beautiful words inspired by the Advent antiphons from the British poet Malcolm Guite:
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.
 https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/advent-antiphons/ (accessed 2018/12/1)