Sermon- Joint Service- HTK- Advent 1- Year B
During my time working for the Scottish Tourist Board, or VisitScotland as they are now called, there was one CEO who had a particular phrase which was always included in his annual presentation at All Staff Meetings. These were held each year and usually took place in a fairly large hotel somewhere south of here, and for a couple of days.
For a number of us who spent our working weeks out on the road and very rarely in an office environment it was a great time to catch up with colleagues, we only ever spoke to on the phone or emailed in the later years.
As we came to the CEO’s presentation we would sit and await the news, the uplifting speech we were about to get…
At some point in the speech we would be assured that there were two things we could be certain about in our lives; one was death (not very uplifting and just slightly depressing!), the other was ‘change’. He was certainly correct about the change, we went from relying on payphones to make a call home or to the office through the week, from doing everything on paper to having laptops, although the change to paperless operations never quite materialized, we ended up duplicating our written work on paper to the laptop. The other thing, which brought a fairly frequent change, was the annual restructuring and reorganization of the organization. On his third All Staff Meeting, he emphasized these now familiar words about change with some strength and some determination, he was announcing that there was to be a really radical shake up of how the Tourist Board operated and yes we were to have another restructuring and consultation process. However his words became something of a self fulfilling prophecy, because only a matter of weeks later he was to find himself out of work and being made the scapegoat for the poor visitor numbers to Scotland the previous year and that the marketing campaign of the Tourist Board was somehow to blame, as CEO his shoulders were where the final buck stopped.
It was a huge change and one, which he probably hadn’t quite seen coming his way.
It’s possible you are asking yourself ‘what has this got to do with the Advent?’
We are at that point in the church year, where yes we begin another church year. It is that point where we know that we are in a period of preparation, a period of waiting. Often our time of waiting is so preoccupied with the preparations for Christmas Day; writing shopping lists, writing cards, icing the cake, wrapping presents that we often fail to notice what is there in front of us…
What is in front of us is the opening up of the one of the greatest stories ever. It is a story that would change everything beyond imagining.
The prophets were looking for and hoping for change, but even the change they were foretelling was far different from the reality.
As we hear the Christmas Story, we are reminded that so many people faced some of the biggest changes in their lives in order that the events could unfold as Jesus came down to earth.
We are often told that one thing we don’t like is change, one thing that as humans we are not good at is change, and whilst that might be true, the reality of it is that there is one thing for sure we know will happen and that is change. Look at the human body and the way in which a baby develops into a toddler, in a small person, into a teenager- any one who has lived with a teenager can tell you that the changes are massive, so why should we expect anything different at other times in our lives and in the communities to which we belong?
As Jesus called his disciples, they didn’t stay being fishermen, tax collectors and all the other jobs they did, the disciples changed. Their outlook on life changed, the way they led their lives changed, the way they looked at others changed.
Today’s gospel reading reminds us of a time to come. We are put in the presence of the adult Jesus who is offering something a prophecy- of judgment and of comfort.
Even though we are at the beginning of the story at the start of Advent, we are offered today a glimpse of the ending of the story. A time, which is yet to come, a time when everything will quite literally be changed. It will be a change when everything will be different and for us we can only begin to imagine what it might be like. But it is a change, which we pray for every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, ‘your Kingdom come’.
This change is a time when we see the world differently from the world we see around us, a world, which thinks that some of the behaviors displayed on Friday across supermarkets and shopping centres, are somehow normal and newsworthy. A world, which sees people relying on food banks and people sleeping rough. A world, which sees injustice and inequality as somehow acceptable in too, many places near and far. A world, which sees the only answer to have peace, is to be at war.
We are part of the people of God who have heard God’s call, God’s call to be people who are serious, hopeful and faithful in bringing God’s Kingdom a step closer. We are called to do something different, the in phrase is to be counter-cultural, and the phrase Jesus might use would be ‘to love one another as I have loved you.’
So as we tell the story of that first Christmas, as we wait to be able to celebrate the coming of Christ, we also wait for the time when Christ will come again, when all will be gathered into Christ, we must wait and wait patiently, but the waiting we are called to do is not a passive waiting, but a waiting which is full of action, full of prayer and above all a waiting which asks us to be the work of the hand of the Lord- full of good news and offering assurance to others, that includes those whom we find hard to come alongside, that God is at hand and making all things new. An amazing story to tell, and an amazing opportunity to change lives forever. Amen