From a Sermon for Conington, Lolworth and Swavesey
“For he is like a refiner’s fire.” As I read those words, Handel’s Messiah always comes to mind – and I rather suspect that it will for many of you too. It is the soundtrack of Advent and Christmas for me, so White Christmas and Jingle Bells eat your heart out, I’m going with Handel.
The title says it all, The Messiah. The reason that in Advent we work our way religiously through the patriarchs and prophets, the Baptist and Mary, lighting candles as we go, is that they all point to the Messiah, to Christ and his coming. And in an age when Advent is all about ads, and Advent Calendars count down the days with with gin, to the great festival that begins our annual season of guilt and dieting, then something with real spiritual substance, something that proclaims the real reason for the season, has got to be good news – and the packed cathedral for the Advent Procession there suggests that while this may be a minority point of view, I am not alone.
So the reason we read the prophets today is that through the grace of God they were inspired to write words that spoke not only of the sort of salvation they hoped for in their own social circumstances, but also of salvation for us today.
They saw into the heart of the nature of God, the God whose nature, whose DNA if you will, is always to be giving, always from our point of view to be coming towards us in love: in the creation as our very existence comes as gift from him; in the incarnation as he physically takes on flesh and comes amongst us; in the inspiring work of the Spirit as he comes and makes our hearts his home; and one day in judgement, the great coming of his kingdom of justice and peace.
So there’s a thrill for me as I hear again about the coming of Christ, and perhaps a thrill for you too – and it’s one I don’t just want to let pass by. I want to take hold of those stirring words, “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple,” and wonder, what would it be like if that came true now?
If Christ were to come into this temple as he came into the one in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, would we recognise him? Or would he be a child left on the doorstep? Or a street preacher? Or turning over the bookstall in church? The first disciples both before the resurrection and after it were surprisingly slow in working out who he was – think of Mary Magdalene and the gardener or the Emmaus Road: I suspect that we would not fare so much better, as a rather everyday figure slipped into the back of St Somewhere’s to see what was going on, and so saw us as we really are, not as we might try to be if we realised who had joined us.
And when the penny did drop: how would we feel then? Excitement and awe of course, but a rather deeper sense of guilt too than the post-Christmas-blowout one. “Who can stand when he appeareth?”
We believe of course that he is here with us – in the bread and wine. When you make your Communion today, or come up to the altar for a blessing, perhaps you can linger a moment to let the significance of it sink in. Here in the bread and wine, Christ is indeed coming into his temple. Here at the altar he is there in person with you.
So to finish, three suggestions if I may that you might consider as this Advent unfolds to take up alongside the daily dose of chocolate or gin from your calendar. First, and since it is so wonderfully in the news at the moment, make a point of saying the Lord’s Prayer every day and meaning it, as a way of helping with the deepening. If you have children with you, try saying it with them. Secondly, how about giving up for Advent those grumpy comments about the church and its members that people most of us are prone to and which perhaps we wouldn’t have wanted Christ to overhear, and instead try to say words of encouragement and thanks to the others who with us are the body of Christ today. And thirdly, I’m sure toy will want to choose some way of making a generous difference, whether that is by what you give or what you do, to the world that God so loves but which is in such need, the world into which Christ came then and is coming now.