Sermon by Fr David McGladdery 27 Nov 2016
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways, that we may walk in his paths.” (Isaiah 2:1-5)
Take a moment to pause and think: how are you feeling? Seriously – how are you feeling? Deep down, underneath the routine of everyday life: how *are* you? And what do you need? What do you want? What has God given you? What do you want God to give you?
We tend, as human beings, constantly to be striving for some ultimate goal – that state of perfection, which will give us total fulfilment. And as life rolls on, and we grow ever older, we may begin to think that we will never reach where we ought to have reached; there’s no hope; it’s all too late. I guess we are really human “doings” not “human beings” – if only we could *strive* less and simply *be* more. And I don’t mean simply material success or status, but, also, what we might consider to be our spiritual achievements – let’s be honest, the closer we get to following Christ, the greater our awareness of our own imperfections. How can we ever be Christ-like?
But, wait! And waiting is what the church calls us to do in Advent. Wait – consider the readings from Holy Scripture this Sunday. They speak to us of a vision, that in a world filled with impossible and incredible things there still exists the possibility of a good life, a life filled with justice, peace, goodness, wholesomeness, beauty and the things of God. Godliness is possible in a world where it seems to be almost impossible. Jesus urges us to get ready for it.
The prophet Isaiah tells of a vision of God’s kingdom, where effort is expended seeking to grow a world of justice and fairness, where nurture and harvest replaces the struggle for control and supremacy.
Paul says to the fledgling church: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day.” Let’s be attentive – let’s get ready.
But to be attentive, to get ready, is to wait. The gift of Advent gives us the gift of waiting. Not waiting as at a bus stop; but more like a waiter in a restaurant, waiting attentively – watching the tables to see when to attend to the needs of the customers.
A few years ago, there was a reality TV programme with a difference. Five men went to a monastery and five women to a convent for a silent retreat. They came from the busy, professional world of schedules, deadlines, time management… a silent retreat at an enclosed convent and monastery was something they had never ever experienced. After the first few days – after the novelty had worn off – they each found it hard. Hard to sit with themselves in silence, with nothing to distract or divert them. They each found that they had to confront their own selves. No longer could they run away from or ignore who they were. They had to discover themselves for who they really were. They each had a monk or nun to reflect with them, how it was going. One man explained that after a period of frustration and self-criticism, he found himself relaxing; something was growing deep inside him; he felt a freedom; a release. He said: “I can’t explain it.” The monk said to him – “Do you think it could be …God?”
There is a story about a woman from an African village who had to walk many miles each day to collect water for her family. She carried two large buckets on a wooden bar across her shoulders. When she reached the well, she filled up her buckets with water from the well and set off back along the hot dusty road. The journey back always began with difficulty as the buckets were so heavy, filled to the brim with water, but the journey home got easier – simply because the buckets got lighter. They each had cracks in and the water leaked out as she walked home. Her friends who walked with her used to say: “why don’t you get new buckets? you lose half the water you collect every day!” And the woman replied: “Perhaps, one day. But don’t you see what has happened – along the route home, where the water leaks from my buckets, there are lines of grass which has stayed green and even a few flowers appear; that gives me hope; it makes me happy on my journey each day!”
That is the Advent message. We are just like those buckets, imperfect and cracked. But God loves us for who we are. God loves us with all our cracks and imperfections, for all our faults and failings. The cracks, those points of vulnerability, the mistakes we have made, the pain and suffering we may have endured: they are all part of who we are – and because of this, we are beautiful in God’s eyes. We are called to stop; to wait; to be attentive who God has made us to be. To pause and to love who God has made us to be. To wait and to stop being anxious and simply turn and face God, and allow God’s goodness to shine upon us and bathe us in Love. And so with the glory of God’s love shining upon us, we can turn to each other and reflect that love in each other faces. If we can accept each other as God accepts us – in love – then all striving and worrying will cease. Then, we can say with the prophet Isaiah: ‘…come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Amen.