Advent Expectation

Fr David’s sermon 3rd Sunday of Advent, 13 Dec 2015

“As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah…”

Advent is the season of expectation…waiting in hope. Well, is it? What are we waiting for? What are we expecting? Christmas? But surely that is the most predictable of events…surely it is a time of the year when we know what we shall be doing…the carol services follow the same pattern each year… Vicars are used to hearing: “well, we usually do this and we usually do that…what normally happens is…so and so expects…” well maybe there is nothing wrong with that…in many ways…expectation suggests that we know the outcome. Christmas, in our culture is the most predictable of events.

But listen again – feel your heart beating with empassioned indignation as the preacher calls you a brood of vipers…does your blood boil at such an insult? It is not what you expect. Feel your ears tingle as the words strike home and unsettle you. The words cut to the heart as surely as an orchard owner cuts out a tree that fails to bear fruit. It looks like a fruit tree but without fruit it is only good for the fire. Take your place in the crowd, look into the piercing eyes of the prophet as he identifies your role in society: change the way you do what you do. There is no need to change your occupation…your job may be difficult, but do it differently with a spirit of honesty, respect and love.

Is that what you expect to hear…or did you expect to be made comfortable?

On Friday, that allusive and mysterious street artist, Banksy left one of his graffiti works under a bridge in Calais under which Syrian refugees have been sheltering. It showed the late Steve Jobs as a refugee carrying his possession in a bin bag slung over his shoulder and carrying the first kind of Apple computer invented by him.

Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian refugee; had he not been allowed to settle in the USA, the Apple i-technology revolution would never have happened. Banksy, whose true identity has never been revealed, donated the whole of the proceeds from sale of his recent works to building wooden accommodation units for refugees in Calais. He left the artwork under the bridge during the night after he had been helping to build the wooden shelters.

It reminds me of the wise old Rabbi, who once asked his students a question: “How can a person tell when the darkness ends and the daylight begins?” After thinking for a moment, one student replied, “I expect it is when there is enough light to see an animal in the distance to tell whether it is a sheep or a goat.” Another ventured, “I expect it is when there is enough light to distinguish a tree and tell if it is a fig or an oak.”

The old Rabbi gently said, “No. It is when you can look into a person’s face and recognise your brother and sister. For if you cannot recognise in another’s face, the face of your brother and sister, the darkness has not yet begun to lift and the Light has not yet come.”

Advent – means coming – and demands that we open our hearts to the coming of the Lord, not in the expected and cosily predictable but in the unexpected. Feel a new way of life for you and those around you. Smell the aroma of the food and drink you will share with your neighbour; feel the joy of generosity as you give away your wealth and time; touch the hand of the lonely and desperate, the anxious and afraid and see the smile of restored hope and dignity. And ask yourself:

Was it expected that the Son of God would be born in a humble stable to an ordinary unmarried peasant girl? Was it expected that Jesus – the human face of God – would befriend tax-collectors, prostitutes, lepers and those on the very edges of society? Was it expected that the Prince of Peace and the King of Glory would wear a crown of thorns and be executed like a common criminal? Was it expected that the Lord Jesus Christ would rise from the tomb that you and I might have a second chance of experiencing God’s glory? We shall meet God in the unexpected, in the wilderness moments of our lives, when all seems confusing and lost.

And this is the most unexpected thing of all,that God should love us so much that he comes down into the very depths of our lives. That is the astonishing, but real, central truth of the Christian Faith. The birth of Christ means for us that the power of God, his love, his life, his very self, became flesh and blood that we might become alive to sharing that love with each other, as God, now one of us, shares our living and loving, our joys and sufferings.

What we are preparing ourselves for this Advent is the reality that wherever we may be, God will find us in the very depths of our lives. There is no hiding from the love of God. Wherever we are, there is God, revealed unexpectedly in Jesus in our midst – in our joy, in our suffering, in our love. Amen.