Toorak Uniting Church

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Advent 1

Jeremiah 33: 14 – 16   Psalm 25: 1 – 10   1 Thessalonians 3: 9 – 13   Luke 21: 25 – 36
Rev. Robert McUtchen
29 November 2009

Advent is a preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus. Advent invites us to enter a sense of expectation as the promises of god through the prophets are recalled. It is a penitential season, acknowledging that humanity has fallen short of god’s plan for us. Christian people examine their living, turn away from things which are not of god, and resolve to live better lives. Hence the colour purple, as for lent, on the stole, candles and church furnishings. That at least is the theory….

What kind of advent and Christmas do we have? I want to pose the question in this way….can we honestly say we enter into the season of advent and Christmas as a gift of god to be savoured and enjoyed for what it is?

Or do we allow secular and sentimental pressures to seduce us into trying to make Christmas conforms to memories which may or may not have any connection with reality?

I suspect many find Christmas is to some degree an ordeal which is to be endured or survived, even if some of it is enjoyed. How often we hear people wearily unenthusiastically approach Christmas. One woman I met this week sighed, describing the huge baking programme soon to commence - $200 of ingredients, gifts for 50 people. – they did not have a lot, it was a way of making ends meet. But at the cost of late nights in a hot kitchen after starting work at 7 in the morning.

Or the mountain of Christmas cards to write, address and post, a tree to organise and decorate, maybe a house to adorn in Christmas lights, gifts to select and purchase, cooking for a family dinner on Christmas day – all while maintaining a spirit of Christmas cheer and good will to others.

This more or less is the reality for many people. The sheer volume of money spent before Christmas, the volume of boxes processed by a distribution centre I visit as chaplain, point to the reality that a significant part of community has been seduced into imagining in order to be ready to celebrate Christmas, it is necessary first to complete so many tasks, buy the right kind of gift. As if a need to create the situations and environments in which the "memories" of Christmas will to be generated and then saved.

Complete the sentence – Christmas would not be the same for me if……./did not happen/was not present.

And I ask you to reflect – does this not echo something of the original fall of man – human kind wanting to create or control rather than accepting the perfection of god’s creation?

And all the time we thought we were celebrating the birth of the one who would set right all that was not right between god and humanity.

Now many will say defensively – get real – there are things to be done at Christmas and many are unavoidable. My response is to ask – ok – but when a person is brought to the frazzle of weariness of body and spirit, have things gone too far? Are they out of balance? Is the Christmas season a gift for our enjoyment, or something to which we have become captive?

Advent invites us to pause in our busyness and ask on what is our vision focussed. Advent invites us to look beyond the immediate time, to marvel at future hope, at a world and a creation which is restored to its fullness through the intention and action of god.

Jesus cautions his people to anticipate god’s intervention in the world. The language is what is called apocalyptic – which was in keeping with contemporary expectations of divine actions. If we look beyond the immediate description, and ask what is essentially being conveyed, we have the promise that god is yet concerned with the future of the world, and that he is to intervene one more time in human history, as he did in the incarnation of Jesus, when god took human form.

Advent recalls us to the miracle which is the eternal one breaking into human history. If we ask "why", we confront the disjuncture between god’s dream for creation and the mess we have made of both creation, and our relationship with god. Earlier celebrations of advent in music made so clear the significance of the fall of humankind, as related in genesis. The why of Christmas is god’s response to human imperfection, in wanting to follow its own way, rather than god’s way. As humankind deviates as a toddler child in its first steps, so god the loving parent intervenes to recall us to the way he knows is best. But the way he does that is through the person of Jesus, who has come as we are, truly a guide we can understand and follow.

Advent becomes a challenge to join in god’s mission to make all things new. Listen to the words of so many carols, they all speak of new beginnings, all possible by god’s grace.

All that I have described of god’s action is notable in what it asks of us – not to become weary with frantic preparations so we get it "right" for Christmas. Instead, it is a call to marvel, then internal reflection – asking in what ways our living repeats the same sins which contributed to the original disjunction between god and humanity. And then to repentance in the confidence of god’s readiness to offer grace and forgiveness, liberation from what we are, to what we can become through god. Finally, to reclaim a sense of excitement about Christmas we may remember from our childhood – but more deeply understood as god inviting us to go with him in a mission to reclaim and renew our world, our lives, and be truly human in serving god and others.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2009

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