Sunday 2 December - Advent 1 - Eucharist - Clephane Hume

Advent 2018

Jeremiah 33  14-16; 1Thessalonians  3  9-13 ; Luke 21  25-36 

There will be signs in the moon and stars. Doom for the astrologists.

St Luke lays it on thick earlier in this chapter as well. There will be earthquakes, famines, plagues.

Earthquakes in Alaska this past week, with the threat of tsunamis, Ebola rearing its ugly head again in the DRC. Yesterday was world AIDS day, a continuing challenge and stigma in many countries and you would need a heart of granite to be unmoved by Catherine Philp’s report from Yemen. (1)

Fires, rain, illness……..We’ve got it all already.

Sometimes people use these warnings to make claims about the problems that beset innocent communities – the wrath of God is upon you. Unfair condemnation. It’s true that that the Israelites experienced plagues in the desert. But equally, I would suggest, remember how their generous God rescued them. ‘The days are surely coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.’

And so it was. But they had to wait. And that’s part of what Advent is about. In our technological age we expect instant results. But think of the migrants waiting for a better future, being rescued by countries that don’t welcome them. They wait in hope.

For the Righteous branch to spring up.

The ‘weather forecast’ aspect of the readings coincides with all the warnings we were given earlier in the week about climate change during this century.

So are we really near the end? Who knows?

The gospel writers of the first century were living in a different time scale. They really did believe that the end was nigh. We can now look ahead to living on Mars, or at least discovering who really does inhabit that planet. Great excitement on Monday evening. It is a remarkable scientific achievement. Things are ever growing and developing.

We also look back and remember. Today we pay attention to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs represented by the first candle on our advent wreath. The prophets, our forebears whose works and words inspire us.

Note the addition of the matriarchs. That too is a sign of the times. We are now at mid-way in the 16 days of action against gender-based violence. An international awareness raising event. Roughly 80% of this in Scotland is targeted at women so

I have an obvious interest. It’s a situation that shouldn’t exist, but does, usually hidden from others and causing serious distress. You probably know people, women, who have been abused in this way, physically or emotionally, but they won’t have told you. And that is part of the problem. People suffer in silence, alone. The thought of getting help is daunting and often feels like failure. And in any case, will it lead to further violence?

Look out for suffering, and be there, if help is sought. One of my favourite maxims – ‘be there, stay there, because often people suffer more from lack of attention.’

Be on guard. The gospel tells us. We have four weeks of preparation and looking forward to Christmas. I don’t just mean organising festivities. Though you could find assistance among the many and varied attractions downstairs in our One world Shop. Try a real Advent calendar instead of one of the many digital ones. And look forward to viewing this church when we become the 24th door on Edinburgh’s calendar on Christmas Eve.

Being ready in the Christian sense is a different matter. Spiritual readiness. Penitence. Looking to the future we may not like to contemplate, preparing for our own death. And waking up to the realities facing the world around us – climate change, homelessness, abuse, loneliness………….You will have your own concerns.

But we can look forward with hope. Real hope, because we know what the coming of the Christ child will ultimately mean for us. Eternal life. Some of today’s children can tell us about faith and hope.

Some of you may have seen the news report about the small boy who sent a birthday card addressed ‘to dad in heaven’. (2) He had faith that it would get there.

A response came from the Post Office telling him that it was a difficult mission, avoiding stars and other galactic objects, but ‘ I will continue to do all I can to ensure delivery to heaven safely.’ Signed, Assistant Delivery Office Manager.

So there are some heart-warming stories too. I choked on that one.

Moving on, this year Advent Sunday is sandwiched between two days of commemoration.and two continents – Africa and Asia. On December 1st, we think of Charles de Foucauld, the 19th century hermit who led an ascetic life in the north African desert. Tomorrow, Francis Xavier, 16th century, preacher of the word. Brought to faith by Ignatius of Loyola, with whom he founded the Jesuit order.

Both left us with wise words.

Paul asked the Thessalonians - how can we thank God enough?

De Foucauld provides one answer

It is not necessary to teach others, to cure them or improve them. It is only necessary to live among them sharing the human condition and being present to them in love.

The Word is much, but example, love and prayer are a thousand times more.

For that is the message that God sent Christ to proclaim to us. By carrying it out, we show our thanks. (3)

Being present to others. We all try to be loving but sometimes aren’t aware of our impact. Let me share something that happened to me recently.

I arrived at my local bus stop, wearing my clerical collar, en route to the autumn diocesan synod. There was a woman already there, waiting for an approaching bus. She looked at me and asked ‘do you work at the church at the west end?’ I said I did. ‘and it’s your photo on the railing?’  Again I said yes, and was about to launch into further comment when her bus arrived and she jumped onto it saying ‘it makes me happy’.

I was stunned. As some of you know, I don’t altogether love that photo! As she took her seat she looked out and we waved to each other. I have no idea who she was. I still feel somewhat dumfoonered, but if she’s happy, then so am I.

I had done nothing. I wasn’t ‘on guard’, or at all prepared. I was just accidentally there. I think Christ would prefer his followers to be more intentional, to be active and to reach out, but you just never know.

And I console myself with the words of

De Foucauld’s prayer.

 

Father,

I surrender myself into your hands;

do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you:

I am ready to accept everything.

As long as your will is done in me

and in all your creatures.

I wish no more than this, O Lord.

 

Into my hands I commend my soul;

I give it to you

with all the love of my heart,

for I love you Lord,

and I need to give myself,

to yield myself to you without reserve

and with boundless confidence,

For you are my Father. (4)

 

1  Philp C. 2018 Report from Yemen. The Times. pp22-23

www.bbc.co.uk News from Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland. Boy’s letter to dad in heaven gets reply. Accessed 30.11.18. 

www.goodreads.com  Charles de Foucauld quotes.  Accessed 30.11.18.

4  Hillyer P 1990.  Charles de Foucauld. The way of Christian Mystics. The Liturgical Press, Minnesota. pp 175-6.