I preached at St Johns Camberwell last Sunday and someone actually asked me afterwards if I was going to put the sermon on my blog so they could read it again! Well, I am not immune to flattery, so here it is. May you find some encouragement in it for your Advent, wherever you are and whatever season you are in.
Readings for the day: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-38
If there is one thing I’ve learnt from the trials of life, it is that ‘two things can be true at the same time.’
About three years ago, I was driving the car, boys in the back seat and tears streaming down my face. I don’t remember the particular difficulty that day, but I remember trying to explain this newly discovered truth to my children, then aged four and five: just because I was crying, didn’t mean the world was about to end (which it can seem to a young child when his mummy is upset) because two things can be true at the same time. All of a sudden, Jono started to giggle, which of course made Chris giggle, but I couldn’t see what was going on because I was driving the car! So I asked Jono, ‘what’s so funny?’ With a huge smile in his voice I heard him explain that if you are both happy and sad at the same time that would mean one side of your mouth would be ‘going like this’ and the other side would be ‘going like this’: and he was using his fingers to push the left side of his mouth into a grin and the right side into a frown! All three of us were cheered up trying to contort our face into this half smile half frown.
It is true that today, the first day of Advent, is new year’s day in the Church’s calendar. However it is also truth that new year’s day is still a whole month away, in the Gregorian calendar. In Advent we wait for the Lord’s coming, even as we sit in a beautiful church proclaiming the Lord has come. Often when we receive news, for example, we experience at least two things being true at the same time: happy for ourselves at winning first place, disappointed for our friend who came 32nd. Excited for our friend who is moving on, but anxious for ourselves being left behind.
This ‘two things can be true at the same time’ theme is starkly evident all through-out Advent; directing us to find a way to embrace multiple truths and complementary explanations rather than withdraw into the false security of simple answers. We declare the coming of everlasting peace in Christ, even as we know soberly that any peace in the Holy Land is unlikely to last. We trust in the eternal healing of body and mind, even as we watch our loved ones slip away into disease and death.
This ‘two things can be true at the same time’ theme is also the key to reading Scripture in Advent. When we hear passages about the ‘end times’, as we did from Luke’s gospel this morning, we need to listen with an understanding of multiple dimensions of time.
The End Times could be literally that, it’s certainly how the passages are present to us in Scripture, but it is referring to events in the future so in terms of time is in an unprovable reality. Then again, it is easy to imagine an end of time with our present catastrophic environmental issues! But this is not unique to our time and place in the universe, catastrophic threats are regularly a part of civilisation: did you know, for example, there was a massive environmental crisis in Rome towards the end of the Roman Empire? They’d cut down too many trees to keep the Roman baths hot and steamy! When I was in year 9 my history teacher asked the class if they thought the world was likely to end soon – about a third of us put up our hands, such was the fear of a Nuclear War. So it’s possible the world as we know it could end, and as God-fearers it is natural to assume God is somehow involved in that.
However, it is also true, allegorically, that each of us will have our own, personal, end of time upon our death. And it is also true that there is a constant death to ego and immaturity as we grow up, ‘death to sin’ as the apostle Paul would be it. Furthermore, it is true that there are ends to an era: personal and societal. Sociologists have been talking about the end of The Modern Era for at least thirty years, which is and of itself is an illustration of two things being true at the same time. For surely much of Modern culture has ended, but the remnants of it linger on. This is simply the nature of any transitional period, cultural or otherwise, and what God ushered in with the birth of Jesus was most definitely a transition period: the Kingdom of God is both now and ‘not yet’.
So, how do we respond to the message of the sign of the times? I have two suggestions.
Sean Thomas, Billboard (Sign of the Times)First, we listen with open ears and minds. This is where a spiritual reading of Scripture really comes into it’s own. Yes, there was an original intention of the author; yes, there are various scientific readings of the text which illuminate it’s meaning; but, if the Holy Spirit inspires the Scriptures it is in the quickening of new life and new understandings within us; and so we also listen for the personal and the private meanings this passage might have for us.
I was speaking to someone yesterday who had noticed that whenever a big change was on the horizon of his life, there was a plethora of ‘signs’ that became too vivid to ignore. Another friend described this aspect of life in reference to the footy field: sometimes everything just falls into place and a team takes on a magical quality where everything works synchronistically and they are unbeatable while that moment lasts!
So, we need to pay attention to what God and the universe might be suggesting to us in the present.
Second, we need to make a choice. When I was driving the car with both tears running down my face and children giggling in the back seat, I needed to choose to shift my attention. I needed to choose to focus on the positive. In Advent terms, I needed to choose joy, love, peace and hope, even in the face of grief, fear, anger and despair. Choosing the Advent path doesn’t mean the world ends – it will still be new year’s day on the first of January – but meanwhile, all the while, I will be striving for the eternal peace, love, joy and hope that today’s new year’s day proclaims:
Jesus has come: Jesus is coming.
Jesus is a baby: Jesus is God who died on the cross and rose again.
Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father: and Jesus lives in my heart by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
May the Lord bless you and I, as we chose hope, joy, love and peace together.