Sermon for Advent Sunday at Adel Parish Church
Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-end; Matthew 24: 36-44
Did anyone go to the Headingly Christmas light switch on? Was it good? If it passed you by, it was last Tuesday. Or perhaps your run up to Christmas started with the John Lewis advert – 10th Nov this year…or with Leeds lights switch on – November 7th…preaching at the start of Advent can feel a bit like getting the time wrong and arriving half way through the party.
When Christmas appears in stores in early November, I have to admit to a terrible urge to stand in the middle of the supermarket and shout, “It’s not even Advent yet!”
But although we might dismiss the ever-earlier start and the hype as just ways to get us to spend more, we’re still drawn into the anticipation. Looking forward to something special seems a good thing. Perhaps that’s because yearning for something big, something beyond ourselves, is part of being human. What we’re being offered may be overpriced nonsense, but companies are tapping into something greater than mere consumerism. The longing is real and profound.
I think that shows in the contents of today’s adverts and light switch on events. Headingley had communal Carols and a brass band…Christmas adverts are often about nostalgia for simpler times, childhood wonder, making sure no one’s left out.
Those who create the adverts seem to know that we’re longing for big things. Perhaps wishing we could still believe in childish dreams that seem impossible to our adult selves…the healing of divisions…peace on earth…goodwill to all.
The trouble is – we’ve been let down before. Depending on how old we are – we’ve lived through various ‘new dawns’ when we were promised better things. Even though for most of us, life is fairly comfortable, the world today can seem a very uncomfortable place. So dreams can seem laughable, best left in TV adverts. Maybe pinning our hopes on Christmas presents and family feasts is a safer option than admitting our longing for something greater.
In church, though, we’re accompanied through Advent by readings from the prophet Isaiah – a prophet called to speak to God’s people in equally difficult times. His words include warnings about God’s judgement, about what happens when people forget God – but between these, he brings God’s promises.
And on the Sundays in Advent what we hear are the promises, Isaiah describing in various ways what the future with God might look like. Today, from a time when God’s Temple in Jerusalem had been overrun by foreign powers, Isaiah offers a vision of God reigning over all, visible to everyone. He talks of a time when everyone will go to God’s house to learn God’s ways and walk God’s paths.
The church gives us Advent not as another Lent – a time to repent – but as a time of promises, of longing – a time of opening ourselves up to the seemingly impossible.
So perhaps when we put aside a bit of time in the coming weeks – as we’re asked to do in Advent – we should spend it with our longings. In so many of his encounters with people, Jesus asked, “what is it that you want?” I don’t think he was just talking about the obvious – like the blind wanting to see. He wanted us to think about our deepest yearnings.
And he had to keep asking it – because it’s not an easy question to answer.
So Christmas adverts offer us…the Christmas truce in World War I, or a baby dragon changed from destructive outcast to friend by the care of a child… stories to chime with our yearnings. But then give us a shop full of stuff and tell us that’s the answer.
We know they’re wrong – but our bigger longings are hard to put into words, hard to pin down; they can seem like childish dreams.
What if this year we stick with the longings? Dare to spend some time with God trying to work out what we’re really hoping for this Christmas.
May be it’ll seem ridiculous – impossible. But naming dreams is important. No doubt education for all, the National Health Service, a black president in South Africa…all seemed impossible once – but when they were spoken they became concrete aspirations, rather than a general longing for healing or goodwill.
Our reading from Isaiah ended ‘Come – let us walk in the light of the Lord’…an invitation to live now as though that vision of the future is possible. He seems to be suggesting that even if God’s people can’t change their circumstances in the short term, they can change the way they look and think about them.
Let’s bring our longings to God this Advent – let’s try to answer Jesus’ question “What is it that you want?” And if we seem to be hoping for the impossible, let’s at least try to live as though it might happen one day.
Or maybe our longings are difficult to admit because they’re much more personal, and we’ve never tried to say anything personal to God. May be our deepest longings are about wanting God to be more closely involved in our lives…and we don’t know how to say that.
Well we can start by finding some time this Advent to come into God’s presence and admit the longings to ourselves. In my experience God’s pretty good at overhearing!
After all Christmas shows us God longs to communicate with us…enough to come into our human world as the child in the manger so we could learn to communicate with Him.
So let’s enjoy the Christmas adverts, let’s get drawn into the longing for something big, something life-changing, something beyond the everyday. And in the quiet time we put aside this Advent let’s try to name those longings. Let’s bring those longings to God who is always ready to listen – who is always asking “What is it that you want?”