So Christmas is here.
Christmas trees are up – Santa’s in his grotto – Christmas cards are starting to arrive and across the country supermarkets are filling their shelves with beef and hams, cheeses and meats. The shops are telling us that we need to buy more and more stuff and that we have to have the latest model. The Christmas madness has begun….
And we’ve still got four weeks to go before the big day! But – as you can see – not here. While the world sings ‘o come all ye faithful – we are singing ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’. While the world is putting up tinsel and lights, we have taken down the flowers and dressed the priest in gloomy purple. The world and the church are just not on the same page. Which is funny, because Christmas is our page – it belongs to us. Christmas is – after all – a Christian thing.
So what can we do about it?. Well, we could be grumpy. I could preach one of my grumpy sermons about why the world out there has got it all wrong and how we are the only ones who have got it right. The PCC can issue a draconian ruling that we will refuse to do Christmas in this church until Christmas eve – no tree, no decorations, no carols – and no surrender. But that’s a bit extreme, isn’t it. It’s a bit grumpy.
Orwe could do what one priest I know did and we could start Advent Sunday two weeks early – then we would arrive at Christmas day on December 11th – and yes he really did do that… But Midnight Mass on December 10th really is a bit odd by anybody’s standards.
Or we can do what we always do, which is a little bit of both – a compromise when we keep just two weeks and three Sundays of Advent – and then on 17th December we can let Christmas arrive and decorate the Church with Christmas trees and sing carols at the Carol service – and all will be well, and everyone will be happy. I think that’s what we’ll do.
And so, as we begin our two weeks of enforced waiting here in Church while the rest of the world is dressing up and pulling crackers – what do we say if anyone asks us ‘why’? What do we say when people look at us strangely and wonder why Christians of all people aren’t putting up their trees, or singing ‘away in a manger’ and celebrating Christmas with the rest of them. Surely we should be shouting Christmas from the roof tops?
Well yes, and no. Yes – we should indeed be shouting Christmas from the roof tops. But no – the Christmas message is not just let’s all have a big party for Jesus. Yes, Christmas day will come – and then we in church will go on celebrating Christmas for weeks and weeks after Christmas, long after you, the world has given up – because we know that Jesus is for life, and not just for Christmas. But now – today – we are shouting the Advent message of Good News from the roof tops : the Advent Good News : ‘just hang on a minute’.
Just hang on –we say – before you buy that second boiled ham just in case one turkey, 50 sausages, a roast topside of beef and then just one ham isn’t quite enough for a family of 6. Just hang on – before you spend more than you can really afford on presents. Just hang on – step back from the roller-coaster and take a look before you jump on.
Beware, keep alert; Be like a person going on a journey, who puts his servants in charge, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
In other words: Just hang on and do a bit of planning before hand – take a couple of weeks out : don’t just sleepwalk into another Christmas ….. – Keep awake.”. It’s good advice, and it’s good news.
Let’s look at the Gospel reading:
Jesus says: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
In other words: look around you at the signs: when the birds sing and trees begin to grow leaves we know that Spring is coming…. so take a moment to look around at the signs of what is going on in your life – see what is happening to the people you love, see what it happening to people you don’t know in other parts of the world… before you act – do a bit of thinking – keep awake.
Then Jesus says :
I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
People often see these words as gloomy and pessimistic – you’ve seen the Tshirt – Jesus is coming, look busy!
But no – What Jesus is doing here is offering us hope….
Yes, he says : the end of the world will come ….
you will hear of wars and rumours of wars, …. nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes and famines. …… brother will betray brother to death, and you will be hated by all because of my name. ….. false prophets will appear and lead people astray …… the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven,
and every generation since Jesus first said those words have thought that their wars, and earthquakes, and famines will be the last ones, the end of the world …. and yet – what does Jesus say to us amidst all this terror and fear?
my words will not pass away. my words will not pass away
Could there be a greater hope than that? Whatever happens to us, whatever we see around us, whatever signs there are in the sky – the Good News of Jesus will never pass away….. Stay awake, says Jesus, hold your head up high …. I call you to be a people of hope.
And so whether you are the kind of person who has all your Christmas presents sorted, the cake already on the top shelf, the cards sent and the Christmas lunch planned, or whether you are the kind of person who will be rushing around at th
e last minute to get everything done. Whether you are looking forward to a joyful family gathering, or whether this Christmas will be marked by sadness, or loneliness or emptiness. Whether you are decorating your house with tinsel and Christmas decorations or whether you are weary and cannot find the energy to do any of these things – or whether you are a strange mixture of all these feelings : joy and sorrow. enthusiasm and weariness:
then take heart… stay awake … for Jesus has come… Jesus is coming ….. and Jesus will come again. and his words will never pass away. That is the Good News.
The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington