Sermon: November 29 2015

Readings

Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:12-4.2

Luke 21:25-28, 35-46

“Preparing for Christmas” involves a good many things: there are presents and cards to be purchased, food to be prepared, trees to be decorated, parties at which to be seen. It is, for many people, a time of great anxiety. The limits of our means and our memories come up against our supposed social obligations.

It seems to get earlier every year. Advent is only just beginning, and yet already our annual insecurities are being fuelled by the glare of cheap tinsel under gaudy flashing lights, the embarrassing catchiness of kitsch Yuletide pop music.

The problem is, I think, that we have, all of us, been suckered into all sorts of stories. We have misidentified ourselves, for cogs in the machinations of mass producers and Machiavellian politicians.

We have misaligned our loyalties, to Pepsi or Coke, Visa or MasterCard, Apple or Microsoft.

We have misplaced our hopes, investing them in the pale facsimiles of Christmas propagated by the robber barons of global consumer capitalism.

We participate in this pernicious Ponzi scheme for many reasons. At some level, we believe that we can buy love after all, or close enough; forgiveness, for otherwise neglecting our families and friends, or close enough.

Or we believe that we can buy our ways out of our hamster wheels, by greasing the stockings of our bosses and board members; an investment, toward working less for more money. Maybe then we will get to spend more time with our families. Next year’s presents will not be corrupted by ulterior motives, we promise ourselves.

It’s not just us doing the promising, of course. Promises are made to us too. We are promised more…something. I once saw a tag line for a jewellery store: love built on more, it read. Few literary entities are more vacuously depressing than such glib slogans that manage to cheapen marriage by shackling it to exorbitantly-priced inert rocks, extracted from holes we’ve made in God’s good earth by exploiting people who don’t look like us, far far away. Love built on more. More what?

The gospel according to Madison Avenue: buy this car, and you will have this woman or man; buy this frozen dinner, and your family will be shiny and perfect; buy this detergent, and you get to wipe your cotton slates clean, no matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t take a cynical leftist to pick up on the fact that these promises are as empty as discarded Amazon boxes.

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The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

It is the First Sunday in Advent.

Advent is a funny old thing. It is a time of waiting, of anticipation and preparation. But we seem to be anticipating and preparing for an event that has already occurred, the birth of Jesus, all those centuries ago in a place far away from us.

And yet, of course, while Christmas is in some sense a one-off historical event, there is surely a greater sense in which the Incarnation is a cosmic event, which continues to define our present reality. It is a crucial element in the logic of the story in which we actually belong as members of the Body of the One Who was Raised.

Furthermore, the Incarnation is not done. In Christ, glorified and risen, the Father is still ever working at the heart of things—in your hearts and in mine—reconciling the world to God.

The Christian faith is full of such now-and-not-yets. The Kingdom of God is among us, and yet—as we shall pray together later—we yearn for its coming. We are raised in Christ, and yet—as we shall confess together later—we look forward to resurrection and new life. The promises of God, fulfilled and yet to come to fruition.

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It is the First Sunday of Advent, and now we wait, which is to say that we anticipate and prepare, neither of which are passive verbs.

We wait on the promises of God, in this our celebration of the Incarnation, by coming and gathering together to tell the story that is our story; by partaking of bread broken and wine spilt, and in so doing, offer ourselves broken and spilt for the sake of the world; by going out into the world in peace, in the name of Christ our once, now, and future King, to love and to serve.

Stand up! Raise your heads!

Your redemption is drawing near.

The Incarnation was and is to come, and is now, both promised and present in the life and work of  the Church, in you and in me.

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The days are surely coming when he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

“Preparing for Christmas” involves a good many things: there are presents and cards to be purchased, food to be prepared, trees to be decorated, parties at which to be seen.

And what has that to do with the promised justice and righteousness? Everything.

Christmas is coming, and with it the characteristic feasting and gift-giving. This sharing of material goods, and especially of food, is neither foreign nor anathema to Christian practice. Indeed, we will soon be engaging in precisely these acts, as we take up the offering and as we share the Eucharistic feast together.

But how we share food and other material goods—what we eat and buy—is crucial, and if there is to be justice and righteousness, what better place to start? If all consumption is patterned after the Eucharist and in anticipation of the heavenly banquet to come, then our Christmas consuming must also be communion: the free and reckless opening of our selves and all that we have to and for each other. If our consumption is to be just and righteous, it must also be—it must primarily be—about and for others, for friends and family, and for our neighbour, which is to say, for the alien and the stranger.   

The days are surely coming when he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Those days are not yet come, but of course they are.

This Sunday just past, the Church celebrated the Feast of Christ the King, which marks the end to the liturgical year. It is a timely reminder of our true identities, of our allegiances and obligations, meet and right. The Church is neither a voting block nor a consumer category, but the risen Body of the crucified King, who subverts our dominant assumptions about death and life, weakness and power, freedom and obligation. It is only with this affirmation still ringing in our ears that we might begin to consider what it means to prepare for Christmas.

We are called, throughout this season of Advent, to wake up and to keep vigil; to wait and to anticipate; to be patient and to prepare for the coming of God who is already and ever with us, who is ever approaching and never ceases to arrive. Advent connotes both approach and arrival; in the same breath: presence and promise.

The days are surely coming when he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Those days are not yet come, but of course they are.

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