Happy New Year!
It may not feel particularly new, and certainly not shiny right now, but today, Advent Sunday, is the beginning of the church year, or ‘liturgical’ year if we want to use words of more than one syllable. ‘Liturgy’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘works of the people’, it is the way in which we worship, witness, and work together, to borrow from our Team strapline, and not what the vicar does.
It may seem a rather strange time to begin a New Year, the days are getting shorter, not longer, and the urge to hibernate is strong (at least with this vicar). The early church chose the darkest time of the western year to celebrate the birth of Christ, Jesus the light of the world, coming to be one amongst us. As we come, naturally, to the darkest point in the year, we are reminded that the brightest of lights came to be with us all, brightening even the most despairing of hearts and situations.
Advent, is a time of preparation: a time to prepare our homes for welcome guests, for family celebrations, for friends who share our tears and laughter throughout the year. It is also a time to prepare our souls to engage once more with the greatest story ever told.
As the church turns into a new year, the focus on preaching changes too. A new gospel to follow (farewell Luke, hello Matthew) and different Old and New Testament books take precedence in the lectionary (the calendar of readings for church services). This year Genesis is the Old Testament book of choice, and we will be focusing on the beginnings of our Judeo-Christian faith.
This first Sunday in Advent our gospel reading, from Matthew, reminds us of the story of Noah, one of our Genesis heroes. As Matthew recalls Jesus urging us to ‘watch and wait…to stay awake…to be ready’ we are also taken back to the beginning, to those who ignored Noah and were taken by surprise when the floods washed them away.
It is difficult to be ready for something when we don’t even know when it is going to happen. We lose the sense of urgency and the air of expectation. We know when Christmas comes because it is the same date each year, and even if we were to forget the shops would give us swift reminders from long before Advent is upon us. Noah didn’t know when exactly the floods would come. He lived in the dessert and the thought of flooding was inconceivable, but Noah had faith in God and followed the instructions looking for the rain clouds to appear, warning others to watch for the storms, to pack their belongings and board his boat. Of course they didn’t believe him, and their disbelief cost them dearly.
It was inconceivable, quite literally, that Mary should bear a child at all, and certainly not the longed for Messiah. Many had been watching out for the Messiah to arrive, but few were there to receive him.
When Jesus returns will will be ready? Although God’s promises are true, and God has promised to return and renew all creation, I find it inconceivable that it will happen in my lifetime. Jesus taught his disciples to keep the faith. It didn’t happen in their lifetime, and it may not happen in mine, but will I heed Jesus’ warning, and live my life as if he is already on his way?
Will I prepare my home for this honoured guest, will I prepare my heart by worshipping him now and coming to know him through prayer? Will I try to come closer to God, not to secure a ticket on the ‘ark’ of his return, but to be able to love and know him and his desire for my life, for his kingdom come?
This advent, keep the faith. Watch and wait as Noah did, watch and wait as the early disciples did, watch and wait as though his scheduled flight had just landed, and seek to live our lives in ways that will make him feel welcome.