#adventbookclub – Anna: part 1

A reflection on Luke 2.36-38:

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with the husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Preaching this morning, I asked “As we wait for the day when we will see God face to face, where do we catch glimpses of God in the here-and-now? In what and in whom?” Anna, spending her whole life in the temple, must have caught a fair few glimpses of God: in the worship happening there, in the people who came to offer sacrifices and to pray.

But something made this different. Something made this family, this child, stand out from the crowd. Something made Anna see that here was not just a glimpse of God, but God himself, face-to-face, in the face of a tiny child. I wonder what that something was. No wonder she wanted to tell everyone what she had seen – the hope of the nations, the light of the world, right there in front of her.

As we look for our own glimpses of God, I wonder how we recognise God in our midst? In places or people? In worship? In the faces of those we meet? What is it that makes us want to praise God and tell everyone what we have seen?

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#adventbookclub – my reading and blogging plan

This year some of us are reading Stephen Cottrell’s book “Walking Backwards to Christmas” (full details available on Pam’s blog: http://www.pamsperambulation.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/adventbookclub-one-month-to-go/). Last year I found the discipline of daily blogging for #adventbookclub very helpful, so this year I intend to do the same.

There are eleven chapters of the book, each a reflection from the point of view of a different character. I intend to write two reflections for each chapter – one focusing on the passage of scripture used, and one engaging with Stephen Cottrell’s reflection. That will take us up to 21st December.

For the last three days of advent I will consider the book as a whole, focusing in turn on each of the three questions suggested in the introduction to the book: Which person in the story did you most relate to? What surprised, shocked or delighted you the most? How has this changed your understanding of the Christmas story?

I’m looking forward to the book, and to reading others’ reflections. Let the Advent-ure begin!

“What are we waiting for?” a sermon for Advent Sunday

This sermon uses the Alternative Advent Calendar, created by the young people in the Encounter group (age 10-13). See: http://www.becausegodislove.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/an-alternative-advent-calendar/

Are you good at waiting? I’m not. In fact, I’m very bad at it, especially when I’m waiting for something I really, really want. And especially if I don’t know how long I’m going to have to wait for.

Today we start Advent, which is a time of waiting. But waiting for what? For Christmas, yes. But Advent is also the time in the church year when we think about another kind of waiting for Jesus – waiting for Jesus to come again, as he has promised he will.

I wonder how many of you have an Advent calendar at home? And how many windows does it have? When we look at our Advent calendars, we know how long we have to wait for Christmas – we can count the windows, count the days, and see how we are getting nearer to Christmas day. We can make plans – for food and presents, seeing friends and family, coming to church – because we know what we’re planning for.

But the other kind of Advent waiting isn’t like that. As we wait for Jesus to return, we can’t count down the days on a calendar because, as we heard in our gospel reading, “no-one knows the day or hour”. But we can, and indeed Jesus says we must, be ready, be alert, watch for God’s coming kingdom. So what kind of Advent calendar can help us with that?

[children to hold up alternative advent calendar] Perhaps this one can. It’s a different kind of Advent Calendar, which we made at Encounter on Friday. It doesn’t have days or numbers marked on it because it isn’t to help us count down as we wait. It’s to help us think about what we are waiting for.

What are we waiting for? What are you waiting for? What is the world waiting for? Let’s have a look at some of the examples here:

Image: poppies. Text: an end to grieving.

Image: black lives matter. Text: equality for all.

Image: bread. Text: plentiful food.

And I’m sure we can think of lots more. The world is a long way from perfect. We are still waiting for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven.

But it isn’t a passive waiting. In out first reading, Paul talks about the early church using and nurturing spiritual gifts as they “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We too can be waiting in a way which not only longs for, but also contributes to the coming of God’s kingdom.

We can do that in the way we respond to some of the challenges identified on our alternative advent calendar, and I do urge you to have a look at it after the service. We can do it in the way we treat people, the way we pray and yes, on this our gift day, the way we give. These are ways we can contribute to the growing of God’s kingdom as we wait for it to come in all its fullness when Jesus returns.

We can work for the coming of the kingdom, but we can also be alert to God’s presence already among us, and particularly as we prepare to celebrate again Jesus coming among us as a baby at Christmas.

Because although we wait for the coming of Jesus, make no mistake, Jesus is already here. This is the mystery of the now-and-not-yet of the kingdom. Jesus, for whom we wait with eager longing, is already among us, and nowhere more so than in the eucharist. Today Alex, Alessandro, Aaron, Amelia and Alissa will be admitted to communion, and come to experience the presence of Jesus in this new and wonderful way.

It’s a good moment for all of us to reflect on how and where we encounter Jesus. As we wait for the time when we will see God face to face, where to do we catch glimpses of God in the everyday? Where do you see Christ? In what and in whom? How do those things point you towards Jesus for whom, together, we wait?

As we enter this Advent season, let us prepare ourselves both to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas, and to look for his coming again. Let us be alert to the signs of God’s kingdom, wherever they appear. Let us be ready to notice Jesus drawing near to us, in the eucharist and in the world. May we watch and wait, and find the meaning in the waiting. Amen.

An Alternative Advent Calendar

Advent is all about waiting. But waiting for what?

Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for Christ. Waiting for the second coming. Waiting for the world to be transformed. Waiting for God’s kingdom to come.

What is the world waiting for?

With my Encounter group (age 10-13) we have been exploring the idea of waiting for the coming of God’s kingdom. As part of this, we have created an alternative advent calendar. Each flap has an image on the outside, either cut from a newspaper or drawn by the children. Under the flap the children have written what they think this situation/person/place is waiting for.

There’s a giraffe in a beautiful landscape, waiting for “more vegetation and homes for animals and wildlife”. A woman and child looking sad, waiting for “safe homes”. A young man with a Black Lives Matter placard, waiting for “equality for everyone”. A group of school children, waiting for “education that sets people free to be the best they can be”. And many more, all waiting…..

The title of our alternative advent calendar is “The meaning is in the waiting”, a quotation chosen from R.S. Thomas’ poem “Kneeling” which the group has enjoyed looking at: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178866

“Following leaders” – a sermon for All Saints Day 2014

I was wondering what to say to you this morning about All Saints Day, about what it means to be a saint, and so I asked for some help. I asked the young people at Encounter to help me think about what a saint is.

For those who don’t know, Encounter is our group for children in school years 6-8, which means the young people are aged 10-13. We meet once a month to discuss issues of faith and life, and pray together.

And so I asked Encounter what they thought a saint was, what a saint was like, and here are some of the words they came up with: kind, helpful, iconic, true, good, gentle, compassionate, honest, brave, servers, dauntless, humble, famous. Perhaps you can think of some other words to describe saints.

And there are other words which the young people of Encounter wrote about saints. “Anyone”, “everyone”, some of them wrote their own names, or those of their friends or family, and one wrote in capital letters “ME!”

And they’re quite right. There are saints who are long-dead, saints who are famous, but there are also saints in our midst, in our lives, in our church, living lives of quiet holiness. We all have the capacity to be saints.

But how? Some of the ideas shared by Encounter gave us a clue. And there are some more ideas in today’s gospel reading. Let’s add some of them to the board [words for children to pin to board]. These are some of the things Jesus describes as blessed. [Deal with in order in which children pick them.]

“Poor in spirit” – this is to do with being totally dependent on the Spirit of God.

“Mourning” – yesterday we marked All Souls, when we remember those for whom we mourn. But “blessed are those who mourn” is not just about missing people who have died, it’s also about being deeply troubled by and sorry for the sin of the world.

“Meek” – this is to do with being ready to set aside ourselves and our power, in pursuit of God. The meek are those who are willing to give up everything and they will, we are told, receive everything – “they will inherit the earth”.

“Righteous” – “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” says Jesus. Righteousness is the yearning, the all-consuming longing, for God.

“ Merciful” – those who are merciful are those who practice forgiveness, who are ready to forgive people. And they are the people to whom mercy is shown, who are forgiven. Compare that to the Lord’s Prayer – “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.

“Pure in heart” – those whose actions and motivations are driven purely by what they see in Christ and what they hope for in God.

“Peacemakers” – people who want to see the peace of God come on earth, and are willing to do anything to pursue that end.

And finally we come to “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. This is perhaps one of the hardest of Jesus’ sayings to understand. We, in this place, are not persecuted for our faith, though there are many millions around the world who are. So what does this mean for us? It means a willingness to risk everything to follow Jesus, and not to count the cost.

I want to come back to something one of our young people at Encounter wrote. A saint is “a following leader”. Think about that for a moment. A saint is one who leads by example, but also one whose leadership is born out of following, whose sainthood comes from following Jesus.

[Line up children, with crucifer at front.] We are part of a long line of saints. Those we have known, those we have been told about, those who have worshiped in this place for almost a thousand years. We follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us in the faith. But all of us, past saints, present saints, and future saints for generations to come, need to know what and who we are following – [indicate cross] Jesus, the living, incarnate, risen Christ.

And we have to ask ourselves are we, like the saints through the ages, ready to lay aside all other considerations to follow where he leads? May we be ready to become following leaders, shining as lights in the world for others to follow, even as we follow the one who is the light of the world. Amen.