Maltravers Herald Extraordinary, Portcullis Pursuivant, Silver Stick in Waiting. No they’re not race horses. Just good signs of Advent.
According to this morning’s papers the Clinton case continues to ooze on, tangled in its trails of weaselly rhetoric; Germany continues to agonise over the Holocaust and the place of memory and shame in its present; and, judging by the added weight of the New York Times magazine, we continue to be bedazzled by ads for things we can’t afford, couldn’t use, and have nowhere to put.
Aaah … A long year closes and another begins, tipping over the insubstantial borderline from undigested turkey into the undignified downhill dash to Christmas. At the supermarket all the potted mums have been magicked into poinsettias. There are twitching strings of white lights everywhere … and we remember it was just like this last year. And just like this someone in church was asking us to hope and wait and wonder our way through Advent. And we did. We hoped. We waited. We wondered. And here we are to do it all again … round and round, year after year.
Our year with its rhythms, secular and sacred, can lull us to sleep. Nothing new. Nothing new. Nothing new. …Is this our Advent?
We were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, buying and selling, planting and building, and we knew nothing about it until the flood came and swept us all away.
Two of us were sitting at mass: one was taken and the other left. Two of us were on the way to Safeway: one was taken and the other left. Two of us were watching The X Files: one was taken and the other left. Two of us were fretting over unpaid bills: one was taken and the other left.
There’s an Advent message: Stay awake! Because time is short, is running out, has almost gone. The smell of the storm is on our lips; the flood is around our feet, the fire is in our hair. Wake up! Time is not a ticking clock but a ticking bomb.
Not a nice message at all. More than a hint of a slap across the face in it. Just a little too like the alarm clock going off too soon when we were slap in the centre of a nice dream. “Oh leave me alone … let me sleep.” Well the Advent clock has no snooze button. And tomorrow will be too late. Advent isn’t the beginning of a new cycle, a new year, … once more round the clock. Advent is the interruption of time. A break with the past and a new hope for the future.
It’s a little thing but Maltravers Herald Extraordinary and friends have gone for good. The British House of Lords will never be the same again. And I for one won’t be crying. … Anything you’d like to get rid of this Advent? Anything you’d like to see changed? A break with the past? A hope for the future?
Isaiah has a vision of time broken open and God at last doing something, fulfilling the divine promise. The promise of peace. Complete peace. No more war, no more preparation for war, no more weapons of war. Swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, bombs into plant pots. But how many of us believe that promise? I mean really believe it? Believe it might happen in our time. Believe not just with our heads but with our bones and blood. Believe that history might not repeat itself, again. Believe that we might see something new under the sun?
I don’t. I expect business as usual. The intricate profits of arms sales, the delicate negotiations of terror, the bitter thrill of win or lose. That’s what I expect. And, because my heart beats with too regular a rhythm it has no place for real peace. I suspect real peace has no chance. I suspect God has no chance. Unless my heart can be broken … open. Can stop beating its idle rhythm and wake to a daring dream, God’s dream. But I don’t want to risk the hope. I don’t want to trust the dream. Because if I did who knows what I might find myself doing, today, now, this Advent.
We’ve probably all made a mistake by coming here this morning … because by being here we have committed ourselves to Advent. To ridiculous waking dreams. To interrupted rhythms. By being here we are saying yes to something, something still whispered but something growing louder all the time. We are speaking that yes in our hearts even now. We will say Amen to it when we let our hunger bring us to the table. And in a moment we’ll proclaim it out loud as we pledge our Advent faith and renew our baptismal promises.
Because this morning we do a very Advent thing: We welcome a child. ________________ joins us this morning as God’s gift to us. He’s a sign of something new, something beginning. Will _________ know peace in his time? That’s up to us. Will he grow up to change the world? That’s up to us. In baptism he becomes a new creation. May we be made new as well.
November 29th, 1998