Reflection for AAW advent service Dec 3 2012 St Peter’s Linden.
Rev. Felicity O’Brien
There is a time when the story begins, the story of God’s plan to send himself to earth. Therefore there is a time before it begins, when it is coming but not yet here, and this is the time Mary was in when Gabriel came to her. It is Advent: the time just before the adventure begins, when everybody is leaning forward to hear what will happen even though they already know what will happen and what will not happen, when they listen hard for meaning, their meaning, and begin to hear, only faintly at first, the beating of unseen wings
The author Frederick Buechner wrote this. He goes on to imagine the scene of Mary encountering the angel this way:
She struck him as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child. But he had been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of Creation hung on the answer of a girl.”
“Let it be done to me according to your word.” from The Magnificent Defeat
by Frederick Buechner
Advent is a strange time of year. It’s such a mixture – heady anticipation of the joy of Christmas, but mixed up with wondering what it all means. We look forward to the time when Christ will come again, and many of our readings point us towards the time when God’s kingdom will truly be on earth, as it is in heaven.
It’s a time for thinking about the state of the world as it is now – the very birthplace of Jesus torn by war and unrest. Every year there seems to be fighting in the Middle East in Advent, and part of the flavour of Advent seems to be this dichotomy between the story from 2000 years ago, about Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and the same places as they feature on our news every night.
“A baby will be born in a town near Jerusalem.”
“ Reports are coming from Jerusalem that they have intercepted rockets from Gaza”.
It’s a time of already, and not yet. The kingdom of God is here when we see people sharing God’s love, being the hands and feet, the voice of Jesus in our hurting world. And yet there are times when it seems so far away.
Here in New Zealand, it’s a time of contrast too. The secularization of Christmas seems to have taken over the loving, gentle message of God’s birth as a baby, with crass commercialization. Have you counted how many pieces of junk mail arrive in your letterbox everyday? We had fifteen, in just one day. This puts pressure on people to spend, spend, spend. There is an insidious message that unless you are running up huge credit card bills, you are not really taking part in our society the way that it’s portrayed in the media.
It’s our challenge, to turn from all that, and say, no, Christmas isn’t about this. And Advent isn’t either.
It’s a time to prepare, yes. To make our Christmas cakes, and sort out presents and cards for those we love, a time to arrange travel to see people. It’s a time for special services, and getting the church ready.
But these are all ephemeral things. It’s really a time to prepare our hearts. To ask ourselves, what does it really mean for me, that God loved us so much that he was prepared to lay aside all his heavenly glory, and be born to a teenage Mum, in a borrowed stable, in an occupied land. We can pause and think that if God chooses to identify with such ordinary humble people, God can understand us where we are. Jesus knew poverty, he knew terror, he knew exile from his land of birth, he knew the disempowering of being ruled over by foreigners.
And whenever people in our world are in situations of need, Jesus understands, he has been there.
That’s what we can reflect on this Advent, and give thanks that we are not alone. The hurting people of the world are not alone. Part of our task as Christians is to minister to the hurting people, the lonely, the terrified. That’s why Jesus came to earth, and that’s our pattern.
This Advent, may we all ponder the “Why’ of it all, rather than be caught up in the “what’.