Advent Sunday - Stirred as we journey

Rev'd Sarah
Sunday, December 3, 2017 - 9:30am

Advent Sunday 2017

It still seems rather strange to be speaking this morning, - I’m recently back from 10 days silence at St Beuno’s Jesuit centre in the beautiful hills and valleys of North Wales. I also have new glasses this morning so I can’t see much either, (can’t really see who’s out there in the hard seats!).  I can, however, still hear, so the advent option of crying in the wilderness and being heard is still wide open!

In a prolonged period of silence, even just 10 days, all one’s senses become heightened. And one of the most extraordinary aspects of journeying through the gospel stories with St Ignatius’ spiritual exercises, is the chance for deeper imaginative contemplation engaging all the senses.  Touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, hearing, in contemplative imagination as you journey with Mary, Joseph, other gospel characters, and most of all journeying with Jesus through his birth, Nazareth hidden years, Baptism, temptations, and his radical sacrificial ministry, to the cross. Dwelling fully in our imaginations as we contemplate a scene from the life of Jesus offers the chance to open our eyes afresh, to wake up to Jesus being carried, born, and dwelling around and within us.  It certainly gives me the chance to travel deeply into my own heart, mind, ministry and life with Christ. 

The first day of this stage of the Spiritual Exercises is spent dwelling in the groaning of creation, waiting for, and noticing, the light of Christ burst in to the world.  It’s where we stand today in our groaning, violent, painful, conflict ridden and dangerous world still. And where we stand this Advent the start of our Advent journey, looking with Isaiah and in Mark’s gospel on the coming Day of the Lord, and on the brink of glimpsing in awesome wonder as Christ’s dazzling love breaks in to bring us out of darkness, out of our wilderness.

I walked up to the highest wildest wind-swept mountain point I could that north side of Snowdonia that day, contemplating the groaning of creation and the annunciation. And as I gazed across the rolling valleys, I was struck by the hiddenness of the love of Christ that was dwelling unseen in in those fields and towns, and crying out to be given light to burn brighter in the world.  I imagined the many waiting Marys hidden, ready to say yes, ready to carry Christ to the unnoticed, or darkest places.  And I felt that deep ache for God’s love and glory to be revealed in those hidden places, in all the dark, neglected, abused, conflicted places in the world I know and the world I don’t.

On that first day at St Beuno’s, I also glimpsed in my imagination a young 13 year old girl named Janine, living in Pakistan.  She was a girl my spiritual director for the week, Alice, grew to know in the village she was sent to through her Catholic missionary work many years ago. Still in the aftermath of the brutal partition of India, the missionary work was focused on setting up a literacy programme in the poverty stricken village where Janine lived.

Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come’ cries Jesus in our gospel reading this morning...... Words which could have been said in that village in Pakistan the day 13 year old Janine’s waters broke and she began to give birth. In this remote village with no health care, the people turned immediately to Alice, assuming as an educated person she was skilled in all matters including medical. She was the closest thing they had to a Dr.  Alice knew nothing of such things and reached for the book.....the ‘know all you need to know about everything’ book given to St Joseph’s missionaries as they were sent out to live in communities.  And she literally delivered Janine’s baby by the book.  Step by terrifying step.  Right down to cutting the umbilical cord.  And it was life born in wonder.  A glimpse of Christ’s love bursting in. But keep awake, be alert and notice....because that wasn’t the end of the story.  Not if you gazed longer on Christ’s transforming love at work.  For from that moment of birth, the failing literacy programme in that village was transformed....... Through Alice’s open vulnerability in needing and following the book for the birth, people had seen with their very eyes what could be achieved through books, through reading.  Numbers on the literacy programme went from 2% to 80% in that village.  And as the literacy mission moved on, Christ’s mission, Christ’s life and love in that place, burned with greater light as people lived more fully in their unique lives.    

Advent is a time of stillness, expectant waiting ....noticing how God can’t wait to break in, glimpsing how God incarnate, Jesus Christ, bursts in on our scene. We are tasked with being people of openness, grace and love.....serving courageously in the face of injustice, oppression, isolation or abuse. At moments in our lives, witnessing new birth, feeling connection where our spirits are stirred in mutual poverty, pain, grief or joy with another, Christ’s light and love seems to burn brighter within us and around us. We watch, we glimpse, we notice, and we our Advent journey begins, to Bethlehem, to glimpse the breaking in of the image of the invisible God in our lives.

Our St Mary’s Advent Shed began its journey yesterday too, and with your coffee this morning will open its doors again outside St Mary’s. This shed of wonder, shed of night, shed of royal beauty bright, will be on the move too this year as we move through Advent. Journeying with you out to where people are, joining in the midst of peoples’ lives in the heart of our community and enabling all to gather together to contemplate and be stirred by a glimpse of Christ’s light in their encounters. The shed’s travels aren’t a matter of can join it in wild and exotic locations as it journeys to the heart of everyday life – to the RBL where the youngster, the scouts will meet; opening its doors into a day of creative activities at Basingfield court care home; into the buzz of Basing heritage site’s Christmas fayre; into the heart of commercial business at Lychpit Tescos; and into the very centre of the church family as the shed lands here in next Sunday’s 10am service over by the font probably.  As the Advent Shed trundles up and opens its doors to offer its daily community offering, it might stir up and spotlight the fire of that love that can burn within us in the midst of our encounters, in the heart of all our daily activities when we wake up and glimpse Christ’s light around us.

Our great festival of celebration, light, and a fair few trees next weekend of course, will bring a burst of that joy to the world here in St Mary’s.

So today as we start our advent journey, and our new church calendar year, we prepare expectantly to let Jesus burst open our doors, break in afresh to our life.  Let God stir you this advent as you wait. It might cause disruption, change, a need to cry out again in the wilderness, and a readiness to be awake to see the glimpse of Christ’s light in the darkness.

 As a reminder of our openness to be stirred up through advent, I’ve brought along my flung together Christmas pudding mixture today, bringing back (a week late admittedly) the tradition of Stir up Sunday. Various traditions have emerged over the centuries of course such as having 13 ingredients (1 for Christ and each of the apostles) and that everyone in the family should stir the pudding, east to west (as the magi travelled to visit the infant Jesus).  As the family of St Mary’s, as children of God in his family, I thought all of you might be willing to give our St Mary’s pudding an east to west stir on your way out, and we’ll enjoy the fruits of your labours with our coffee after 8am on Christmas morning.

So stir, be stirred, and ponder as you leave church this morning. Contemplate with all your senses as you journey imaginatively and expectantly through Advent, and the Christmas story this year.  Be watchful, be faithful, be changed.  Open yourself to glimpse ever more brightly Christ’s love burst in around and within you. Stir the pudding, and remember in gratitude St Paul’s words to the Corinthians, which are spoken for you today at the start of this season of advent:  you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will strengthen you to the end...God is faithful.

Stir up, O Lord,

The wills of your faithful people;

That they, abundantly bringing forth the fruit of good works,

May by you be abundantly rewarded

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen