Preached at a service of Advent readings and hymns.
This morning I’d like to talk about why I think we need Advent.
By now it seems like everything is about Christmas Day.
The shops have been full of Christmas things for months, and the adverts for Christmas shopping are relentless – one DIY shop even got in on the act with an advert I heard on the radio for a special offer on white paint to freshen up your house for Christmas Day.
There have been Christmas parties, shows and concerts going on for at least a month.
And all the Christmas songs have been got out again – in fact I’ve been learning to play one on the clarinet and it’s constantly getting stuck in my head.
Now, I like Christmas, all the decorating and organising the turkey and writing cards, and I look forward to seeing what’s going to be on TV.
I’m a bit disappointed that there’s no Dr Who special this year, but you can’t have everything.
But there’s more to Advent than just getting everything done in time for Christmas.
Rather, Advent takes a stand against the rush to Christmas Day and calls out to us to remember the bigger picture.
And this bigger picture is all about hope in hopeless situations, seeing a light growing in the darkness, about things being put right, and about God and humanity being restored to their proper relationship.
This hope is seen all through the Bible.
It begins from the moment when humanity first fell into sin yet was not abandoned by God.
It’s seen in the covenants God made with those who believed in him, when he chose the people of Israel to be his light to the world, in his promises of salvation, and in the way God constantly forgives, rescues, heals and restores all those who turn to him.
We see in the Bible a story of God constantly calling, working and reaching out to bring rebellious, fallen people back to him, even when they turn away.
There are glimpses of this in this morning’s readings, in Psalm 130’s calling out to God for rescue and mercy, and its declaration of faith in God’s love, power and willingness to help.
We see it in the prophecies we’ve heard from Isaiah and Malachi about God coming with power, judgement and mercy to set this world right and heal all hurt and harm.
The idea of judgement is an underlying theme in Advent that can seem uncomfortable.
But I think we need to remember that the God who judges us is also the God who loves us.
And we need to remember that there can be no hope for poor, the oppressed or the victims of cruelty and injustice, without God’s perfect justice that understands everything, sees everything, and wipes away the tears of suffering, not out of a desire for revenge but to put everything right.
And, of course, we see God’s constant redeeming work most clearly in Jesus, whose birth we heard foretold in the reading from Luke.
This is what all those Old Testament stories and prophecies have been leading up to: the arrival of a baby in a manger.
And we can use Advent to remember this.
We can use Advent to remember that we celebrate that birth at Christmas as the longed-for fulfilment of humanity’s ancient hopes and wishes.
As the beginning of God being with us, walking with us, healing, teaching, showing us how to live.
And finally dying and rising again for us, all so that we can be with him forever
And if we don’t remember all that, then we lose the real wonder of Christmas.
For it’s in remembering the centuries of waiting for God, in looking once again at the story of salvation, by taking part in that waiting by walking again through the story of God’s dealings with humanity, that we’re reminded once again just how amazing that birth in a dirty stable in a village on the edge of the Roman Empire really was.
We see again hope where there was hopelessness, light in the darkness, reconciliation being offered between God and humanity.
But of course that birth is not the end of the story.
In Jesus’s life, birth, death and resurrection we have the beginning of the end, the stirring of God’s kingdom transforming the world, but we’re not there yet.
Advent also reminds us that we’re still waiting for the final end, the final full stop of salvation – when Jesus comes again to finally set things right forever, as we heard about in the reading from Revelation.
There are many dramatic and scary images about the end of the world, involving flames, wars, disasters and judgement.
But these things are not meant to scare us.
Rather they tell us that even when everything seems to be going wrong, when we face dark times in our own lives or are tempted to despair about the state of the world, there is still hope.
We may have to deal with all sorts of difficulties, dangers, turmoil and evil but they don’t get the last word.
For God is still in control, still working to change our world, still set on restoring and renewing everything, and still ultimately victorious over evil, sin and death.
It’s been a long time, at least by human standards, but Advent reminds us not to lose hope, not to give up on Jesus or to stop following in his footsteps, because he is coming and God hasn’t forgotten us.
So, I know it’s a busy time of year but I hope and pray that this Advent we might all find a few minutes each day to remember why it is that we’re rushing round shops and decorating the house and putting on Christmas services and events.
And I hope and pray that in those few minutes of peace and remembering we might all enter more deeply into the true wonder and hope of God’s salvation.