Advent I

28 November 2010

Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps.122, Rom.13:9-14, Matt.24:36-44

Once more we come to the season of Advent, the beginning of the church's year. Advent means coming, and we know Christmas is coming because the Council has put up the street decorations! 

It is also still Spring, the season we associate with spring cleaning! It is what we often do in preparation for family members who come home for Christmas. We work hard to clean the house thoroughly, not just the bits that show but the cobwebs that have silently appeared in remote and rarely visited corners. Dust that has gathered on top of furniture, books, ornaments is searched out and removed. 

The passages today from Isaiah and Psalm 122, guide us to return to our roots. For Israel it is Jerusalem. For us in Advent this is the stable or cave in Bethlehem where we find Jesus Christ as host and un- expected vulnerable guest, awaiting our hospitality. 

In the gospel, three images were used by Jesus to urge us to be alert, to watch, and stay awake so we could be ready to recognise and welcome him. This emphasis suggests that it is not always easy for us to recognise Christ when he appears and so we need to be ready and watchful at all times. 

There is an old story called "the other wise man" which you may know. From memory, he, along with the wise men in Matthew's gospel, saw a new star appear and wished to follow it and worship the king whose birth it signified. He bought three very expensive jewels to take as gifts and then set 1out on his journey. But everything went wrong for him. He was delayed so long by someone who needed his help, that when he arrived at the place where he was to meet with his friends, they had left without him. Over the years he travelled and looked for this new King but kept missing him. Meanwhile, suffering people crossed his path and one by one he parted with the expensive presents he had bought to help them. 

Eventually he arrived in Jerusalem and had one gift remaining—it was a pearl, a pearl of great price. As he walked along the road, a young slave girl was being abused by her owner and pleaded with him to rescue her. He took out the pearl and slowly handed it over. He now had nothing left to give the king. Suddenly the earth started to shake and a large stone from the wall around Jerusalem fell down hitting him on the head. As he lay dying in the arms of the now ex- slave-girl, he heard the voice of Jesus from the cross nearby telling him that all his gifts had been gratefully received. Christ had been present in everyone he had helped. We might also say, that Christ was present in the sage's actions of love and compassion. 

At the end of the prayer of consecration each Sunday the celebrant prays, "through Jesus Christ out Lord, with whom, and in whom, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we worship you" This is how we as the church are called to love and worship God: through, with and in Christ. Our relationship with Christ is very close. As mem- bers of Christ's body, we are in Christ, but as Christ's body in the world, Christ is also in us. In the gospels Christ is described as both host and guest. Christ wants to work through us, with us and in us in our everyday life. 

Christ working through us is a reminder that all our work with the vacuum cleaner and duster is for a purpose. It is to clean and clear a place for Christ to enter our lives, so that through us he can minister to others. If we are truly disciples of Christ, following Christ, we will love our neighbour where we live, in our everyday lives. 

Recently I saw Christ ministering through an ambulance man attending to a woman who was ill. He listened to her, took her seriously, not laughing at her symptoms but showing real understanding of the pain and discomfort she was experiencing. 

We may think we are not good enough to be an instrument of Christ. Such belittling thoughts need to be cleaned out. It is often because we are not particularly knowledgeable, clever or skilful that Christ can use us to show love to vulnerable others. 

Christ with us, speaks of solidarity with others, sharing in their lives, in their joys and sorrows. It is to do with recognizing Christ in others and in relationships. Quality relationships are those where the people involved listen and talk in turn, neither one dominating. At times there will be silence to think, listen to the Holy Spirit, or just to delight to be with the other. These relationships demonstrate mutuality and respect, and allow Christ to be present. They work for wellbeing and flourishing. 

This past week we have shared in something of the pain and suffering of the people at Greymouth, NZ, the site of the mine disaster. Where, we might ask, was Christ in this? Why didn't God do something to save the lives of the 29 miners? I believe that Christ was with those miners down in the mine and with the grieving relatives and friends. We saw on television people holding each other, caring for one another and sharing in grief. They had to make room in their own pain and suffering for that of others. In the going out to another in love, the healing of Christ was present. 

Finally we come to Christ dwelling in us, and in all people, especially the suffering. In chapter 25 in Matthew, just after today's gospel, we have the well-known judgement parable in which Jesus says to one group, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me". When the people heard these words they were amazed. They asked when had this happened? They had not recognized Christ in the unexpected vulnerable stranger, but by reaching out in love to their neighbour, had ministered to Christ. There are many people in our world, Christians and non-Christians who care for others like this. 

Opportunities to love our neighbour, can appear unexpectedly. It may be that a person comes to the Op-Shop who needs a cup of tea and someone to give time to listen to their story. We have a choice. Either to ignore the person or to clear out what we had intended to do and welcome Christ, the guest, in that person. 

We may demonstrate our hospitality to others by supporting the Monday lunch in the Youth Hall or supplying food to hand out at the office. On a national front, hospitality can be in the form of welcoming asylum seekers. We are challenged to ask ourselves, are people who need the basic essentials of life like accommodation and food, nuisances disturbing our placid lives, or asking us as the body of Christ, to serve Christ? 

As Christians we have all been baptised into Christ, made members of Christ. Paul tells us in Romans that as we vacuum or dust out from our lives our prejudices, fears, and selfishness, (which we all accumulate), we are ready to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We learn about Jesus Christ in the gospels, and receive Christ in the Eucharist, not chiefly for our own benefit, but in order that we might share Christ with others and serve and love him by loving our neighbours. 

I don't know if you have driven past the nursery/cafe along the highway at South Kempsey lately. If you have, you will have noticed the statue of a boy who is clad in clothes, relevant to what is happening in society. At present he is dressed rather oddly in the top half of a Santa Claus outfit. It is a token of the coming season, but is it saying something to us? Are we putting on half of Christ or the whole lot? Are we ready as we approach Christmas to both come to Christ as our gracious host, and to offer hospitality to Christ the unexpected vulnerable guest, in the whole of our life? Are we also at times called to become the vulnerable guest in our relationships with others? 

Helen CSC