SERMON – Sunday 1st December

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Be honest! What are your first thoughts as you anticipate the first Sunday of Advent?

For me, the church year and the gospel readings always seem somehow out of synch with other life rhythms.

We already feel ourselves weeks behind on the Christmas shopping list,

we’ve long been planning for the special programs and festivities that will lead up to that day,

and yet now we’re invited to think about Advent and beginnings.

Certainly Christmas can sometimes feel less like a feast to be celebrated and more like a deadline to be reached.

Christmas creates all sorts of deadlines for all sorts of people – church leaders, school teachers, retailers and many others. Such moments focus very sharply our sense of time, and of being bound by time.

The seasons of the Church year can leave us feeling that things never happen at the right time.

The realities of life rarely match up with the mood of the Church year: they always come too early or too late.

If as we travel through Advent, life is delivering abundant joys and happiness, the sombre tone of the season never quite hits home.

But it’s even harder to deal with if you are feeling down or low when Christmas arrives.

All too often we have this dislocated feeling of being out of time, out of step, and Christmas is a particularly difficult season to negotiate if you don’t feel like celebrating.

It’s not only the Church but the whole culture that feeds us an exaggerated image of happiness and celebration, which sets us up to feel very low if we are not in a party mood.

Most of our life is lived in this in-between place where things come early or late, but never on time.

There can be a dislocation of our lives from the Church’s seasons.

God’s gifts do not always come according to our timetable or at the moment when we think we need them.

Advent and Christmas promise us God’s presence, and yet it seems that sometimes God hides his face and is nowhere to be found.

God’s timetable is not the same as ours, and our sense of need or urgency doesn’t twist God’s arm in response.

Maggi Dawn in her book ‘Beginnings and Endings’ writes ‘when I was a child, we had a maiden aunt, a remarkable and wonderful woman, who always, absolutely dependably, forgot all our birthdays.

But at some random time of year — May or July or November — a big parcel would arrive full of presents. They might say Happy Birthday or Happy Christmas, regardless of the time of year. It seemed madly exciting to us to get a completely unexpected present just when life was going through a tedious moment.’

 It’s these out of sync moments, that come totally unexpected that seem to jolt us out of the same old same old.

I like to think of them as God breaking through into our reality. A God of surprises.

These moments help us see the mystery and the promise of the extraordinary presence of God in the ordinary routines of life, or even in those disastrous events that make God’s presence so difficult to envision.

Moments that enable our imaginations.

It takes imagination shaped by God’s promises to see the poetry of God’s working in the reality of today’s same-old.

God’s promise to be with us even when it doesn’t feel like it.

When we are caught up in the reality of daily living and things do and will slip through the net remember that God is also working in and through those times when things haven’t gone as perfectly as we would like.

When God’s gifts elude us —when there is no joy at Easter, no wonder at Christmas, or simply no sense of God’s presence in between times remember that the gift will arrive at the right moment, even if not on the right day.

Joy on demand is joyless. But the late and unexpected arrival presents, that are sent with love, I can seriously live with.

I hope I do become the kind of person who remembers to send gifts that someone will love, instead of gifts to satisfy a deadline.

If we confidently depend on the knowledge that God’s gifts, unlike Father Christmas’, are not delivered to a deadline, then we can live within the seasons knowing that the gift they represent will come to us.

Along with the psalmist we can say with hope or even a little holy defiance:

‘Teach me your ways O Lord…

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord’. Psalm 27.

Amen.