The Season of Advent starts with us reading of hope and warning. The contemplation of God coming into creation in a new way, starts to fill part of us with a sense of anticipation and fullness, but another part of us with the dread that we are not ready yet! Matthew 24 contains a series of sayings and stories about judgement and the kingdom that is to come. Christians have long wrestled with apocalyptic passages like this.
While we might find this challenging, it may help to engage with this week’s advent theme; Hope. Hope that we might see signs of this kingdom already breaking into unexpected and shocking places in us, in our communities, and in our world. Isaiah 2:5 invites the house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!. So, let’s step into that journey, and walk together this Advent season.
Advent is a season of preparation. This preparation might look like trying to balance the closing off of a busy year, finding the perfect gift, or finishing off Christmas lunch. This week’s reading provides us an opportunity for a different kind of preparation. John the Baptist asks us to examine ourselves, to bear good fruit, and to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Don’t read this as guilt slinging, or yet another task for you to feel bad about not achieving. Rather, we might take time to realign, listen, and find peace in our relationship with God. This looks different for everyone, but this might be a moment to question, where am I not at peace, and how can I be at peace?
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
Joy. Our singing and our praising, and the merriment of Christmas is well upon us. Matthew 11:2-11 describes a joy for those who are healed, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” But John is hearing this message from prison.
We all come into the Christmas season with stories of years that have been good, or hard, and yet it is hard to find an advertisement that might share the complex grief some of us will hold coming into this season.
This might be a good time to reach out to someone who is held captive by grief, or discomfort, with an ear to listen, rather than your voice to proclaim… and if you are grieving at this time of year, please grieve and let those around you know.
Matthew’s telling of Mary and Joseph’s story, and their preparation for the first Christmas, is filled with unexpected moments. The story doesn’t provide for us security or comfort, nor does it provide a clear path for Mary and Joseph to take, only the steps that are directly ahead of them and not too many thereafter.
As we learn the depths of God’s love, we might learn to trust the steps that are provided right in front of us, rather than worrying about that next part. We might also appreciate the unexpected and unconventional signs of God in that moment, rather than trying to find the signs and wonders of the next moment.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Christmas Day is here, and I can hear all of my preaching lecturers saying; “just tell the story!” Amid the chaos of life, God comes in and shines light, grace and truth into the darkest of night. That cry of joy and labour has rung out through the world, all the way into our pews and church buildings and into our homes.
In this I find Hope and Peace, Joy and Love. In this I find Emmanuel. So, read the story anew, with new eyes and new ears. God has placed this story into our hands that we might retell it, birth it into a new life, and mercy, kindness and justice.
We are told the next part of Jesus’ story through this reading, the part where the reality of dictators, of infanticide, of poverty, of a world where families flee in the middle of the night, starts to sour our silent night. Even in a perfect moment, violence and chaos can move us on. Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t hide from this.
God is still working, even when the worst is happening in our midst. Throughout Jesus’ life we will see violence and even death, but we will also see that nothing can defeat God’s promise of Immanuel.
This advent reflection was prepared by Rev. James Aaron from North Ryde Community Uniting Church