Saturday, 13 December 2014

Advent 3

It is only because of the gospel of Luke and Matthew that we have the celebration of Christmas. Between these two writers we have the stories that make up a myriad nativities across the county in churches and schools. The Gospels of Mark and John choose to tell us nothing of the birth of Jesus Christ, but instead choose to begin at another point in time

 Last week we read the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ recorded by Mark, and Mark chooses to begin with words of prophesy spoken some 400 years before the birth of Jesus and with the appearance of the enigmatic figure of John the Baptist.
For the writer of the gospel according to John, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ was aeons ago, in the very beginning, when Jesus was part of God’s activity in creation, in the first words of the bible recorded in the book of Genesis.

In this third Sunday of Advent we are given a familiar image to reflect upon as we prepare for Christmas, the image of light and darkness, of day and of night.

These days we can turn night into day, almost, at the touch of a switch. King’s Cross or Trafalgar Square, Canary Wharf or the  new glass and steel towers of the city are lit up night and day, they are alive with people around the clock.

In New Testament times, in an agrarian economy, the night was the time when no one could work, not when your only light was a candle or a small oil lamp.

So we find writer after writer in the Scriptures calling us to be people of the light and not of the darkness, and telling us what that means. The Bible has hundreds of references to light, using 20 different words in the Old Testament and 16 different words in the New Testament to make the meaning clear, to remind us that we are children of the light: we have received a revelation from God and we have also received the spiritual capacity to see the light and to live in the light.

John proclaimed, ‘The light has come, I have come to testify to that light’. So what are the dreams of darkness? Surely they include power, money and sex – the power that corrupts, the money that talks, the sex that lures people with power and money to their destruction. Our papers and news bulletins are filled with their stories. Worldly success and social status and physical beauty ... the things that so often perish even before we do.
These are among the dreams of darkness in our time.

Yes, the great faiths do have some common teachings about how we should treat each other, we even share some of the same imagery but For us as Christians what sets us apart is the idea, the truth,  that Jesus is the light that enlightens everyone for Jesus is God. This is the core meaning of Christmas and the people of Christ, we are called, not to control, but to be the servants of all.

Some times we in the church need to be reminded of this that we are not here to control but the serve as indeed our Lord himself said I have not come to be served but to serve. And we are called, not to take refuge from the world, but to engage with the world, to challenge principalities and powers, as John did and as Jesus did by his actions and in his teachings.

John the Baptist was called to be a witness to the true light which enlightens everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord. And so we too are challenged to do this in our lives – and in particular ask ourselves what this might mean for our preparations in Advent.

So what does the image of light say to us? Three things at least:

We begin with a puzzle. John testifies that Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus says that we are the light of the world. How can this be? We must reflect the light of Jesus as the moon reflects the light of the sun. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that the fourth day of creation God separated the light he had created: God appointed the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. We now know that the lesser light is a reflection of the greater light. The Christian community can bring light into a dark world, we can give others light for their life’s journey, but only if we reflect the light of Christ. Otherwise we are as much in the dark as they are.

Secondly-- we, like John the Baptist, are called to point to the greater light. We cannot say ‘look at me’ – we cannot glory in our possessions or our appearance or our achievements. We are called to say ‘look at Jesus’, look at his glory, look at his love, look at his healing power. We are all called to testify to Jesus the Christ, and we are all given the opportunity, in what we say and in how we live. We are not all called to preach, but we are all called to witness. So John testified to Jesus and Jesus testified to the Father.

Thirdly, when we call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, our identity is linked with his. Have you noticed how often we are identified by our relationship to other people? So I am Desiree’s husband, or Roschelle and Jodies father, or Jesse’s grandfather, depending on who I am with. This is true for all of us and it should be true of each of us as Christians where we are one another’s brother and sister.

The early church called itself the people of the way, but the people around them called them ‘Christians’; people who said their different life-style came from following in Jesus’ steps. Their way of life revealed something of the nature of Jesus. And so should ours.

John knew that he, too, had been called to bring good news to the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, as Isaiah had been called to do. But he was emphatic that he was not the Messiah, nor Elijah the prophet come back to earth, nor the god-like prophet promised in the book of Deuteronomy.   How John identified himself is how we are called to identify ourselves -- as heralds, as people who bring the Good News of Jesus Christ into the lives of others.
And this is true not just for us as individuals, who pray and read our bibles in the warmth of our homes but should be true of our life when we come together as a community and work together as a parish. If we all lived as today’s epistle calls us to live: if our own light shone a little brighter – if we prayed a little more, and gave a little more, and loved a lot more, if we gave thanks to God in all circumstances, more people in this community would see the light, and want to cast away their own dreams of darkness. So many things St John’s and St Matthias could do are left undone because so few people offer to do them.

Again, we can learn from the contrast between the ministry of John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus. John called the people to come to him. Jesus went to them, he went out among the people, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.  Most parishes are still stuck in a John the Baptist style of ministry – ‘Come to us’, they say ‘ We will welcome you’.

Not many people respond to the invitation, so the churches can easily become spiritual ghettoes, like-minded people who care for each other, who support each other, but they do not engage with the community.

Only a few parishes care enough to follow Jesus, to go out among the people and proclaim the good news of the kingdom, as we are called to do. In two weeks time, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus – God with us – Jesus is the God who comes to us. If we take the Christmas story to heart, we will want to follow his example: we will want to go to others, to reflect the light of Christ into their lives, to help them cast away the dreams of darkness, which can so easily become nightmares. They, too, are called to be children of the day.

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