08 Jan Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B
Sunday 10th December
The Community here at Mucknell is, as with any group, made up of diverse individuals with varying opinions on just about everything! As such, sermons posted on our website represent the ideas of the preachers who wrote and delivered them, not necessarily those of the entire Community.
Do you remember the scene at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and then he turned to them: “And who do you say I am?” Ever eager to please, Peter chirps up, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus forbids the disciples to tell that to anyone.
Why? Because everyone assumes they know what the Messiah, the Christ, will be like – a great warrior king who will free the Jewish people from Roman rule and make them a great nation, the greatest in the world….and no way is that who Jesus is! His ‘kingdom’, if that is what we can usefully call it, isn’t a kingdom in the normal, worldly sense, and nor is his kingship, which is traditionally about privilege, power and control. Jesus’ kingship is of a totally different order and so is his power; it is the power of sacrificial love, particularly when it is mutual: Love one another as I have loved you!
Sadly, the reality Jesus was trying to introduce the disciples to, and which we see much more clearly spelt out in John Ch 17, wasn’t picked up by the Church once it became established. The traditional Jewish language and imagery continued to be used– and still are. Our talk of Jesus coming in power and great glory, when taken literally with our common understanding of those words, is the complete antithesis, I believe, of what Jesus was driving at.
The power of self-sacrificial mutual love is life-giving, life-enhancing; it gives hope – something much needed in our world. And Jesus promised (Mt 18.20) that where even 2 or 3 are so united in his name, he will be present in a special way.
And what abut ‘Glory’? I’m told that the Aramaic word used is much richer in meaning than our word ‘glory’, and that it carries the added sense of being the essence of something or someone – the essential quality that makes, for example, Christ ‘Christ’ – it’s his quality of ‘Christness’. St John tells us that Jesus’ moment of glory was his crucifixion – the moment when his ‘Christness’ is most pure and clear – that gut-wrenching howl, ‘My God, my God, WHY…?’ That cry of anguish is what gives us the clearest glimpse into the nature of God – God’s ache for his Creation, his love.
So, when we say that he will come in power and great glory, ‘YES’, there is the prophecy of a glorious and dramatic Second Coming at the end of time – and that is one facet of the Mystery to be pondered and held. Much more humble is the promise of his coming moment by moment, usually unrecognised, and his promise to be present when we are united in mutual love in his name. These, too, are facets of the Mystery to be pondered and explored. What is more, he comes to us in the persons of those in need and distress; think of the parable of the sheep and goats: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, sick and in prison…’ an important facet of the Mystery particularly important for our world at the moment. He comes to us in the times of solitude – ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the end of time.’
Christ comes to us in great glory, in his essential ‘Christness’, in many ways and no one way comprises the whole truth, and part of the richness of the Christian journey is the honing of our awareness of the ways he comes.
I have to remember this when I want to change the wording of the collects and blessings at the Eucharist. I long to change the future tense [ ‘when he will come…’] to the present continuous [ ‘as he comes…’] Come he does and come he will. Time and eternity…either we are prepared and open to receive him or we aren’t.
At different times in life’s journey different facets of the Mystery of God will resonate with us. What makes perfect sense to us when we are 17 may not when we are 27, or 57, or 77.
As Archbishop Michael Ramsey said, “The older I get I believe more and more about less and less.” But he also encouraged us to remain open to fresh insights and to continue to ponder the basic truths of ‘love and its power’: of ‘glory and its mystery’ – to deepen our appreciation of the Mystery of God rather than try to understand and resolve it.
I’m reminded that God is not the object of our knowledge but the cause of our wonder.
The season of Advent suggests we try to take time to ponder, to wonder at the amazing Mystery in which we are caught up: the God who is still creating new galaxies and spider’s webs, and the tiniest creatures. The God who is the ground of our being who was also born as a baby and died on a cross, yet is closer to us than the air we breathe, even now, at this moment here in the Oratory – who comes and who will come, and who will keep coming, hoping for our welcome.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
Image: Love and Faithfulness Meet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56328 [retrieved January 8, 2024]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sevendipity/1410013612/.