Sunday, November 28, 2010

Will you recognize the Christ Child? (Advent 1 Year A)

Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44.

Advent is always an interesting season for me. It is a time when I try to get my head around the theme of the twofold coming.

1. We are preparing our hearts for the birth of Christ. It is traditionally a time of fasting and self-examination. We are reminded of the advent themes as we light the advent wreath each week. Hope, Peace, Joy and Love and finally, the Christ candle which is lit at midnight on Christmas Eve when the time of celebration begins.

2. Yet, at the same time we are looking forward to the completeness of the Reign of Christ when in the words of C.S. Lewis “all wrongs will be righted” (Narnia series)

I think these two aspects of advent can be summed up in one small phrase . . .

Christ is coming.

However, today I don’t want this phrase to stand alone I want to couple it with questions

Christ is coming . . . Will we recognize the Christ child?

Christ is coming . . . Are we prepared?

We have talked many times about finding God in all things and in all people.

I believe this is the message of advent. It is preparing our hearts and minds to recognise Christ wherever Christ is.

A brief look at the readings . . .

The Psalm and Isaiah both speak of peace. Isaiah is a tremendous passage, no more war, no more strife between nations. Yet, it doesn’t just happen. The message is actively seek peace, pray for peace, turn instruments of war into instruments of peace which encourage growth and new life. Peace will signify the presence of the Christ child. Seek peace in our homes, in our work, in those we meet. Peace will usher in the Reign of Christ.

On September 9, 1997 in Judiciary Square, Washington DC a crane lowered a four-ton sculpture to its permanent cement base. The sculpture is entitled "Guns into Plowshares". It is a 16-foot-high steel structure made from 3,000 handguns welded together to form the distinctive shape of a plough blade. Artist Esther Augsburger and her son, David worked for two and a half years with the Metro Police Department. They molded handguns that had been surrendered by local residents. (see photo below) Sadly, earlier this year the sculpture was removed and is seeking a new home.


Romans and Matthew both speak of preparation. Self examination, looking at our lives. This shouldn’t be done as a burden. It is not to depress us or see how inadequate we are. Self-examination should be done with excitement and anticipation. I think it is like when we have a party or guests for a meal or a weekend stay. We look around our home, we see what needs to be done to get ready. We put time and effort into the preparation. Then we are ready to greet our guests, to spend time with our guests and to enjoy our friends company. We need to be ready so we will recognise the Christ child. Enjoy the preparation!

Additionally, Romans and Matthew both convey a sense of urgency. Constantly, we hear or read of illnesses or accidents which remind us that life is short. Our time on earth is limited, let’s not waste it.

So as we journey through Advent 2010 let us look for the Christ child daily in all we do, in everyone we meet, in all the circumstances we encounter. Let us not be so busy and preoccupied that we miss the Christ Child.

Christ is coming . . .

Will you recognize the Christ child?

+Ab. Jane

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What makes you fearful? (Proper 27 Year C)

Today I want to offer a few thoughts which came to mind when I read the passage in Haggai. Haggai is one of the three post-exhilic prophets speaking to the remnant of the people in the Babylonian exile.

The verse which catches my attention is “My spirit abides among you; do not fear”. I want to ponder this relationship between fear and the spirit of God abiding amongst us. I think we all experience this on a regular basis.

Of course, we might want to be “spiritual” and say that because we have faith we are never fearful. But I suspect that for most of us the experience of being fearful is something that we do experience and live with. We may not get taken from our homes and exiled but we are human beings, living ordinary lives and things happen that make us fearful.

If we were sat together I could go around the room and ask, “what makes you fearful?” What disturbs your peace? What are you worrying about?

I suspect I might get a variety of answers . . . loss of job, loss of income, sickness of oneself or family, elderly parent, child having problems, school, things going wrong with the house, moving, flying to visit family, I’ll never get this project finished in time, I need to confront my boss about this, etc., etc.

Yet, the prophet tells us that God’s spirit dwells amongst us so we don’t have to fear. That is quite a thought! How do we make that a reality in our lives? If anyone has the answer I would love to hear it!

I wonder if we need to find a way to hold the two in tension. I find it helpful to accept that as human beings we are going to fear, we are made that way. Our bodies respond to stressful situations and chemical responses happen. In my recent studies on communication I discovered that even if we are only faced with a conversation that makes us a little nervous our adrenal glands react. Adrenaline is pumped into our bloodstream, the brain diverts blood to our large muscles, (flight response). As the large muscles get more blood, the reasoning sections of the brain get less. Makes it harder to think reasonably about whatever situation we are facing.

So, to access the other reality, that God’s spirit is dwelling amongst us, I think we need to practice constantly the spiritual disciplines. We need to make them part of our lives. The when we get low and are facing situations that are hard, we have the resources to deal with them within ourselves. The habits are formed and are almost automatic responses.

It was always quite interesting that when we were teaching seminars the ones on spiritual healing, prophesy, the demonic and spiritual gifts were always well attended. The ones on spiritual disciplines were the least well attended. Yet are so important. These are the practices which will define our daily living and responses.

Richard Foster (Celebration of Disciplines) identified the twelve disciplines as meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Others could be added nonattachment, mindfulness, etc. I’m sure each of you could think of others.

As always, the Celtic saints and Desert Fathers and Mothers can be helpful in aiding us explore these disciplines.

Michael Mitton (Restoring the Woven Cord) cites Patrick as an example of prayer. Mitton quotes from Confessions, “ . . . in one day I said about a hundred prayers and in the night nearly the same.” (123).

Mitton again, talking about the Celtic saints and simplicity says, “many who are wearied by pressures and demands of this restless world will find themselves washed up on such islands where they can be reminded of another world which in its simplicity is full of abundant life.” (21)

Gregory Mayers in Listen to the Desert has a great chapter on nonattachment. He illustrates it with examples from the life of Abba Macarius. Mayers says, “Nonattachment is the attitude that comes from the acceptance of the fact that everything about my life and in my life comes and goes in its own time regardless of my preference or aversions.” (935)

I could include many more stories of how the spiritual disciplines were part of the lives of these early Christians but this is long enough. Maybe someone else has a favourite story to share with us.

I will end with one of my favourite stories the journey of Brendan. The story is one that can be found in Celtic Spirituality collaborated by Oliver Davies. Actually, I’m sure C.S. Lewis used these stories as the inspiration for The Voyage of The Dawn Treader. On his travels Brendan faced many fears and hardships yet drew strength from the rhythm of spirituality which was part of his daily life. I hope we can all find that same relationship between fear and spirituality