Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Advent Wanderings.

May I take the rare opportunity of snow in advent and an outbreak of seasonality to advertise the service of Lessons and Carols with Solemn Benediction at Saint Hilda's on Sunday 21st December at 6pm? We have a candlelit procession, four lessons and carols, a short address and Solemn Benediction followed by mulled wine and mince pies. We will also have the heating turned on, to add to the solemnity of the occasion!

In advertising mode, this Thursday sees the First Thursday Prayer Group at 7pm in the community room when we will be enjoying an Advent reflection.

Jonathan Meades, social commentator and philosopher, has recently filmed a television series called 'Magnetic North', which is available on youtube. The danger of youtube is that there is a vast amount of Jonathan Meades on it, so Magnetic North can lead to a hilarious programme about vegetarians, slow food, narcotics or, indeed, 'Absentee Landlord, about the god concept. Magnetic North looks at the North of Europe, the cold fishing ports of Norway, the Belgian and Polish demographic and the movement of peoples around the upper perimeter of the continent. The Church in Manchester pictured above is a part of that movement, the coming of people from former French colonies to the nearest friendly nation, which appears to be Britain. I love to look at the services which spring up in different parts of the city, shops, places of worship, barbers, takeaways and financial institutions and to guess which group is settling where now and to hope that we can all live in peace with each other. In a few years, if this group stays and grows, then their Church will move out of the badlands of Redbank to a more salubrious location and grow, if not, then this will become another denomination, attracted by the cheap rent and the location near enough to the city centre, the previous one swallowed up by integration or the community finding another town to dwell in.

Movement and journey are part of our Advent story. Pope John Paul II, before he died, if the press be believed, came out with a few 'last words', but the more consistent of these seem to be 'all my life I have come to you and now you come to me and I thank you' which the curia immediately said related to the young people in St Peter's Square outside his window. It may be worth reflecting on the possibility of this being the coming of Christ, however, of a life spent journeying to Him, at the last to see Him coming to take John Paul home. God journeyed with His pilgrim people from the exile to the incarnation, at which time people journeyed towards Him. Shepherds, about their disreputable business, left the fields and searched for Him, wise men, (or Kings, or astrologers, but the thought of three Russell Grant's wobbling on horseback to Bethlehem is not a helpful one) journeyed from the East, Mary and Joseph were travelling themselves and travelled back like the wise men, a different way. The great story stopped and reversed for a while, before Christ again went forward, going out to meet people and tell the good news, surrounded by those He chose.

The eternal pigheadedness of those who believe that Christ came two thousand years early, that he should have come now, now when we are so much cleverer, now that we are so much more advanced and better is staggering. The belief that we are so much more important now, better than James and Andrew, just think if Paul had been online! Advent shows that we have managed to hide the Christmas message and to celebrate it in equal measure. The template is there for celebration, the tinsel is sold and the trees are available, the carols are still piped in the stores and schools still have nativity plays. Even the weather helps us by pandering to Dickensian ideals of a white Christmas and hearts melting over a plum pudding. None of this is intrinsically bad, indeed it is able to help and it is as futile to rail against it as it is to insist that Christ should have been made incarnate in 2008 because we would have ourselves deal better with such a happening than the King of all the ages would. 'If only it were different and people were different and we did not feel so inadequate sometimes' we seem to say through the flashing baubles of Christmas Present.

We have a God who expects much of us, who gave us His life in a sacrifice for our sins and for our redemption. But a God who knows the world we are in as His own. So I cannot sing 'You're altogether lovely' in the popular worship song, because I cannot believe that God is altogether lovely, nor that we should trivialise our relationship or His Divinity by saying so. So we live in a time when we can be comfortable and surround ourselves with plastic baubles and fairtrade claret and give paper goats to our friends at Christmas with no mention of God, so we think that this age has the possibility to lose faith. But this is God's age, His time and His people and I cannot believe that the best way to witness to Him, in this age of His, is to deny the age and the time.