Are you ready? The voice came across like a jolt of electricity into the quiet pensive room. Are you ready? I chuckled with a hint of fear in my voice, I’ve never been less ready in my life- I said. Good, they said, don’t worry I’ll be right behind you. And in that instant the service of ordination, almost 4.5 years ago that made me a deacon, started. At first I panicked at the question, thinking I had missed something or should be doing something other than feel my heart race and palms sweat as I waited for a moment that changed my life forever. And then I realised, they were not asking me to catch me out, rather, they were asking out of care and support as we together prepared for an incredible life moment. When they asked if I was ready, it was an invitation to do this together, an invitation of support and a willingness to help. It was an invitation to a relationship, a relationship which was modeled for us first by God in creation, promised to us in Christ of the Manger, and is made real in this breathtaking season of Advent through the Gospel we just heard.
In the anticipation of Advent, we begin our journey to the manger not under a tree, but at the end times which is a culmination experience of our relationship with God. Begin as you hope to finnish, my parents always told me when it came to matters of life, so we begin as we will end at the second coming- a time of summation into God. However, we have been here before, and that is something that’s often left believers flummoxed- we keep announcing an end but it never comes. Indeed, for the readers of Matthew, they were now starting to lose the plot when it came to following Christ. Its just another season, we know how it ends, so why bother, they cried- lets just get to the good part- because Christmas is what really matters.. As time became more fluid and the apostles of faith became more historical than contemporary, we started to find passages like these antiquated. This is what makes Christmas easier to explain than Advent, because Christmas is a living moment in our history, Advent- the end times- continues to happen all around us but is much less tangible. But before we get to the manger, like the sheppards, angles, wisemen, and animals, we have to travel within ourselves in preparation for what is about to happen. But what are we preparing for? We are preparing for a relationship that changes not just us, but the world.
Throughout scripture we hear of a God so deep in relationship with creation that God does not only create it, God gives us companions- community- relationship with it. We hear those stories in Genesis, which also tells us that in our own free will, we turn our backs on that relationship with God and destroy what God has given to us in Creation. We take more than we need, we treat this earth like our own landfill, we make stupid wars between nations, put up barriers between people, demonize others not like ourselves, and use God’s name to justify it. All in the hope of security and safety, of personal achievement and progress. Yet God does not turn away from us, rather, God goes in deeper to meet us in the midst of our chosen chaos, in these end times, to bring us into wholeness and salvation in the only way God knows how to- as one of us-In Christ. You see we are indeed in the end times of our lives, while waiting for the coming of Christ, because the world around us continues to tell us that we can not keep living the way we are and expect this planet to survive. We can not live in wars, in isolation. We need to change our ways, and in Matthew, God presents that change to us. God gives us Jesus, so that we can never ever be separated from our relationship with God again. This is the relationship we cultivate and prepare for in Advent.
Listen again to the Gospel this morning- The ark of Noah, housed 2 of every animal on the earth, there were two in the fields, there were two women- God is a God of relationships which is pointing us to how we will cultivate our relationships with ourselves and others over Advent, which prepares us to receive his Son at Christmas. So we do well to heed the exhortation to “beware” for we do not know the time or place of the return and we must be ready- which is why Advent is a perpetual experience throughout our lives, to always be ready for Christ’s second coming. But how are we to be ready? Is it about making sure everyone else is ready, or is it about us alone? I believe it's both, because in both we find the community which God calls us into this advent as we wait for the change that sets us free from our bondage- which is Christ.
We are made for community, you and I, it's a human need. Sometimes that community is one which is solid, stable, predictable, controlled, and sometimes it's like the one we hear of today which is called out into the unknown- onto the rough seas of the arc, to trust that Gods ready to meet us anew at the edge of the crib. The rough seas of the arc is where the church is called to live, because it is theses rough seas in which we actually live life. When we move out into the unknown, trying something new, letting go of control, and trusting in God to provide, we develop a deeper relationship with not just ourselves but with those around us. But how do we do that this Advent? How do we practice this letting go into the unknown, in the midst of a season which is full of events and needs. Here are a few of the many ways we can begin that together:
- Be creative- Surround yourself with creativity this Advent. Music, the arts, friends, good food, whatever it is that is creative for you- make a point of doing it this Advent. We build a deeper relationship with God when we practice our creativity, because in it we express the wholeness of our beings- something which shows the power of God's glory to the world through our lives.
- Make your No’s Holy- Pray about the activities of your life this month, ask God to help show you were life is for you in them. If there is no life, no sense of deep satisfaction and playfulness- don't do them. The world will not fall apart if you dont attend that party, or make a smaller turkey than last year. Say No, and feel the freedom we are promised in Christ.
- Practice relationships- make time for the people that bring you joy. Share an art exhibit with them or concert, write a note of gratitude to them. Prepare yourself this advent by surrounding yourself with the life which fulfills you and see know the depths of God's relationship reflected back at you.
Advent is a time to be ready within ourselves, for a relationship which not only changes us, but changes the world. In these end times, we are told anew of the promise of God in Christ that- Tomorrow I come- I come to be with you! The world is crying out to meet its saviour, our souls desire his intimate relationship that sustains us. How will you be ready for his coming this year, and how can I help?