Sunday, December 10, 2017

An advent sermon introduction (notes)

I know it’s a boring cliché for the Vicar to complain about the fact that Christmas now follows hot on the heals of Halloween.

But its true, isn’t it?

The supermarkets have been piled high with mince pies since 1st November.

And now we are very much into maximum tinsel and fairy lights.

And, without being too much of a misery-guts party-pooper, there are some losses to it, I think.

One of the negative consequences of that is that we tend to miss out on the 12 days of Christmas.

Did you know that traditionally Christmas is a long old feast?

But we have a 2 month build up to one morning followed by dreadful anti-climax.

The columnist Peter Hitchens has complained, lamenting:

"what actually lies beyond Christmas Day is flat disappointment, every sense stirred and tuned to expect something marvellous, and then just a lot to eat and drink, a few presents and a long, numb celebration of the miraculous birth of TV."

That’s made us all feel jolly, hasn’t it?!

I hope your Christmas will be more than the celebration of the birth of TV, or even of Santa!

But the greater problem is front-loaded, I think.

The Christmas build up has almost totally eclipsed Advent.

It just so happens that this is the only time this year I’ll preach a proper Advent Sermon to you, so here we go:

Traditionally you would save Christmas till Christmas Eve.

Now, we can’t hold back the tide.

And as I say it would be rather unattractive for church people to pour a bucket of cold water on pagan festivity.

 But traditionally Advent would be a stripped back, spare time of waiting, of anticipation, of preparation – and it can be something of that for us still.

Now, you wont find the seasons of the church’s year as such explicitly in the Bible.

But you’ve got to divide up and count and label time somehow.

So the life of Jesus seems a good way to organise the calendar.

And Advent seems an important part of that.

We think, you’ll recall, about Jesus’ coming.

“Coming” or “arrival” is what advent means.

There should be bonus points for those who manage to slip the word “advent” into conversation over coffee.

We anticipate the celebration of Christ’ first advent at Christmas, and traditionally especially his second Advent when he shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Here is the time of the year to focus at least in part on that.

Traditionally Advent focused on what are called the Four Last Things:



Heaven and Hell.

They are not exactly Santa and sleigh-bells, are they?

Very different from the extended season of school nativities and pre-Christmas office parties.

All these have their place, of course.

I can see that Advent as traditionally conceived might not make you feel very warm and fuzzy, but would it not do us good?

Are these four things not grand and momentous, serious, life-changing?

They really matter to us all, don’t they?

At least sometimes, is it not right to recall the death to which we are all inexorably and certainly moving?

Momento mori.

Slave who supposedly whispered in the Roman Emperor’s ear – remember your mortality, glory fades

Victorians – facts of life and fact of death.

Our death will certainly come and it could come at any time.

Far more important to be ready for that than to be ready for the last posting day before Christmas – which actually is Fri 22nd in the UK if you send it Special Delivery Guaranteed for Saturday.

That probably costs your entire life savings.

More important to pre-order your place in heaven than your free-range-organic-corn-fed turkey for 12.

It is appointed to human beings to die and then the judgement.

It is not necessarily an easy or a happy thing to think about.

It is very tempting for the vicar to just tell a few jokes and anecdotes.

Keep it light and uplifting.

But these 4 last things surely matter.

I don’t recommend this, but often medieval churches would have a fresco of the last judgement, or the doom, as it was sometimes called, on the West Wall over there so that as you went out of church it was the last thing you would see.

It’s saying: live in the light of eternity.

Live as those who have an everlasting soul, as those who will stand before the judgement seat of Christ.

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