Looking Forward

The twentieth of December - we are nearly there! Christmas is just around the corner. However we are not quite there yet: we are still looking forward to it. I don’t mean “looking forward” as in eagerly salivating (although perhaps some of us are!), I mean literally “looking forward” - waiting expectantly; looking to the future just around the corner.

That is what Advent is - a time of expectant waiting a preparation for….for what? What are we anticipating? What are we thinking about as being just around the corner? Christmas - yes, obviously - and all the celebrations which go with it but for Christians, for us and the sort of people who come to this and other churches week in and week out, it is really anticipation of change and a big one at that.

It is that sort of anticipation of change which features so heavily in the three readings we heard this morning (which, incidentally, span some 600 years of writing). From Zechariah, the Jews returning from exile, rebuilding the Temple; waiting for God to come and live among them; waiting for a big change in their lives. From Hebrews, the change from the old order of sacrifices and burnt offerings; setting those aside through what was seen as the sacrifice of one man for all people for all time and instead focussing on God’s will and on the future order. From the Gospel reading, the foretelling of the birth of Jesus; a person who would change the world forever.

That is the point. What we are talking about is not just an historic event; we are not looking backwards at a one-off change which happened two thousand years ago and that was it! Well, we are in a sense because we are about to recall and relive what is written in the Bible about the birth of Jesus; that is, after all, what Christmas is about (or at least what it is meant to be about). However, the change which happened with the birth of Jesus did not stop there - it only started there. As Jesus grew and began his ministry he changed the lives of those people with whom he came into contact. Not just those of his own close-knit group - the disciples - but he changed the lives of countless ordinary people, especially those with infirmities or afflictions.

The amazing thing is, that ability to change did not stop when Jesus was crucified. People continued to feel his presence; to draw strength from him; to feel through him they had a channel to God. That did not just last for those who knew Jesus personally and who outlived him; it carried on down through the generations and it still carries on today.

Jesus, born a helpless babe, just like each one of us, changed lives. Two thousand years on he continues to change lives and he continues to inspire us to help change the lives of others.

If you are not sure what I mean about changing lives, just look around you and consider that once there was no church here. Somebody’s life was changed sufficiently to think about even the possibility of building a place of worship here. Somebody, long ago, was sufficiently motivated to design this church; somebody to pay for it; somebody to oversee its construction; to decorate it; to furnish it; to enlarge it. Lots of somebodies over time and all changed to want to do these things. As you go out this morning, look just above the door to the right and you will see a list of people whose lives were changed to want to become Priests in the church; to want to serve here as Rector.

Ordinary people’s lives have been changed in this place so they are motivated to sing in the choir or to ring the bells or to read the lesson or to say the prayers or change the flowers of vacuum the carpet - something has fired that initial spark which has brought about that change. It is that impetus, that transforming energy which the people who knew Jesus saw; which the people who wrote about him tried to promote and which we, who now read about him, try to absorb and to emulate.

The trouble is, all that information which we have about Jesus now is a bit like what happens to a snowball when it rolls down a hill. The original, pure white, tightly compacted particles of snow pick up other particles as they travel down. They gather dust and dirt and stones and all sorts of other impurities. The Jesus of history, reaching out to us down the ages, has picked up embellishment, hyperbole, sometimes just invented fantasy, just as in a way the real meaning of Christmas has picked up things like commercialism, gluttony, political correctness. We need to peel away all those extraneous layers to get back to the core of what is really there. What is really there is the power of change.

So maybe in these last few days before Christmas we should think about the change which is coming. We do, though, have to be receptive to that power. This time next week, Christmas will have come and gone. If we are here at exactly this time next Sunday, are we going to be exactly the same person as we are now? Will Christmas just be a memory? Will it not have meant anything; not brought any change in us? So perhaps we should start now to think about that Christ of change.

In a few moments we are going to say the Creed together; the Creed which says about Jesus Christ: “He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried”. Familiar words but there is no mention in there of Jesus’ earthly ministry: it goes straight from Mary to Pontius Pilate. There is nothing at all about all those miracles and those deeds he was supposed to have done or the parables and allegories he is reported to have said - all that impetus, that transforming energy which he brought to the world two thousand years ago.

Perhaps it doesn’t refer to those things because that would be to look back; to look at history, just as when we look at this building we are looking at history. Yet when we do that we are also looking at the here and now and at the future, because that building of history is still here; it continues to house us and will hopefully go on housing us in the future, with prudent management. In the same way, when we look at the Jesus of two thousand years ago yes we are looking at history but we are also looking at the here and now and at the future. The presence of Jesus is still here - we are still talking about him and just talking about him, or thinking about him, studying him or discussing him and all that he stood for continues to allow us to change. It inspires us and helps us to inspire others and to change others.

So let us try and keep those aspects in out mind. The historical Jesus - the person who walked on this earth, lived with and touched the lives of fellow human beings and whose fellow human being rejected him, condemned him to death and crucified him - and the Jesus still available to us now, here, all around us. Let us also look to the future, that future just around the corner. 

Let us make these last few days before Christmas - Christ Mass - a time of expectant waiting and preparation for change, that change which can only come about because of the birth of a helpless babe.

© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire July 2016

This sermon was originally delivered in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Maulden, Bedfordshire on 20 December, 2009