Advent: "The Other Day in a City Not So Far Away..."

The Revd Robin Sims-Williams

It’s already started, the excitement has been growing for nearly the whole year. Toys are being bought, decorations are going up, the most embarrassing outfits chosen. The anticipation is guaranteed to grow to fever pitch. Looking forward to the retelling of a story of Good triumphing over Evil. There will be parties in the streets, shops will be overwhelmed by demand and for a fortnight there will be almost nothing else talked about. That’s right, the release of the seventh episode in Star Wars is only 2.5 weeks away. I have my ticket - do you have yours?

It promises to be the largest opening weekend for any film ever before and is likely to challenge Avatar for the biggest grossing film of all time. Advance ticket sales have been astronomic, achieving 8 times as many sales as the previous record for the first 24 hours of sales. This is partly down to a very sophisticated management of the release of information and images from the film, starting with the first teaser almost exactly one year ago. It’s partly down to nostalgia, taking movie goers back to a place they were 30 years ago when the original films were coming to cinemas. But then, records or not, we’ve been here before. And records are there to be broken. I remember the excitement each December when the Harry Potter films were coming out, or with each of the James Bond films, quite recently actually. In fact, Disney is planning to release a new Star Wars film each year for the foreseeable future, telling the stories of the original characters, revisiting the background to the original trilogy as well as continuing on into the future. Perhaps one day the opening scroll will have to say ‘the other day in a galaxy far away…’

Not unlike the cinema, or the seasons, the church’s calendar cycles round each year. Revisiting the same stories, the same events, the same festivals. And each year, in the church’s eyes, they all begin with the anticipation of Christ’s birth, starting on Advent Sunday. Today is like the teaser, there’s some titivation in our reading; the excitement of signs in the moon and the stars and the distress among nations. Fainting from fear and foreboding. And the coming of the Son of Man in a cloud with power and glory, like some great chariot pulled by lions.

Advent is then given over to mounting anticipation, as we remember the stories from before the coming of Jesus, the ark, the parting of the red sea, the exile, the terror imposed Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians….The confusion among the Jewish people as they tried to find hope in the midst of failure.

And in the cycles of life, this distress and confusion, the fear and foreboding seem ever present. Be it during the first or second world wars, the cold war, the bombings of Al-qaeda and now IS terrorism. That’s not to say that these are signs of the end of the world, they are signs that the world is not the end. They are reminders of our dependance on God for true hope. That’s why stories like Star Wars are so popular, because the good guys come against unsurmountable evil and they continue to have hope. Advent is about remembering that sense of possibility that comes with a faith in God. It’s about remembering the love God has for us again.

The fig tree appears only once in the Old Testament, in the song of songs - a book celebrating love, rejoicing in intimacy.

The fig tree is where the lovers first fall in love. Jesus’ reference in the Gospel to fig tree budding as an indication of the coming summer seems to me to point towards the coming of Christ as the proclamation of God’s love for creation. With each passing year, like the sprouting of the leaves on the fig tree in Summer, we return to that proclamation of God’s love for us, and we remember, we remember that God loves us, we remember those times when we have realised God’s love for us.

I remember as a child being brought to the UK to see family, and touring those places where my father lived, the place where he fell and broke his tooth, commenting on how the area has changed. The other week Helen, the girls and I were in Bristol. The city where we first met, dated and were married. We remembered the places we used to go, the friends we used spend time with, the things we used to do. At a certain level it can seem self-indulgent, but revisiting those places and with them, those memories, those feelings, is important.

In Advent we revisit the anticipation of the Jewish people and of all creation for the coming of Jesus, the Son of Man, the messiah and the drawing near of the Kingdom of God. But lets also make our advent more personal. Not just about the whole of creation, lets recognise God's role in our own lives. Revisit that realisation of God’s love for each of us. It’s not necessarily some great thunderbolt from the blue. I have no recollection when I first saw the original Star Wars films, but I still have a great sense of nostalgia about them. Perhaps it is those memories of childhood Christmas, or the reading of a part of scripture, or the settling into the warm embrace of a loved one, or the coming forward and sharing in the bread and wine, or a night out under the stars, all of the above, or something completely different.

As we take time to recall that love of God for each of us, lets anticipate that we might experience afresh the coming of Jesus into the world and into our own lives. That we might each see, hear or experience something new, some greater depth of knowledge of God, making our knowledge of the love of God more relevant in our lives today and transforming us to do God’s will, to love and to care for all people, all of creation. To live in righteousness seeking justice and peace for all of creation.