The Revd Robin Sims-Williams
The demand seems weighed down with a threat, a threat of what will happen to you if you fall asleep. It reminds me of an episode in the 9th series of Friends, originally aired 12 years ago! In the episode, Chandler falls asleep in a meeting, waking with a start he agrees to whatever he’s asked, fearing admitting that he’s been asleep. Instead, unknowingly, he’s agreed to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I wonder what keeps you awake, what won’t let you sleep? Is it trying to remember what needs doing tomorrow? Is it not being entirely sure what will need doing tomorrow? Is it fear of what will happen if you’re not awake - missing your alarm, not hearing when your sick child cries out, Is it a nightmare from having watched a scary film? Is it being unable to put from your mind the image of somebody suffering?
Advent is a strange season to get our heads around. Sure, it’s the lead into Christmas, and everybody is getting ready for Christmas; buying gifts, planning office parties, meals with friends, arranging to see family and in-laws, booking flights, visiting the post office with cards, ordering food for the required feast, going to the school play, eating chocolates on the advent calendar. Everything is about preparing for a big celebration, but here we are in purple, the colour we use in Lent, the season of self-denial! The readings are all apocalyptic, as if we should be preparing ourselves for Armageddon.
It doesn’t take much looking to find something that makes us feel like the world is in a constant state of armageddon, the plight of Northern Syrians and Northern Iraqis, the rise of the Islamic State, the spread of Ebola, threat of war in the Ukraine, fighting between Israel and Palestine, the loss of flights MH17 and MH370… There have been lots of reasons in the last year to feel like Armageddon is on the doorstep. But still, even if this is the beginning of the Church’s year, Advent isn’t about revisiting the past year in some communal self-assessment designed to ensure maximum guilt. Advent is about finding hope.
The Independent express frustration this week that the bible didn’t give a clearer direction for casting directors on what the voice of God should sound like. They were reporting on the surprising casting of an 11-year-old school boy to be the voice of God in Ridley Scott’s next epic film - Exodus. But it is well and good that God’s voice is unknown, because it demands we remain open to it coming from anywhere, and everywhere. We find God in the good which surrounds us. The human response to suffering.
Like the moment in a film where the hero is down on his or her luck and a sudden uprising of people steps in to help the hero to overcome the villain.
The classic question, ‘Where is God in the suffering of the world?’, doesn’t have a good answer, but if we look, we may notice not just the pain and the anguish, we may notice the people working to relieve that pain. The person running into the fire without any protective clothes, somebody phoning an ambulance, Nurses, paramedics and doctors devoting lives to develop skills as healers, aid workers travelling into the midst of war torn countries to deliver aid, philanthropists sharing their wealth and expertise to make a real difference to peoples lives.
‘The son of man comes in clouds with power and great glory.’ Jesus quotes the prophets of the Old Testament, as they hope for some kind of vengeance. The prophets are living in the midst of horrific suffering. Loss, not simply of their homes, their land and their independence, but also their belief that God loved them. This evening’s Advent Carols will tell the story of the Jewish people, evicted from Jerusalem by the Babylonian King, as they realised that for their God to be the creator of all, that creator had to be the God of all. They begin to realise that the coming of a saviour would not be just for them but for all of God’s creation. It’s a realisation they are still coming to terms with when Jesus arrives.
As the story of Jesus life in our Gospels was being told, Christians were being excommunicated from their synagogues, they were being oppressed by the Roman Empire, who eventually sacked Jerusalem and destroying the temple again. Jesus message was pastoral, it was one of reassurance, of love, of a promise of hope that things would be better.
The prophecy of the Son of Man coming in clouds of Glory must have seemed like a great hope for vindication. This is the prophecy of a great saviour, one who will sort things out once and for all, who will destroy the foe. And yet.. And yet, Jesus contribution wasn’t what they were expecting, they needed to be ready for a completely different approach. Not a smiting kind of God whose voice booms down from a mountain, but a God who shows up as a baby in a stable, who gives over his life for others, who trusts the very creation that made this mess in the first place to carry on the work of redemption and reconciliation. They were going to need their wits about them, they would need to be awake or they might not even see what Christ was doing for them. Advent is the time when we look for God working in the world around us and prepare ourselves to join in.
So, KEEP AWAKE.