Today’s Gospel makes clearly we are not done with the challenging readings of the pre-Advent readings from Mark: Luke, whose year we begin today, points out time does not go slow to suit us, for change will come, events will happen, God will come, and we need to remain aware and ready. How much more must young and alone Mary have thought that, with four weeks to go to the birth of the child she accepted was God broken into her. Yet like all pregnant women, she got on with what needed to be done, wrapping up against winter cold and preparing to waddle off to Bethlehem, despite knowing how much pleasanter would a bed in her mum’s house have been!
Does Luke mean we are to remain aware and ready all the time, in some heightened state of anxiety? Unhelpful. But ‘Live each day as t’were your last,’ is a good maxim if it leads us to reconcile ourselves with our own conscience each evening, and pledge to put straight the crooked paths we took, letting go of grudges and resentments, and living the life we have. Moreover, we are not alone in this journey, but have God by our side: God-Parent as our creator, God-Child as our Redeemer, God-Spirit as our embracing Strength. Not God on our side to mop up mess we do not regret, not God on our side to underwrite meanness, jealousy, callousness, injustice, stubbornness, but as Jeremiah insists, God of justice and mercy, of righteousness and steadfast love. And a God who forgives our regretted sins in order that we too, as the psalmist asks, can set them aside. I am sure for many of us this is easier said than done, for accepting that our deeply regretted sins are really forgiven and actually letting go to live a renewed life is a big, a continual, test of faith.
How much easier to settle back for giving up the journey, seeing ourselves as third class, and forgetting, or not risking, to rejoice over our own joys, the joys of those we love, as Paul does so magnificently to his friends in Thessaly: ‘may God make you increase in love for one another, as I love you.’ Not the sentimental tinsel love we see and hear and experience in this season, enlivening though the glitz and noise of Advent is in these ever-darkening days, but the steadfast, generous loving kindness and fairness which urgently and consistently supports, enables, looks forward, grows. Following the way of God, treading in the path of Christ who was and is and is to come, is not the way of apathy and ease, self-satisfaction over a place booked in heaven, or scorn for those who do not follow. But it is the way, however hesitantly and inadequately we follow, that we have all to some extent chosen.
Some here will be baptised in this year of Luke. Two members will affirm the vows made for them in baptism and lovingly encouraged by their parents in the intervening years when they are confirmed next week, Divya and Sebastian. One member, already baptised and confirmed in a different church, will be affirming her faith today, and we rejoice that Regine is taking this step of public confession of faith, a confession we will all share in our preparation for next week’s confirmation, in which not only Divya’s and Sebastian’s but each person’s faith is affirmed.
As the readings make clear, we are not alone, and one joy of a faith community is precisely that, the caring support for each other. To serve this widely-spread congregation, the Council have therefore set up a Local Contact Person network, so that someone is there in each area to help with practical questions or just chat to a newcomer or old hand. Again, in thankfully affirming and commissioning these people at the end of the service, we each affirm our own willingness to give to each other, to witness though the way we live our lives and to reach out to those beyond this gathering. A Church is not made of Bishops and priests and readers, nor of church vestries or councils, nor even of Local Contact Persons: all these are structurally helpful, but none have meaning unless all see themselves as church.
‘Wir sind Kirche’ is the Roman Catholic group which began in Austria and spread to various parts of that church, pleading for a church which echoes the collective conscience and values each person’s knowledge and contribution, irrespective of gender, orientation, ethnicity, rank. Putting that into practice in any church means each person is ready to share the justice and righteousness of God by example, and to reach out to and lead the young and those who would listen. Next week Divya and Sebastian, and this week Regine, Hiltrud and David, Hellen, Stefan, Celia, Cathy, Brian, Rita, Cheryl, Petrina, Kim and Nigel are affirming their commitment: may we each silently echo their words as part of our preparation for the coming of God among us.
Revd Dr Elizabeth Koepping
2nd December 2016