29 November 2010

New Beginnings

Advent 1 2010

What a wonderful time we had yesterday at the Christmas Market – selling, buying, eating, chatting and overall a great feeling of community spirit.

If we had added some live chickens and several donkeys, we might easily have been in the market place in Nazareth.

When Canon Stuart writes in the Newsletter that St. Luke’s is a busy parish full of interesting and committed people who reach out to one another and to the wider community, he’s right on the mark.

This year has seen new incentives such as the Advocacy information breakfasts and a second fresh food programme.

We have welcomed the community with musical evenings, bible study, book studies, and contemplative prayer.

We have welcomed visitors on Sundays and during the week, along with those who came to St Luke’s for baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Today we celebrate our achievements. We rejoice and thank God who makes it all happen, through each and every one of us.

Today we look back with satisfaction on a church year completed and we look ahead with hopes and dreams to a new one.

Advent marks the beginning of a new Christian year.

It is a time to pause and reflect on what has been and on what is to come.

It is a time full of promise as we await the birth of Jesus.

And it’s a time to hope and to dream.

It’s also a time of commercial bedlam when we get frantic and fractured even as we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace

I recently read of a lady doing her Christmas shopping who got bumped into. As her packages spilled in every direction she said “I hate Christmas. It turns everything around in my life.” So it does and that’s what God intended it to do.

The mystery of the Incarnation is that God decided to join us here on planet earth. What’s more, he chose an unmarried teenager to be part of the plan.

He chose a stable as a maternity ward and was taken into exile as a baby to escape the mass murder plot of a deranged leader.

The miracle is that it all worked out as I imagine God knew it would.

However, it was a huge risk, and it seems to me that God showed us his vulnerability and his intense love for us by even considering it.

God has always demonstrated his love and his willingness to keep giving us second chances. From the earliest times he intended to free his people and he did this by using humans with their consent. He needed them to say yes of their own free will and if they did, he stayed with them as their guide.

That was how Abraham came to leave his country and journey to a new land where he would become the founding father of a chosen people. It was how Moses got the courage to return to Egypt and free the Israelites so that they could eventually return to their homeland. It was how the prophets got the tenacity to speak out as a force for change.

Now God has asked Mary and Mary has said yes. We cannot begin to know what the message from Gabriel meant to Mary but in her time and culture she would have to have been terrified. Yet she said yes. And that yes changed the world.

Throughout biblical history, God has used dreams or visions to speak to humans. Joseph was told in a dream to stay with Mary and protect her. The wise men were told in a dream to return home by another route rather than tell Herod what they had seen. The bible is full of accounts of dreams bearing messages from God.

Meister Eckhart, the 14th C mystic recorded this strange dream

I dreamt that even though a man, I was pregnant and filled with nothingness, like a woman who is with child, and out of nothingness God was born.

That dream changed his whole perspective of who God was and where God was

He says that he began to understand the indwelling of God in all humanity and all creation. God no longer far off but living within.

Martin Luther King had a different kind of dream – a dream of a better future for Afro - Americans. It was what some would call a pipe dream because it seemed unattainable. It took a while but that dream came to fruition.

Most of us stifle our pipe dreams.

We get stuck thinking that nothing will ever change for the better.

All of us have some reluctance to grow, to change, to open the mind, to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

When God visits us it might be in the REM dream of sleep or it might be in the pipe dream of alertness. It isn’t a requirement to have a sky full of angels singing or a blinding light on a road to Damascus.

God calling us to service frequently happens during the ordinary times of our lives. Times when we are really busy doing Very Important Things (in our own minds). Times when we mentally ask God to come back later. We may be too busy to hear his voice at all.

Now we have a second chance coming during Advent.

Advent is a time of waiting and listening. It is a time of stepping back even for a short time, from the fray which is associated with the worldly celebration and remembering the real reason for our joy.

Today God is asking you and me to be pregnant – pregnant with hopes and dreams for a better future for humanity and for our planet. If we find the Christ within and if we remember that with God all things are possible, then we can embrace our new church year at St. Luke’s with vibrancy and love. We can continue to reach out to one another and to the community and we can give birth to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world around us.

We have the words of the prophet Micah to encourage us

Here is Eugene Peterson’s translation from The Message:

God has already made it plain how to live, what to do, and what he is looking for in men and women.

It’s quite simple

Do what is fair and just to your neighbour,

be compassionate and loyal in your love

and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.


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