Advent 4: Leaping for Joy (even when it seems crazy!)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, Langley

19/12/21
Advent 4 – Year C

Micah 5:2-5a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-55

When was the last time your heart leapt for joy? I know this seems like a bonkers question right now.

What gets you out of bed in the morning, floats your boat, makes your heart leap for joy? This might be a difficult question to answer especially if you are in a difficult situation currently.

If we look at the situations of Mary and Elizabeth it is difficult to see what there was to leap about. Mary is 14-ish and pregnant. Elizabeth is well – old and pregnant. Socially and medically this is a nightmare.

The men of the story are absent: Zechariah is mute as we are told a few verses earlier for his disbelief and doubt. Joseph might be the only one considering doing some leaping as he considers whether to jump ship (or not) on Mary.

There are also the babies and at least one of them, John, is leaping in the womb. It was at the voice of Mary’s greeting and being in the presence of Jesus that made unborn baby John leap.

Mary has gone in haste to see Elizabeth after Gabriel has appeared to her with some shocking news. I think that haste is a good word; it means ‘excessive speed, urgency of movement or action; hurry’. We often say ‘don’t be hasty’ when cautioning others (not usually ourselves) about making decisions too rashly.

Mary has good reason to go in haste to see her cousin Elizabeth. She was probably terrified, anxious, unsure. When she arrives at her cousins’ home and goes into the house, Mary receives the most wonderful response to her greeting. Elizabeth’s child (John the Baptist) leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth is overwhelmed in that moment with joy and not fear.

She seems to understand what is happening and her response is one of complete humility. Why her? Who is Elizabeth that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

Both women have now been made aware of the other’s baby from heaven. Mary from Gabriel and Elizabeth from the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth then goes on to bless Mary twice; once for the baby, the fruit of her womb and again for believing that there would be fulfilment of what was spoken by God.

What an example of faith this is to the rest of us as Elizabeth was in a less than ideal situation. This encounter shows us that becoming aware of the presence of God seems to make people leap for joy. Unborn babies, teenage girls and old women. As the Christmas story unfolds other people will leap too.

How aware of God’s presence are we?

My heart can leap for joy at a hundred different things – but not always in church or in prayer or at the communion rail. So I have to ask myself if I have forgotten to expect God to be present?

What would it look like for you to leap for joy at the presence of God? Is it paying attention in the more ordinary and less exciting parts of life?

Maybe it is looking to see Jesus in each other rather than disappointment or criticism?

Maybe it is raising our expectations of God to act in our situations.

Micah, in his prophecy, is told by the Lord to say to Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who was one of the smallest clans of Judah, that from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel. Bethlehem, the House of Bread, was small and insignificant. Yet great things were coming from it. Not for hundreds of years though as Israel had longer to wait and wonder.

In Mary’s response, this waiting and wondering comes to a head as she responds to the double blessing given by Elizabeth as she begins to realise God’s presence and faithfulness to her.

In her great song of praise which follows, Mary expresses her joy at the news she has had and all that it will mean for Israel.

The song, often referred to as the Magnificat, dwells on the great faithfulness of God to his people; his mercy and favour to those who, like her, are humble and meek.

Sometimes we need some reminding that God looks on us with favour – even when circumstances don’t look like it or we don’t feel it. Like Elizabeth and Mary we need humility and faith that God will act. We also need to make space in our lives for God for this to happen.

At Christmas we remember His presence with us and there is no greater reason to leap than that.

Advent 1: Hope, Relief and Waiting

Michelanglo’s The Last Judgment (1536-41)

28/11/21
Advent 1 – Year C

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36



Happy New Year!

No – I mean it! Today is New Year’s Day on the church calendar. Forget about January 1st – November 28th is where it is!

In this season of Advent, we remember again the coming of Jesus in human form as we repeat stories of that first Christmas. We also look ahead to His coming the second time; that time known to God but not us. We wait in hope and preparation for God’s arrival to make sure we recognize him when he comes. In preparation for that we can pray that this Advent is a season of hope, relief and watching.

Hope. Who doesn’t need a little bit of hope today? Hope is like a light shining in a dark place. The Bible has a lot to say about hope:

At this point in his life, Jeremiah has been put into jail by his own King for being right. The enemies of Jerusalem are attacking the city, as Jeremiah said they would. Jerusalem is still standing but it will soon fall into the hands of Babylon.
Sitting in prison, Jeremiah is suddenly filled with hope. Jeremiah knows that restoration will come after the exile – this is what he is talking about when he says, ‘the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.’

If the people wait, watch, endure and try to see the hand of God at work, they will be preparing themselves and the people for the time when ‘Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety.’ This would have been a mystery to the people listening! This is hundreds of years before Jesus arrived. This is still a mystery to people today; people in our families and friend groups who are not interested or do not know about what it is to be saved.

Jeremiah gives us an incredible example of human faithfulness that will not renounce God, come what may. Jeremiah brings good news too: whatever happens, God is God and God is for us. Even Jeremiah, who was the darkest of the prophets, has moments when he can see beyond the immediate destruction of his people to a time when they will again know that God has not abandoned them. He (Jesus) will execute justice and righteousness.

Secondly – Relief.

Just think for a moment about the last time you felt relief from a situation. That overwhelming sense of ‘this is over!’ or ‘well that wasn’t so bad’ or ‘thank God that passed me by’ Advent brings relief – the weary world rejoices!

Paul has been worried about the Thessalonians to whom he is writing. Paul got so worked up about it that he sent Timothy to visit them and he has come back with good news. The letter to the Thessalonians is an expression of Paul’s relief and joy for these new Christians. ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?’ (verse 1 asks)

Paul’s prayer is that they will use their time to prepare for their final meeting with God. There is no time to waste, every minute is vital according to Paul. He wants the Thessalonians to grow and abound in love for each other, to have their hearts strengthened in holiness so to be blameless before God at the coming of Jesus.

This is a big part of the Advent journey; are we ready for the great return? If we are ready then we will know relief when he comes back. However , we should not be too comfortable while people around us do not know the Good News.

There is a verse in this reading that really stuck out to me – Paul wants to see the Thessalonians face to face and ‘restore whatever is lacking in your faith.’ What is lacking in your faith this Advent season?

Thirdly and finally – Keep watch. We need to prepare for Jesus’ return. This means taking the promises of God seriously. Where are our priorities towards God right now? Is he 2nd place behind our distractions and self-interests?

Luke tells of the signs that are coming in the sun, moon, in the stars and on earth. There will be distress among the nations and confusion in the seas and the waves. This passage is different from the rest of Luke. Luke tells the wonderful stories of the shepherds and sheep, the stable and the manger; it is Luke who tells the story of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah.

Luke now gives us this rather frightening story of the Son of Man coming in on a cloud with power and great glory. The seasons are going to change and we need to be ready to change with them. Not only that, we need to watch for the signs of the coming of Jesus. This is not an easy task! We need to pay attention to the world around us, pay attention to what God might be saying to us.

The fig tree is the key to all three of today’s readings. Just as we know how to watch for the signs that mark the changing of the seasons, so we have to train to be people who can recognize the signs of the coming redemption.

Jeremiah and Luke talk about seeing the signs in times of turmoil and Paul is speaking into a situation of growth and joy while trying to keep a note of urgency. We too need to wait with intelligence, noting the signs, paying attention in situations of joy and relief and in turmoil too.

In Robyn Wrigley-Carr’s Advent book for this year, Music of Eternity, we are reminded that God is at work and draws us into His coming action. God is the prime mover, the initiator who is always present on the scene before we arrive. We need not worry or work under our own steam. By spending time with God, he will reveal what He is doing in our lives and the wider world. It is then that we can begin to recognize him.

In Advent, we are waiting for God’s arrival and we need to recognize him when he comes. We wait in hope, we wait for relief and we wait and watch for God – both now and in the not yet.

Happy New Year!

Christ the King: Who Was and Is and Is To Come

Christ the King
21/11/21

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4-8
John 18:33-37

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.
Amen.


Today is the final Sunday of the church year; this is New Year’s Eve! As most people do on New Year’s Eve, we can look to the future. Christ the King Sunday offers two ways; the first is pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth. The second dimension leads us into the immediate season of Advent, the beautiful season of expectation and preparation as we look ahead to celebrating the birth of Jesus. In both dimensions we are reminded that Jesus, Christ in King.

Christ the King is a recent addition to the church calendar – and a Roman Catholic one at that! Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 – which is like 5 minutes ago in church time. He did this in response to issues he was facing in the church. There was growing secularism after World War 1. The Church was facing a huge crisis of faith and many people left the Church (both Catholic & Protestant) in Europe in the wake of the war. The men had left for war and they didn’t come back; and the women left the church and God. This context led the Pope to establish Christ the King Sunday as a reminder of Jesus’ power and authority above all else. Pope Pius wrote:

‘If to Christ Jesus our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to His dominion; if this power embraces all men, [paraphrasing now] He must reign in our minds, He must reign in our wills, He must reign in our hearts, He must reign in our bodies and in our members as instruments of justice unto God.’

This Sunday was instituted as a reminder about who is really in charge. It is good to remind ourselves that Jesus is King above all kings; whatever season we are in. I know that for many people 2021 has been, quite frankly awful. Others it has been fair to middling to better than 2020. Wherever you are at, God bless you. The King knows what is going on, is with you and loves you.

Christ the King Sunday reminds us that we live in the in-between. We are between the first Advent (The birth of Jesus) and the second (his return). The new born King has come and yet we wait for His return as the grown-up King. Most of us, I suspect, prefer certainty and security to uncertainty and chaos. We like to know where our next meal is coming from, when the next train arrives, and that there is money in the bank.

We might even prefer more certainty of Jesus or hold a view of Him that is containable, manageable and fits with our view of the world. The readings this morning counter any comfortable view we might want to hold. Jesus before Pilate just before the Crucifixion and John’s vision of the return of Jesus at the second coming.

Revelation is the start of John’s visions while he was an old man exiled on the Greek island of Patmos. John knew Jesus; he was the beloved disciple, he had spent 3 years with him, following him around, listening and learning from him. John was there when Jesus was crucified, a young man probably still a teenager!

Now John is an old man, having lived a life telling people the Good News that he heard and saw when he was with Jesus. In this final event of his life, John is given the most extraordinary visions of what happens when Christ comes again. It is dramatic, it is frightening and quite frankly hard to understand. John starts with God and Jesus as he knows the grace and peace he extends to others, he knows the faithful witness of Jesus. John knows the love and freedom that comes from the forgiveness of sins. He knows what Jesus did while he was on earth for he was there.

John received a glimpse of Jesus’ coming again; the arrival on the clouds and every eye will see him. In the first coming, as a baby in the manger, it might seem easy to overlook but there will be no mistaking this King’s return.

John’s Gospel presents us with another vision of Christ the King; maybe one that we are no more comfortable with but maybe more familiar. John gives us a picture of the human Jesus stood before Pilate; tired, beaten, exhausted. Again, not a great picture of a King!

Pilate has been put into a difficult position, he is puzzled over the charges brought against Jesus but has to decide whether Jesus should be sentenced to death or not. As Pilate is trying to work this out he asks Jesus point-blank, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus gives a rather vague answer, ‘My kingdom is not from this world’.

Pilate takes this as Jesus’ admission to being a king. Pilate is probably unsure about what kind of king Jesus is meant to be and likely doesn’t care. Pilates concern is more about whether Jesus is challenging his power or not. Is this Jesus supposed to be a king in a military-style way to come in and wipe out the enemies (those being the Romans) of the Jewish people?

We know the rest of the story: this King that goes on to be crucified. Again, this is not a great or comfortable view of a King!

Both the readings this morning give us two different perspectives on Jesus and his kingship. I wonder if there is one you relate to more deeply than the other? We have the huge vision of John and the glorious return of the King. We also have a very human Jesus standing before Pilate on his way to his death. In between this, we are to prepare to again celebrate and remember the first Advent, Jesus in the manger.

It is important to our faith to understand how we see Jesus. Where do we place him? Is he the tiny baby that comes out only at Christmas for some warm and fuzzy memories? Is the cosmic Jesus a little too different, too distant? What about Jesus the man? The human ‘king’ standing before Pilate.

Christ the King Sunday gives us the opportunity to adjust our eyesight so that we can see Jesus in all his fullness. If we have diminished Him in any way we can ask for Him to expand into our lives, our relationships and our understanding of who He is. We need Him! We need Him in this church badly!

We share in his Kingship in the practical matters of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, being present with those in need. We also share in the hope of the King that is to come in all his fullness and glory; both the baby in the manger and the Son of Man who will return. The Son of Man who will descend on the clouds; who loves us and freed us from our sins and made us to be a kingdom.

Until then we have to wait and watch. Take the time to be prepared. As we stand on the cusp on another church year – which promises to be eventful – let’s look again at Christ our King.

Advent 3: Waiting in Vain?

Gaudete in Domine Semper! I love this Sunday in Advent. It is getting closer! This also brings some fear as I realize what I still have to do but also reminds me again of the waiting that is required.

Advent 3 – Year A

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:4-9
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Prayer: God for whom we watch and wait, you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son: give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice, and to suffer for the cause of right, with Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is my favourite Sunday! Rose day! Gaudete! Gaudete in Latin means ‘rejoice’. The name comes from the opening of the Mass for that day: Gaudete in Domine Semper, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’. You know that I love it because I can wear pink!

Gaudete Sunday is also a reminder that Advent is quickly passing, and that the Lord’s coming is near. The focus is turning more to the second coming than the first and there is a heightened sense of intense joy, gladness and expectation.

The Gospel readings for Gaudete Sunday always revolve around John the Baptist as the thrust of John’s ministry is the announcement that the Lord’s coming is near – in fact – nearer than you think.

I was looking back over the lectionary to see which stories of John the Baptist are used on this particular Sunday. Year B has set John 1 where John gives his testimony to the priests and Levites sent by the Jews to check him out. Year C has set Luke 3 which is the same account from last week; John chastising the ‘brood of vipers’ and calling for them to repent. Year A sets John in prison awaiting his fate.

On the face of it, none of these events provide obvious reasons to rejoice!

As a refresher, John was sent to jail by Herod. John had been attacking Herod over marrying his brother’s ex-wife which was less than appropriate. John had also been announcing that the Kingdom of God – the true kingdom was coming. Herod wasn’t the real king; God would replace him. I suspect that John was not experiencing intense joy or gladness and his expectations of getting out alive may have been low.

The four walls closing in must surely have limited his vision. So much so that John sent his disciples to Jesus with the question ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’

There are some thoughts about why John asked that question…

One suggestion is that John was disappointed. Maybe he was expecting Jesus to be a man of fire who would sweep through Israel as Elijah did and right all the wrongs. Maybe Jesus was supposed to confront Herod, topple him from his throne, become king in his palace, get John out of prison and give him a place of honour – or at least let him live.

But Jesus is not doing this – he is healing the blind and deaf, cleansing the lepers, befriending the sinners, the tax collectors, ordinary men and women and teaching them about the things of God. Maybe not doing what John wanted him to do. So maybe John is thinking ‘was I wrong?!’

The other suggestion for John’s question is that he wants to know if it is safe for him to give up – to hand the mission on. John was the one to herald the coming of God’s Messiah – how could he do that from a prison cell? Maybe he couldn’t relax until he knew whether or not he had done his job.

John’s ministry only lasted about a year – maybe John did not imagine that his purpose would be fulfilled so quickly. John is waiting (perhaps getting a little short on patience) and hoping. John is waiting to see if what he has done in the past was right; waiting in the present to see if Jesus is the one; and waiting to see if there is another yet to come.

In his waiting and hoping – John gets an answer back. And it probably wasn’t what he was expecting! What Jesus sent back could not be more different from the message that John preached. John shouted for repentance in the face of the wrath of God: he spoke of axes cutting down dead trees and unquenchable fires. Jesus speaks of mercy, healing and rejoicing. Jesus lists the great signs of the coming of the Messiah which had all been prophesied in the past.

Jesus answers John by quoting Isaiah 35 – which John would have known. It is a message all about John – the wilderness, which was John’s home will rejoice and bloom, the fearful of heart are to be comforted – John is in prison, awaiting certain death – how can he not be afraid?

I think that John knew that Jesus was the Messiah. After all – John was the baby that leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when her cousin Mary and her baby (Jesus) came to visit. John the Baptizer knew Jesus the Messiah the moment he saw him at the Jordan River. John knew in his head who Jesus really was.

But time and circumstance can dull the image of our faith perception and leave us feeling not sure what we believe.

I think John’s question had more to do with his heart than his head. John had heard about the miracles and healings Jesus was doing for others and perhaps his faith was shaken. He certainly could have used a miracle for himself – and he didn’t appear to be getting one. And sitting in that prison cell – he might have been having a little trouble knowing it with his heart. Sometimes our faith gets shaken by what we don’t get or what God didn’t do for us personally.

I spoke to an older lady a while ago. She was very honest about where she was at with faith. She told me that after her husband had died after a long period of illness; she came to the conclusion that ‘if there was a God – why did her husband suffer the way he did?’ She couldn’t believe in a God like that. Neither can I.
I don’t have a good answer for that question. There are theological or doctrinal answers that are pastorally unhelpful in these situations. Equally there are pastoral answers that deny the theological problems these situations raise.

Either way, many of us have endured long stretches of suffering, waiting and waiting for God to come through for us. And maybe in those times we have seen or heard of wondrous works He was doing elsewhere. And it hurts! It is painful! The doubts that these types of situations create are probably not coming from our heads but our hearts, our feelings, our hurts.

James also encourages us to be patient and to strengthen our hearts for the coming of the Lord is near; but this references to nearness means the second coming. This James is thought to have been the younger sibling of Jesus, the first born of Mary and Joseph. James didn’t see who Jesus was until after the resurrection. James, like Mary Magdalen, Peter and Paul, had an encounter with the Risen Jesus that completely changed him. From the few accounts there are of Jesus’ family, James would know a thing or two about grumbling against one another. James also doubted who Jesus was.

James, having missed Jesus the first time, now must wait patiently for the next time he comes, like the rest of us. He offers us the prophets as an example of those who waiting in suffering and patience, like Isaiah and John.

John was not like ‘a reed swayed by the wind’ – he was a man of conviction. He was a man of little personal vanity and had a huge commitment to God’s kingdom. James went on to lead the church in Jerusalem and he too was crucified. Neither John nor James were men to buckle under pressure! I think it is safe to have some of our own doubts – if men like that can.

Ann Garrido – (Dec 11th): Today the Church is garbed in pink – that colour of hope in the midst of darkness. We are reminded that even though daylight is difficult to come by and waiting is hard, we are not to cave in to despair but to be open to and sustained by those signs already present in the world around us that let us know that God is at work. While we have not seen the kingdom of God yet in its fullness, there are ways in which that future is breaking into our own time even now – bursts of illumination and freedom, connection and healing. Our faith does not hinge on promises still unfulfilled but on promises in the process of being fulfilled this very day.’

So from the James reading: You also must be patient, Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

And…Gaudete in Domine Semper.

Advent 2: Bear Fruit


8/12/19

Advent 2 – Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
the prophets said you would bring peace
and save your people in trouble.
Give peace in our hearts at Christmas
and show all the world God’s love.
Amen.

The second Sunday of Advent, over time, has been set aside to remember and reflect on The Prophets of the Old Testament. The focus on The Prophets gives us the opportunity to reflect on the way the Jesus’ birth was foretold in the centuries before it actually happened.

I love the season of Advent – I grew up in an evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and we were always big on Advent – wreaths at home and at church, calendars (my preference has always been for the chocolate ones)!

I also know that for myself marking Advent goes some way in keeping my cynicism towards the commercialization of Christmas low. It is very easy to complain about the stuff in the shops too early or how the Christian message gets lost today. I would argue that to some extent that Christians have let it go as has the church. If we do not prepare ourselves and examine again what it all means – then how can we possibly be the Prophets of today who can share the Good News of this season with others?

Isaiah speaks of a king who is to come and what to look out for. Paul in Romans reminds the church in Rome to remember ‘whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction’ so that the church would be one voice. John the Baptist was being prepared in the wilderness to be the voice that cries out.

The people of Israel that Isaiah is speaking to have been through the mill. The first 39 chapters of the book speak mainly of punishment and the exile of the people of Jerusalem to Babylon. Chapters 40-66 begin to speak of things turning around with messages of comfort and the end of punishment for Jerusalem. Within these two main sections there are further identifiable sections. Ch 1-12 (where we are this morning) is characterized by prophecies about Judah and Jerusalem alternating between judgement and salvation.

In both Isaiah and Romans there is mention of the ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’. This is another way of speaking about a king in the line of David – along with Isaiah 9:2-7. That king is who we believe to be Jesus.

The line of David had been devastated during the exile and many people had no hope of restoration. Isaiah is prophesying that now a new shoot will spring out of it, in the form of a Davidic king who will bring a new age of righteousness and justice for Judah. Hope is on the horizon! Isaiah’s prophesy is telling the people of Israel what kind of person to look out for and what kind of changes to see in the world. The King is coming!

The wilderness, biblically speaking, is often a place of transformation and preparation – Jesus is taken for 40 days into the wilderness at the start of his ministry, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before they reached the promised land. The wilderness is also a place of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability. Christians can often speak of having those times in the wilderness when God feels distant, it can be a time of great doubt and despair. All you can do is wait and watch for God as though your life depends on it. This doesn’t sit comfortably in the season of Christmas parties and carol singing.

John the Baptist bursts onto the scene in the opening verses/chapters of all four Gospels from the wilderness. John brings the message of hope for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. John also wants us to prepare spiritually for this coming. There are two things, according to John that we need to do.

Firstly, we need to clear a path for the Lord and secondly that path is to be straight. The original Greek word for paths here means ‘a beaten pathway’; a well-worn path, a path that has seen some use, it’s been established, walked on.

In a personal way God wants us to prepare a path to him. If you were to picture what your path to God looks like – what do you see? Is it well worn? Lightly tread?

Is our path to God straight? I know that mine sometimes is more of a meandering path – taking the long way! I vividly a sermon where a rather charismatic preacher suggested we should ‘go to the throne before we go to the phone.’ Have we made a path for Him to come and do a major and powerful work in our lives? I trust that God wants us to make a beaten pathway to Him. Go to Him over and over again – in the first instance!

We also need to clear that path of debris – this can be anything that standing in the way of God being able to work in our lives fully. There are ways that we can make a beaten path. I will suggest two that I came across from a friend’s blog reflection on preparing spiritually for Christmas.

Firstly, meditate of the fact that we need a Saviour. We all need Jesus.

Ali in her blog writes: ‘My friend recently confessed that growing up in a Christian home, she has never really understood the depth of her need for a Saviour.

Another friend, after battling addiction for years, knows and relies daily on her desperate need for a Saviour, the very giver of her sanity, health and life. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between.’

I know that I need to deepen my awareness of God in areas of my life. It is embarrassing how short my memory can be sometimes.

Secondly, engage in sober self-examination. John’s first words when he appeared from the wilderness ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ It is also no coincidence that in Matthew’s Gospel, the first line of Jesus’ first sermon is ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (4:17).

John has a serious go at the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him for baptism. ‘Bear fruit worthy of repentance’ he tells them. Maybe this is why John the Baptist never appears on any Christmas cards or Advent calendars?

My friend Ali again in her blog, ‘This does not mean checking how many moles are on your back or how many wrinkles have appeared around your eyes (though there is a time and place for this type of self-examination).

Rather, this is a deep internal examination of how we are doing spiritually. The Christian writer John Piper says, ‘Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter’. There should be time for honest self-reflection, where we invite the Holy Spirit in to show us where we need His help and healing the most.’

John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is a way of getting our paths clear and straight. I think that many of us would assign this kind of reflection to Lent and not Advent. Yet it is through John we have a gateway to the swaddled baby, fleecy lambs, singing angels and wisemen that we hold so dear at this time of year.

Confession and repentance bring a cleansing and a change of mind and heart can help us turn back to God. It can clear and straighten the path like nothing else can. It is not easy and may not seem to fit in the season of mulled wine and mince pies. They don’t taste as good as a clean heart and mind feel though. Advent and Christmas are full of wonderful activities – but they can also distract us from what is more important. Again, why I choose to mark Advent and it is hard work some days.

Repentance needs to be taken seriously. It means stopping and turning around. Is there anything you need to stop doing? We can of course ask for forgiveness for the things we do wrong – but if we don’t get serious about stopping sin – we cheapen forgiveness, it becomes worthless and meaningless. This is what John means in his demand that the Pharisees and Sadducees to ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance.’

It is a very dangerous mindset to enter into – thinking that we have license to do what we want because we can be forgiven. God will not be mocked. He also knows the desires out of hearts, He searches us out and knows what our true motivations are.

Stopping something is never easy – especially if it has become an ingrained pattern of behaviour or habit. Stopping means changing behaviour, becoming vulnerable and finding new ways of living and being. It is hard but not impossible. We have the God for whom nothing is impossible. He will help and provide.

Paul in the letter to the Romans talks about the scriptures written for our instruction (not entertainment) so that we might have hope. The God of steadfastness and encouragement is with us. Steadfast is a great and often forgotten word – it means immovable, unchangeable, firmly fixed in place. Not much in the world around us feel steadfast in these days. Thank God that we have a God who is steadfast!

In this Advent season my prayer is that you will know the hope of Jesus the Messiah as we celebrate his birth and await his return. I also pray that amidst the turkey and tinsel you find time to deepen your need for the Saviour who loves and cares for you. May you also know his love and forgiveness this season too. As uncomfortable as it might be, some serious self-examination might be in order to. Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement be with you. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.