Gaudete – Rejoice. You brood of vipers? Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Do these go together? They ought to! As the French Foreign minister struck his gavel to mark the agreement of the deal on climate change, he could have cited Luke ch3 as he sent the delegates home. A deal to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C has been agreed at the climate change summit in Paris after two weeks of negotiations. The message to the nations who gathered, perhaps we might like to think them akin to a brood of vipers, fleeing from the wrath to come. In ready repentance of past actions of countries towards the environment – they are told: ‘Bear fruits worthy of your repentance.’ As they are sent out, the words of John the Baptist are most appropriate: A message to everyone. ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ There are resources enough for all on this world, IF. Ah yes, the all important word: IF. If the nations live up to their promises. This agreement indicates a glimmer of hope for a positive response to that IF. If Tax collectors, government officials, bankers, lenders of money to developing nations ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ IF those in power, in all nations ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, being satisfied with your wages.’ Then they might bear fruit worth of their repentance. So, Rejoice this third Sunday of Advent. Rejoice with John the Baptist, who himself seems as mad as a bag of snakes, but at least a bag of snakes knows what it is. Why go out into the desert at all to hear this strange fool in sack cloth eating wild food? Gaudete – Rejoice, embrace the darkness. Embrace who we are and from where we have come. Dark times are times of struggle and pain, advent-times of preparation. Don’t deny what causes us to despair, but choose to rejoice despite it. That is in essence what the nations have signed up to in Paris. Agreeing there is a problem worthy of a solution, and agreeing to do something about it. Embrace the darkness. Use the times and places where we find it hardest to see the light to begin again. Recognise that we are broken, individually and as a nation and choose to rejoice despite our issues and problems and our own darkness. Return to our lives, live them in truth, and in generosity and without hate in our hearts and bear fruits worthy of repentance. Are we running out of energy this advent? Then today Gaudete Sunday is for you! Rejoice, despite the darkness. Are we finding it tough? Not least with the continual rain pouring down upon us? Rejoice! Does it sound like the wrong thing to do? When we talk of embracing the dark places in our lives, we might feel like we are being drowned by them. Perhaps quite literally for some, and even in this nation, let alone those on small islands preparing to leave their whole life and home behind. But still comes the cry: Rejoice. Is this agreement in Paris ‘The One’ to save us? Was John the Baptist the Messiah? John pointed to the one to come whose winnowing fork was in his hand whose like the people had never seen before and whose message would blow their world apart. One who would gather the wheat and burn the chaff. I’m sorry, this was the good news? I thought we were to be Rejoicing? We may have an agreement in Paris at COP21 on the eve of Gaudete Sunday, and there is much to rejoice in. But for each of those baptismal promises must come our response: What then are we to do? Asks the crowd: Go home, says John. But, go home with a new spirit of generosity towards your neighbour. Go with peace and with justice on your heart and in your hand. Go recognising your interdependence with one another. Go rejoicing that you too have been to a dark place and have recognised yourself and can now stand to bear the fruits of that repentance. As we watch and wait for Jesus this advent, we are reminded of the simplicity of his message by John who went out before him to prepare his way. Before we recognise the Christ in the baby Jesus this Christmas, we need first to recognise ourselves and be prepared to face the darkness that we might find. Then knowing our own brokenness we can come to the stable and rejoice.
This box came from Bedwellty, a Parish in South Wales as part of the Church in Wales The Time is Now conference. So as I’m speaking it will come around and you can help yourself to a simple gift from St. Nicholas.
It was doomed to end in violence, but either they didn’t care or they were too short sighted to see it coming. Clearly there were going to be problems from the start. You put 10 top of the range flat screen TVs on sale and expect an orderly queue? DUH! One of the most mis-quoted passages from the bible is amongst our readings this morning: That money is the root of all evil – no, Love of money! The Black Friday phenomenon that reared its ugly head again this year and can be neatly attributed to America – but I catch myself as I say, that’s not really fair as it has always been as much a part of their tradition as Boxing Day sales have been British. Though it was the US corporations who began offering ‘Black Friday’ deals a few years ago over here. Retail giants, eager to get going on the Christmas spending spree are encouraging the spending to start a week or so earlier than before. How much can we squeeze out of already stretched families still feeling the pinch from the financial crisis. So the solution it seems is to encourage us all to spend even more? Don’t they know what caused the crash in the first place – of course they do! As our disgust at the behaviour of some of the shops and shoppers diminishes it leaves us wondering why?. Why do we behave in such ways, surely human nature is not built for this? Does it perhaps reflect a culture which says we must have this or that and without it we are nothing? Does it simply reflect that fact that there is less money around so a bargain must be had at all costs, even if we don’t really need it! Perhaps it is both. They say that Black Friday was followed by ‘Take it back Saturday’, then Cyber Monday – keep the pace of spending going. I decided to try ‘Buy Nothing Friday’ which worked well until the last moment when I was forced to buy two coffees and a hot chocolate, and they were full price. The hype, the drama, the thrill of the chase for the last cheap deal before what? Doing it all again after a few days break? Probably. And the church leaders wonder why churches are emptier than before, that folk would rather be at the sales or the supermarket enthralled with the thrill of the shopping experience. You arrive at the checkout – give over your loyalty card and pay the cashier your confession fee as your needs and wants (or goods as we like to call them) are loaded back into the trolley. The priests of the supermarket handing you absolution with a knowing wink along with your receipt. You saved yourself today. £3.62 and earned loyalty points on top – have a nice day and come back soon. In the midst of it all look at Jesus. Yes look at Jesus. In the midst of it all here stands Jesus with his arms out, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” And there is no price tag or catch or queue or limit. The antithesis of all the shopping, gift buying and financial malarkey is the love that never runs out the gift that never grows old, the day that never dies away. St. Nicholas was known for giving gifts and slowly over time and culture became our Santa Claus. But the gifts that Bishop Nicholas gave were life giving. Gifts of freedom, of charity. Gifts given in love for the people, given in the knowledge that Jesus calls us all into his arms as children are called to enter into the kingdom with the joy of the simplest gift given in love. No price tag, no disorderly queues, no fancy offers, no two for ones or buy two get one twice the price. In the spirit of St. Nicholas enjoy a simple pleasure of a simple gift as we contemplate and wait this advent for the one who St. Nicholas always pointed towards, the greatest gift of all.
It is most odd to me that many people often say, ‘O vicar, this is your Busy Time’. As if I have the rest of the year off. The more enlightened might mention something about Easter as well. I’ve never come up with a suitable retort and have resigned myself to the benign ‘yes there is a lot to do’. Or perhaps the more risqué ‘it is the Silly Season’. Then there is the last straw answer – ‘Well people only seem to want two things at this time of year, Beer and God, too much of either is a bad thing’. As I look around at others this year I find myself bemused at this suggestion that it is my busy time. Everyone is busy!! And most people are busier than I am. I’ve always been relatively laid back – some might say horizontal at times. But I do find myself stepping back from the mad rush towards the 25th December. It is of course still Advent, that strange period of time before Christmas through which many want to rush headlong towards the day itself. A time for preparation – but also a time for fasting before the feast, for repentance and reflection. A time to make ready for Christmas and to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ. What then does it mean to be ‘prepared’ for Christmas? Advent is ultimately a time for reflection on the past and the yet to come, so Dickens’ a Christmas Carol should really be renamed an Advent Carol. To be prepared perhaps like the five wise bridesmaids who trimmed their lamps. It might be useful to think about exactly what it is we are preparing for this Christmas, and the key question rather than how should I prepare for Christmas is: ‘What is Christmas preparing us for?’ In preparation therefore this Advent for Christmas: A list.
Listening to endless replays of 70’s classics, or not so classic songs e.g. Slade, The Pogues
There are many trials and tribulations along any journey to be endured
Shopping for gifts, the waiting and frustration. Queue’s at the checkout.
The more adventurous we are on our journey, the more we appreciate the destination. We didn’t expect a journey in the company of Jesus to be an easy ride?
Writing and Sending Cards
Don’t loose touch with those dear to us – just because they are out of sight…
The Advent Calendar and Advent Wreath
Looking forward, looking backward, reflecting on where we have been and where we are going. Waiting in patience is a virtue not to be underestimated.
School Nativity Play(s), Pantomime, TV, Entertainment – The Christmas Film – Carol Services.
We are all story tellers, whether we think we are or not, the stories we tell help us to understand who we are.
The all important Food. The turkey or Goose, Mulled Wine and Mince Pies
When we prepare food for others, we entertain Angels unaware.
Tidy the house for guests
Putting our mind in order is important to, spiritually we often need to ‘tidy up’.
Are we ready though, this Christmas to receive the ultimate gift?
So busy time or not?, maybe it should be, busy preparing for what Christmas brings home to us each year – the kingdom. As the T-Shirt says: Look busy, Jesus is coming