The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      1st December 2019
Waking from Sleep, Walking in the Light
Ayla Lepine

READINGS

Isaiah 2. 1-5

[Psalm 122]

Romans 13. 11 - end

Matthew 24. 36 – 44



Isaiah tells us this morning: ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills.’ With echoes of Psalm 121’s ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills’, and the sacred status of mountains in our scriptures, there is also, in my ears and perhaps in yours too, the invitation to ‘find the life you were born to live’ and ‘climb every mountain.’ The hills are alive, rejoicing with anticipation. 


The stage is still here, but not for long. The posters are still on the railings, but not for long. I want to honour all the profound labour of so many kinds, both seen and unseen, that has brought joy to hundreds of people The performances have been a privilege for me, too, to take part as your curate and, very briefly, as your singing Abbess. Indeed, I wrote part of this sermon sitting backstage in a handmade sturdily velcroe’d wimple, with thanks to Chris Money’s sewing and sticking skills, during Act 1 yesterday. Maria’s yodelling in the Lonely Goatherd was in the background as I thought about how we might encourage each other to remember the Patriarchs, the Prophets, John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. One way is with the family Advent Challenge Maureen has made. It’s magnetised. Stick it on your fridge. Use it to think about God’s family and ours; what prophetic voices we hear today; those who share the word of God and how we could be inspired by John the Baptist to speak about Jesus boldly; and the women who become mothers to children all over the world each day.


Search for the Lord, we are told. Wait for the Lord. And if you’d like to read the Bible during Advent as a way of deepening your connection with our sacred story, read Isaiah. Written centuries before the birth of Jesus, it is a text we share as people of God. In Isaiah, God asks his people: ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?’


In Bach’s beautiful setting, we’ve just heard this passage between the Gospel and Sermon:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. Anyone that hears My voice and opens the door, to him I will enter and keep the evening meal with him and he with Me. (Rev. 3:20)


This verse about opening the door to God, and it comes within Revelation’s letter to the Church in Laodecia. This community has serious problems. They’re described as apathetic and without passion, a group that needs to be woken up by persistent knocking. The one who knocks says to them: ‘All whom I love I reprove and chasten, so be zealous and repent.’ This is the tough love of the God who adores us and calls our restless hearts home. But when?


The Lord’s house, the mountain of God, will draw all, Isaiah tells us. And this future tense is our first clue to the character of Advent. God will do something, and we are invited, in wonder and in awe, to confront what this new thing is, and how it changes everything, utterly, forever. There are many ways that the Church is encouraging us to watch and wait. Here in Hampstead, the Advent Lessons and Carols this evening takes us from darkness to light and gives us a glowing radiance we carry forward towards the great moment of Christmas. Advent calendars – and I would recommend to you, as I did to the Year 5s at Hampstead Parochial recently – that ones that both contain chocolate and tell the story of Christ’s birth are the ones you want! We wouldn’t, I hope, open every door and eat 24 chocolates as fast as possible, even if that sounds like a great idea. One at a time. Wait.


Every Sunday we light the candles, one by one, waiting for the Incarnation of God in Jesus to fulfil what the patriarchs, the prophets, and John the Baptist promised. The final candle before Christmas is for the Virgin Mary, whose own wonder and devotion led to her assent to bear the Saviour of the World, the Creator and source of Life and Love, in her own body. In theological terms, throughout Advent, Mary is heavily pregnant, nourishing the tiniest human life and anticipating the birth of Salvation itself.


We are, in these short November days, in the dark, though we already have the light of Christ within us. We are waiting, and that can be hard. Culturally, our Christmas season gets longer and longer, intermingling with Advent, trailing through November, with tinsel and reindeer overtaking the Hallowe’en treats as swiftly as commercially feasible. Buying Christmas presents on Black Friday and feeling glad that you’ve got a bargain and found some great gifts is in a different category of preparation from the preparation Advent asks of us. 


Advent waiting is more like the holy quality of abiding. We have a chance in these profound weeks to strip away the layers of darkness – and we all have them – that keep the sacred Light at a distance, and that stop us from opening the door to God.


Advent is expectant, future tense, and at once fierce in the promise of salvation and tender in the telling of our shared stories of hope.


‘Now is the time to awake from sleep,’ says Paul those who followed Jesus in Rome.


‘You must be ready at an unexpected hour,’ says Jesus.


Isaiah’s vision of eternal peace, of the swords transformed into ploughshares, summons the “house of Jacob” to “walk in the light of the Lord." This is the hope we search for as we learn to walk in our darkness by becoming more deeply aware of the light within, and the Light to come. This story of light goes right back to the first pages of the Bible in Genesis, when God says ‘Let there be light’. And the world is radiant. In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not extinguish it or comprehend it. Again in the Annunciation, God says to Mary, ‘let there be light.’ And she sings of the glory of God in the Magnificat. In the Resurrection, the culmination of our salvation, God says ‘Let there be light.’ And there is eternal life offered to all.


Jesus, our Redeemer, our Emmanuel, come. Be our light. And today, throughout these Advent weeks, strip away our many forms of shadowy darkness. Allow the flow of grace to touch our hearts as we prepare, one day at a time, to meet You in Bethlehem. Amen.

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