Philippians 1: 3-11 and Luke 3: 1-18.
Advent is a strange time. It is about getting ready to celebrate Christmas – but that preparation doesn’t mean all the stuff we all think we have to do – cards & presents & food and all that. It means reflecting on what it really means to say that God is with us in Jesus Christ and asking what difference it makes in our lives.
Last week's Advent 1 readings were about warnings of the End Times - a reminder that God is in charge of human history, and that the coming of Jesus is part of a larger plan. Advent has a timeless quality, in that it relates to then (the birth of Christ), now (our preparations) and what is to come (God's unfolding plan & eventual kingdom in its fulness). We can’t celebrate Advent and not ask ‘what difference is it making to us here and now? What new things is God going to do this Christmastime?’
Luke's gospel today tells us of the coming of John the Baptist. Here’s an odd bit of the Christmas story – a bit that never finds its way into our Christmas cards.
John the Baptist comes to prepare the way for Jesus and tells people to repent: to turn around, to change their ways. He is full of the news that God is coming – but he is also clear that people need to be ready, prepared, new people ready to receive God’s gift of Jesus Christ and ready to respond to that gift in the way they live their lives.
John the Baptist is about as far as he can be from the cuddly cute message of our time, that Christmas is a ‘magical time’, which we should all enjoy by lighting candle and sitting back in the warm glow.
John the Baptist says ‘prepare the way of the Lord …Bear fruits worthy of repentance….Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’
John tells people that they must repent, change their ways, be ready for God’s coming among them. This is a refreshing change from the syrupy message of much of the Christmas hype. The adverts tell us Christmas is about sharing, about families, about spending money. That Christmas is a time for gladness and joy is of course right - but it is also a time for reflection, change, challenge.
But before you start labeling me as a Scrooge, or a kill-joy, let me say clearly that this is still Good News.
Through John the Baptist God tells us to change our ways – to be more tuned in to what God is doing and is going to do in the world, and not so cluttered up with all the other things life tells us are important.
Simplicity, reflection, being ready to receive from God, all these things are Good News.
Because the Good news is that God came, and is coming, and will come to us. He will come to help us to change, to make us new, to bathe us in light and love and joy just as surely as John the Baptist baptized people in the Jordan.
If we will only try to be ready for God, he will come into our hearts and our lives and make us new.
Did you wonder why Luke begins this third chapter with all this stuff about who was king and governor where and when? He wants his readers to see where they fit into all that has happened. He wants them to know that God came to their place and their time when Pontius Pilate (oh yes, we remember him!) was the governor of Judea.
God isn’t just floating around in a vague sort of way. God became flesh and came to that place and that time and people had to be ready to look and see and accept and rejoice.
God will come and God will make a difference.
The Philippians reading talks about the difference God makes. It is a very positive outpouring of appreciation for the good news the church at Philippi have proclaimed. Paul is clear that it is God’s love which has made them such good and generous people and God’s love that will make them even more people of God’s kingdom than they are already.
So if you think Christmas is old hat – you’ve seen and done it all before: be ready to repent, to change. Be ready to see God come to you in new ways this Christmas.
If you think Christmas is all about being busy and spending too much money – and if that either makes you over-excited or very depressed – be ready to repent, to change. Be ready to see that celebration is good and can help us remember that we are blessed with the Good News of God’s presence.
If you think the church has nothing new to offer people in our technological world – that we should just let Coca Cola & John Lewis take over it all – be ready to repent, to change. Be ready to tell people the most astonishing and relevant story – of the God who comes to us – as one of us – to bless us and change us.
Be ready to receive God’s presence.
Take this bread and wine and as you hold it and eat it & drink it, know that it comes as God’s gift to you. Let God’s presence enter you, and see what change God can bring.
In Jesus’ name