Sunday, 14 December 2008

Advent III

This morning I had the joy of going to the Church of St Barnabas in Tunbridge Wells. I was invited by the fellow blogger and dear friend Fr Tomlinson to preach and concelebrate with him. The warm welcome of Fr Tomlinson and his parishioners was much appreciated. Thanks to for Fr Mark for holding the fort here while I was at Tunbridge Wells. Fr Tomlinson's parish is alive and thriving, do visit his website and his blog.
Here is the sermon I preached:
Today the Church tells us that Salvation is near at hand. Yet it doesn’t feel like it. During this holy time of Advent we take time to evaluate where we are in our journey as Christians, we take time to see how we are living the joyful hope entrusted to us; we take time to prepare our hearts to be both a manger and a throne on Christmas day. As we take time to get ready we find that there are areas in our life that need sorting and that living as a Christian in this world is not as easy, as Newman said we feel “amid the encircling gloom”. Today the Church encourages us and that is why we break the purple of Advent and go to rose colour, the colour in between purple and white. The Church tells us that we are not on our own, that coming of Jesus the only and true light of the world is near. That Grace is at hand to dispel all gloom.
Today the Church gives us a model to enable us to learn how to prepare with joy to receive Jesus afresh in our lives. This model is the glorious St John the Baptist. If I can liken John the Baptist to anything, I liken him to a sign. He is a sign that constantly points towards Jesus.
John the Baptist is a sign that stands out. Every representation of St John the Baptist presents him in his camel hair suit. He lived rough in the desert, ate an unorthodox menu and appeared regularly on the high street, loudly denouncing the misbehaviour of his king. What do we make of him? Is he mad? Is he a reed that is shaken by every wind? Jesus tells us that there is more to John than meets the eye. John is the new Elijah. Elijah is that prophet consumed by the love of God and is full of zeal for God even when he is the last one left to witness for him.
John lives in the desert. The desert is a place of death, a place were demons were believed to live. John goes in the desert to face his demons. He does not run away from them or make pathetic excuses. So through John we already learn to ask ourselves: What are my demons? Is it pride, lust, anger, greed or something else? Am I facing my demons or am I running away or making pathetic excuses? Advent must be the good time in which we see where we are in our spiritual journey, take stock and like John the Baptist go in the wilderness of our heart in prayer so that the light of Christ will dispel all darkness that we have allowed to grow within us.
There is more. The diet of John the Baptist and his clothes show a deep freedom. They point to a detachment from this world and its values. Sadly, sometimes we allow ourselves to be slaves of conformity. How do I blend in, the latest clothes or fashion, the latest style of words or jargon…John was free from all this. He lived his life in the freedom of God rather than the dictates of society. John was free and so he was not ready to compromise. What about us? How free are we? How much are we ready to compromise? Facing our demons and living in integrity, a lot to reflect on during what is left of this Advent.
John the Baptist is a sign, a sign that points directly to Jesus. A famous saying of John that I think we might want to keep in mind is: “I must decrease and He (Jesus) must increase”. This is a motto for the Christian life. How much are we living our life in a way that Jesus may increase in my life and in the lives of those around me? Or am I constantly negotiating with that temptation that wants to put me in the centre of all?
John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus. He did this by his penance and by holding the truth at all costs. Penance and truth.
Penance. This is not a familiar term today. It is not popular. But we forget or push aside the concept of penance at our own peril. In our spiritual struggle against the forces of evil, penance is our only source of energy. I am sure that no one of us is called to exercise penance like John did, but there are other ways of doing penance. Let us try penance by doing properly the daily small and insignificant tasks; by doing that chore at home that we really do not like to do; by not saying that unkind word. These small things will lead us to eventually bend our selfish will to the Will of God. Living our Christian commitment to the full is the most pleasing penance in the eyes of God.
Truth. Sometimes to calm the screams of our conscience or to please people we hide truth or even twist it. John the Baptist shows us that following Jesus means calling a spade a spade. We do not speak to win human favours or approval, God is truth and truth we must reflect and proclaim - truth and only truth sets us free. If we live a life of lies we find ourselves shackled by them; and some day we will be found out. John was not afraid of proclaiming the truth, the price he had to pay was very high, his own life, but Jesus said he who losses his life will gain it. Living in fear of damaging our reputation or in any kind of fear is the worst enemy of living a healthy spiritual life. Being afraid is a very great sin indeed. John today urges us not to be afraid.
On this third Sunday of Advent as we rejoice that the light is near at hand let us listen to the voice of the Baptist as the Word draws near. Today St John the Baptist tells us: “Do not be afraid; live in penitence and in truth. This is the only way that leads to Jesus. Do not be afraid, a little bit more and you also will reach the warmth and the unending joy that starts at that holy stable. Look up: Salvation is at hand”.

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