Homily St Mary’s Marlborough, 23rd December 2018, 8am
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Micah 5.2-5a & Luke 1.39-55
We have come to the fourth Sunday of Advent. As Christmas itself is approaching, the season of preparation is coming to an end. So, maybe today is an opportunity to take stock: what difference has Advent made for us this year? What have we noticed, and how has it changed us?
Over these last few weeks, we have been accompanied by readings from the Prophets, and our Gospel readings have been speaking about judgement, asking us the question how ready we are to receive it. In those readings, we have been told how God prepared people throughout the ages to welcome the Word made flesh. Through them, we have been invited too, to see ourselves as part of the continuing story. However, now as people who are not only expecting a Messiah, but as people who have encountered the risen Christ.
It is not just people, individuals, who are prepared to receive Jesus, but history as a whole. Today we hear how Bethlehem is prophesied to become the place that will welcome God incarnate. The frequent references to times past, “whose origin is from of old, from ancient days”, and future, “from now on all generations will call me blessed”, remind us that all of history is changed by this one momentous event: the birth of God in human flesh.
And so, taking stock, is both incredibly personal, as it was for Mary to be the mother of Jesus, as well as universal, as it reminds us that we are who we are through our past, present and future. As the Prophets try to tell us, we are shaped not only by the people, the places and the times we have encountered, but also by those who went before us and those who will come after.
But, let’s move back from the vastness of history as a whole, to the question with which we started: what difference has Advent made for us this year? Although the answer will be different for each of us, I would like to suggest that for none of us it will be “nothing”. Of course, we will not all have had life-changing insights or experiences. However, given the way God works in us, even a few weeks will make a difference, although we may not always be aware of it.
It’s not an easy question, and it would not be right to put it before you, not having engaged with it myself. I think that if I would have to sum up my Advent journey this year, it is a more clear realisation that the best way, if not the only way, to respond to God’s call is to embrace where and who we are: both our gifts and limitations.
When visiting people who are ill, I cannot cure them, but I can sit with them and pray for them. When delivering stockings, I cannot take away the pain and hardship of some families, but I can tell them that someone cares. When talking to those who have been bereaved, I cannot bring a loved one back, but I can share my trust that they have somehow found their home. I cannot take any pain away, but I can try to share the burden, even for just a moment.
As I said, what it is for you will most probably be different from what it is for me. What remains the same is the process. It requires some attention, some time set apart, to become aware of where we are. So I would like to encourage you to find some still moments, to reflect on those encounters you have had over the last few weeks, and to take stock for yourselves. So that, in readiness, we can say with Mary “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”