Joy and Fire: Two Advent Reflections
This advent has been a case of overstimulation thanks to inspiration from sermons by Ben Myers and Rowan Williams. Some of you will recognise their thoughts in last Sunday’s sermon below
Reading 1: Luke 1: 39-56 Joy
We all know what happens when teenagers get pregnant. The first reaction is not usually happiness …
In biblical times getting pregnant was a source of great joy…. the bible is full of stories of women who desperately wanted to have children. It’s quite a significant theme really (Hannah, Sarah, Elizabeth…).
But if you’re an unmarried teenager and get pregnant you are in big trouble.
Christmas is about a poor Jewish pregnant teenager… a nobody… who gets pregnant and is overcome by joy and in her mouth we have one of the most famous songs of joy ever written. Magnificat! My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.
If anyone had cause to be anxious about her situation it is Mary. And yet for her, it no longer mattered what other people think about her, for God has looked at her, the bible says, and she has found favour with God.
God has looked at her… and as a result a new kingdom is coming, a new realm is being born in her womb… a realm in which the lowly people, the pregnant teenagers, the people on the bottom of the feeding chain will lifted up and the powerful will be brought down to earth, those out of touch with their own neediness, their own earthiness, will be brought down to earth (the political revolution is also the environmental revolution).
The story is bursting with joy… the baby in Elizabeth jumps for joy (it’s a kind of cute detail to the story…) as if all creation rejoicing in this act of God in Mary, for Mary, through Mary
And part of the joy is that what God is doing with Mary is intimately bound up with the hopes of her people, her lowly people, held under the iron fist of Roman tyranny. Mary is not alone in her lowliness and in her hopes. She carries in her the hopes of her people, her whanau
Let’s sing a song of Joy – Te Harinui means good news of great joy
Luke 3: 7-18 Fire
Imagine if you grew up without being touched, without being spoken to ever. You would never learn to speak. You would never learn to love. You wouldn’t belong anywhere. You wouldn’t know if anyone loved you. You would never be judged, so you would never learn to judge. You would lack a sense of what it meant to act rightly or wrongly. It’s a horrible idea isn’t it?
To be human, not just homo sapien, is to be dependent on others. Each of us is a product of the human race. We are touched and spoken into being human.
Imagine if the human race as a whole lost all memory of being touched and spoken to. Imagine if the human race as a whole decided to do all the touching and speaking itself. Imagine if we decided to erase from our consciousness all thought of a God who speaks to us and touches us. Imagine if we decided that growing up as a human race, meant cutting ourselves off from the source of our life. We probably would struggle to do it, but we’d give it a good go. We are giving it a go.
The problem is that this experiment finds us haunted more than ever before by our sense of moral responsibility. Who will absolve us from guilt, who will deal with the memory of the holocaust? (closer to home) Who will absolve us of the guilt of colonialism? (doing marginally better than Australia doesn’t really cut the mustard on this)
We want to be a self-made society and yet we are constantly anxious about ourselves and our moral life – of the making of holocaust movies there is no end.
In a recent sermon Rowan Williams suggests that the paradox of human life lies in this… alongside the desire to be a self-made human race, lies a deep anxiety about our selves and our moral life – deep down in fact, we long to be spoken to from outside all our projects, to be considered worthy of being judged.
We want to invent ourselves. And yet our moral anxieties suggest there might be more to life than that… we secretly want to be addressed by someone above and beyond us, something that is not merely a creation of our hopes and imaginations – an idol – like a golden statue we worship and imbue with a great sense of importance and pretend that it isn’t merely a product of our own desires. Just as individual children are spoken and touched into being… so as a human race we long to be spoken to and touched.
John the Baptist tells us of ‘one who comes after him’ who will not just dip people in water to baptise them but will come with the Spirit of God and with fire… a Jesus who will bring a pitchfork to sort out the wheat in the granary and burn up the rubbish. …
Mary speaks of Joy. John the Baptist tells of fire. Mary speaks of our hope to be spoken to and set free. John speaks of our need to be judged.
Advent turns our attention to events and actions, a newness that enters history with a human face and life. Advent turns our attention to a God who goes beyond all our ideas and idols by taking us on in person – the surprisingly new person. We have been and continue to be spoken to. We have been and continue to be judged. When we crucified this baby, we were judged. When we crucify this man, we are judged. And when God gives him back to us in resurrection we are forgiven.
Our deeper desire, our deeper hunger is met. We are spoken to and touched into being. At advent we do something very unusual we wait (the last thing a consumer society wants us to do is wait, before our desires are satisfied) … we wait, not only for God to satisfy our desire, but to purify them, to burn through them, to transform our imagination with the total love that we see in the face of Jesus.