St Bride's: Sermons

Crisis, what crisis?

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Judith Bliss, played by Marie Tempest, with her two children in the original 1925 production of Hay Fever

I don't know whether you have ever seen Noel Coward's play 'Hay Fever', a splendid farce about a weekend house-party, the self-centred family who host it and the poor house-guests who have to put up with their eccentricities. In it there is a scene in which David and Judith Bliss supposedly, and with great drama, agree to split up "This is a crisis in our lives," says David to Judith "and you have behaved magnificently". It is a moment full of Coward's ironic humour, because it's not a crisis in their lives and Judith has actually behaved ludicrously. So crisis, but no crisis.

Advent Sunday is supposedly a crisis moment in the Church's Year, inaugurating the season when we prepare for the second coming and yet on the whole you will not see groups of Christians gathered in expectant huddles waiting for the end of the world and the coming in of God's Kingdom. Crisis, but no crisis.

And yet in two very important respects this Advent season is a critical time. We live in a world that is facing crises of numerous kinds. There is the environmental crisis, a real sense that time is running out for our world if we don't take momentous decisions now about CO2 emissions, saving rainforests, shrinking our carbon footprint etc, and the Copenagen summit at the beginning of December. There is the global economic crisis and all the decisions we face about a sustainable future, about jobs, about pensions, about retrenchment and simpler living. There is the crisis of extremism and the ever present threat of terrorist activity by fundamental groups opposed to Western culture and values: the clash of cultures. These are the crises of our times which we ignore at our peril.

And then, secondly Advent is a critical time because it reminds us that we are not solely dependent on national or international politics and finance for our ultimate well-being. Advent Sunday is the day when the church recalls how, at a critical point in human history, God's arrival was missed completely by religious leaders, the professors of theology the most pious worshippers, even the Sunday papers. God entered a world that was unprepared and unconcerned, which had other matters on its agenda.

They were looking for the wrong sort of person and in the wrong sort of places. They were looking for a King and God came as a baby: they were looking for a palace and God chose a stable: they expected him to be announced with fanfares, and all they got were a few shepherds and some strangers from the East. And when the baby grew up into a man he didn't do anything which seemed remotely like the conventional Messiah whom they expected.

Today in these critical times I believe we can see the hand of God at work in the warnings given us by climate change, the economic recession and international power politics. So we are right to focus on them and try to discern the hand of God in these events.

But Advent also tells us that if we look around our world, our society, our city, our church, we can already see the presence of Christ, especially in those who are weak and disadvantaged, in those who are sick or in need, in the old, in the children and babies. In the most unlikely and unexpected places as well as in the most obvious, we can meet Christ, and see his face.

That means that we meet Christ every day, hear his voice and see his face. Do we believe that? How do we react? If the events in the world make us fearful, expectant, watchful and hopeful, are we equally expectant that today, this week, we shall meet Christ and be able to respond to him and serve him?

Our Gospel reminds us not to make the same mistake as the religious leaders of 1st Century Palestine, and be so busy looking for a King or a solution to the international political situation that we miss the Christ on our doorstep.

In our vulnerability, in the small things as well as big, in homely circumstances as well as at macro level, let us always be aware of God's presence with us, and be ready to respond with an open heart.

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