Advent Sunday – Year B 2017

ADVENT SUNDAY

YEAR B

2017

 

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Mark 13:24-37

 

‘Eyes to See, Ears to Hear – Where and When we Are’

 

The other day, I was sat under the St John’s Oak, when I was joined by a male blackbird. He danced around on the lawn and continually chirruped – it took me several minutes for me to work out that he was talking to me 🙂

 

Now I realise that rumours of my insanity abound, but . . . when I was in England in June, I spent a day deep in the Devon woods learning about the five bird languages, the five different songs each bird has. The Blackbird’s chirrup, to which I was listening, and watching as his ruff bobbed up and down, was his ‘Contact’ call. That is the song the bird uses to establish if there are any of its own around.

 

Well the blackbird – looking at me with his beady eye – hopped closer and closer, until working out what he was doing, I replied. He didn’t recognise my feeble attempt at its contact call – and turned to the characteristic ‘Alarm’ Language as first he flew off, but then other birds in the vicinity, warned by his panic scattered, and for a few moments the air was thick with these alarm calls spreading as far as the ear could hear.

 

If you start to learn bird languages – Almost always, the first you would know would be the alarm language, for we pay little attention to the birds, far far less than they pay to us. Thus as we begin to learn to listen, we are still insensitive to your place in the scheme of things – we don’t know how to behave amongst birds and by default they are terrified of us. Bird watching may be a hobby for a few, but even then most of the time we pay them no heed, getting on with what we deludedly call ‘our own lives’, as if our lives had nothing to do with theirs. So we don’t live amongst them with gentleness and sensitivity – and they Flee! For we have no Sense of Where we are – of how We fit into Creation . . .

 

This is must be said is a particularly Modern failing – our Culture has very little or noo sense of our place in the scheme of things, how to live within the Creation. We may be able to give a detached ‘scientific account of it, but we do not Sense it, we do not truly Know it.

We have so much power, moreso in this age than in any other, and have used that power to separate ourselves from the wider Creation. Thus we live as an increasingly angry bull in a shop of the most delicate china. We have exacerbated this, even amongst ourselves, by dismantling so many structures and ways of living together, a sort of scorched earth policy for human existence. And all this is made worse as we have become almost an entirely Urban species, in practise if not always in location. Our sphere of the senses all but entirely taken up with human artefacts –  only seeing ourselves reflected back to ourselves. At every turn a humanly constructed environment, disconnected from The Creation, living in increasingly angry echo chamber of anti social-media. Place in Creation? – its for the birds . . . And so we are ‘homeless’

Unlike the Birds We have little or no sense of our Place in the scheme of things. Of who we are, of where we are in Place and in Time . . . Where are we? What Time is it?

 

Yet our Mother the Church in her Wisdom gives us a Place and a Time. And the Time is the beginning of our Year, Advent. This Time I given for Slowness. It is the beginning of the Year – we are called to Awaken – a time for Waking to Awareness – a time for Contemplation. This is the beginning of the Church Year and we should, despite every temptation not to, take time to Wake up to where and When we are, that we might Sense Where and When we are.

 

And indeed we Can do this. We have been given the capacity to See, to Hear, to Read the signs of the times. Jesus would not ask us to do something which he had not empowered us to do.

Last week you may remember our brother St Paul spoke to us of his prayer; that a spirit of wisdom and revelation be given us as we come to know the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory  [Eph 1:17-18] Coming to know God in Jesus Christ is the key to Seeing, to Hearing, the Key to all Knowledge and All Understanding. Knowing God in Jesus we have made Known to us who we are and where we are. Apart from knowing Him, this knowledge is hidden from us. He is the Door which allows in the light of the knowledge of all things in heaven and earth

 

 

And so as Paul opens his first letter to the Church in Corinth he does so with a reminder of our Capacity for Understanding Where and Who we are.

 

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

When we speak of reading the signs of the times – like a home owner who commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch – as Jesus says he has already told us all these things – Paul says we have been given the necessary gifts to discern as we spend time in prayer before God, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened. If these words of Jesus sound strange to our ears, perhaps it is because our spiritual senses and gifts have atrophied, as we have ignored the sense of our place in the scheme of things. And the Times . .

 

Of which there are strong echoes of our times in the words of Jesus

 

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

 

Words which speak powerfully of disorder on the Cosmic Level – affecting Everything. And what do we see around us but the collapse of the created order, and with it, woven through it, for we do have a place whether we recognize it or no, the collapse of social orders and structures. And, yet insulated by our Modern lives, Do we Truly see? After all, if we cannot walk down the drive of the Church – if indeed we do walk anywhere! – and Know our place in it within the Creation, how our lives relate and impact on all living things even at the most basic level of our relationship with the local birdlife, then how do we think we can read the signs of the times?

 

Note how Jesus so often uses the wider created order as a metaphor – consider: the lilies; the mustard seed; weeds and wheat; indeed even the humble sparrow – to whom I will return. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

 

For too long perhaps we have now lost sense of how the spiritual and the material participate in each other – this is of course the heart of our faith, that heaven and Earth are woven together in Christ Jesus – this weaving together is ‘the message of Christmas’ for which Advent is our time of preparation. Losing that sense we think Jesus is engaged in a simple metaphor, as if there were no connection except in our minds – whereas for his listeners, they had a far deeper appreciation of that woven togetherness – that the Creation told a story of Spiritual significance – for it is the Temple of the living God, the Home of God, from which in a sense he has gone away for a time . . .

Finding our place in Creation is finding our place where the material and Spiritual are woven together, inseparable  . . . it is to find our Home

 

So disconnected are we, that I wonder what Jesus might be saying to us, to get us to Wake Up!

 

As he said to Nicodemus, If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? If we do not know our place within the material order of things, and it is woven into the spiritual order in Christ, how can we know our place in the Spiritual order??

 

Well, briefly let’s try – and in our imagination sit a few yards away, under the oak. And thereof we have eyes to see – we see several things.

It is strained – the building of the Rest home dropped the water table – and it is out of place, an English oak growing in alien soil, the weather too warm and dry for it – see the black fungus which decks its twigs – read the signs. We Moderns think little of place and how vital it is to health and move things around, yet everything that was given in Creation was given in a place – it thrives in its native soil – even Vicars :-). None of us are the same wherever we are – where we are is so important in the story of who we are. As humans we cannot just ‘go where we like when we like’ without doing harm to our very existence. We need roots because we need water. The roots of the Oak are wounded and yet it bleeds sap through its leaves at an alarming rate – it cannot keep on at this speed – What does it speak to us?? Out of place and hurried – a ‘metaphor’ for our Modern world – Accelerated we live in a culture of faster and harder and More . . . like the oak we will not see out our full span of years at this rate.

and perhaps for Now, for Advent? Are we Slow, Do we Know where we are?

 

 

Advent is a Gift given to us – a season in which we might yet step back, to pray, to watch to pray for the renewal of the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation, of knowledge and understanding.

 

We cannot do this without Seeing the Creation, not purely as Scenery and Views, but Knowing ourselves to be woven into it – our place in it – What it Really is, and who we Really are – like the prodigal – consider, come to our senses. Use the Eyes to See and Ears to hear we have been given – heaven and Earth woven together. Advent is preparation for The Feast of the Incarnation – the woven-ness of all things – if we do not See in Advent, how will we See Christmas?

 

The Creation – It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch – we get so so tied up with the ‘how’ of Creation – Creationists vs Evolutionists, that we completely miss the point. What Has God made?

 

A place, The Place God chooses to make a Home for Himself – The Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us . . . and leaves us to watch over it

 

I close with that doorkeeper, on the watch.

Consider the birds of the air . . . If you are at all attentive to the birds, you will know the Sentinel bird which keeps watch here. No it is not the mighty eagle of St John the Evangelist – it is the humble sparrow who nests in the adjacent beech and from the early hours, sits on the corner of the roof of our house. His call is a contact call and also what we might call background song – the humble sparrow hasn’t a wide vocal range 🙂 but that call is nearly incessant, indeed if you pay too close attention to it it can drive you nearly mad 🙂 He is the Sentinel. He watched the whole patch. Usually he is the first to see a cat.  He is often the first to spread the alarm call as his cheep quickens and gets a little higher ion pitch. He knows his place. He is alert to what is going on around him . . . He reads the sign of the times . . . and others around him pay attention. We are Called by Jesus to be watchkeepers on God’s House, His home

 

Jesus says we are worth more than many sparrows. This advent, let us not be too proud to learn from Him [Let the reader understand]

 

Amen