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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


30th November 2003

Fr David Shepherd

Advent Sunday

'From the fig tree learn its lesson.' Mark 13.

Jesus seems to have been a great observer of the natural world, of agriculture and of animal husbandry. What he noted, he used to illustrate his teaching, especially his parables. He knew his hearers would readily identify with his many references drawn from the countryside around him. In today's Gospel, Mark records how Jesus used the lesson of the fig tree, with its green shoots heralding the nearness of Summer, to urge his listeners to look for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and to be awake for signs of the end time.

As autumn gives way to winter it is the bareness of the countryside that strikes us, especially this year when most of the leaf fall took place during one great storm. It is a delight to behold the form of trees denuded of their leaves.

In the Wind in the Willows, Mole sets off into the Wild Wood in winter, into a snowstorm. Kenneth Grahame tells us that Mole 'was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.' P32.

That will serve to lead us into Advent. The words find an echo in the stark beauty of the Advent Collect: - ' Give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light…' In Advent the church, the faith, is undecorated, hard and stripped of its finery. We get down to the bare bones of our Christianity. Fine it is, strong and simple. Advent then is a time for recovering our fine, strong and simple faith, a time for renewal.

A good way to do this is to allow God to question us and to spend prayerful time reflecting on our answers. Here are three questions from the Bible.

  1. "Where are you?" (Gen 3.9) This question, God's first recorded words to humanity in the book of Genesis, is addressed to Adam as he hides from the presence of God, with Eve, in the Garden of Eden. The proud rejection of God leads to the fall and to shameful self - awareness and to an attempt to hide. It is a bit like a small child hiding from an angry parent behind the settee! So where, God asks, are we? What are we hiding from? Much of the time we are bound by our fears, of vulnerability, of mortality of aloneness. We attempt to hide from God our creator in created things, in shopping, in the gym, in alternative therapies. These things are not necessarily bad unless they are actually cutting us from God. God's question invites us to be honest with ourselves before him. He already knows where we are; it is us who may have forgotten.
  2. "What do you seek?" (John 1.38) St John starts his Gospel with words from Genesis, "In the beginning" , and Jesus' first words to his future disciples take the form of this question. They reply, "Where are you staying?" and are invited to "Come and see" . Jesus invites us to stay with him, to spend time with him, to ask ourselves what it is that we are really seeking. Behind the desire for success, power, wealth, happiness is the distorted remains of our search for God. God has made us to seek him, to long for him. When we ask what it is we are seeking we will discover that deep down it is a renewed relationship with God. And in that discovery we will find that he is already present with us.
  3. "What you do want me to do for you?" (Mark 10.51) Jesus to blind Bartimaeus addressed that, our third question. Bartimaeus wants his sight and with it the possibility of a livelihood, and end to beggary and full inclusion in society. To consider that question is to become aware of our need for healing, for the restoration of our flawed relationship with God and neighbour. We may not receive physical healing. None of us is immune from the constraints of our humanity. But by faith we will receive inner, spiritual healing. God through Christ has the power to transform us.

Those three divine questions are an invitation to enter into a profound conversation with our maker and redeemer. When we embrace them we will know for our selves their converting power. Adam & Eve tried to hide from them and were driven from paradise. They fell from grace. Peter and Bartimaeus answered their questions truthfully, from the core of their being and were changed for ever by their encounter with Christ Life was never the same again, but it was always full of a deep joy, even in the face of the cross and certainly in the presence of their risen Lord.

So let us ask God for grace to embrace those stark, bare Advent questions in the faithful trust that in our answering we will find life in all its fullness. Amen

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Last updated 04/12/2002 12:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd