Advent 3 Evensong Malachi 3:1-4

We are over half way through this season of Advent, this season of preparation, this season of waiting, and it’s a good time to step back and look at our journey, where we have been, and to look ahead to where we are going.

For many, they share in the traditions that make up an emotionally difficult, stressful and expensive Christmas; decorating the tree and houses in a mixture of plastic, wooden and glass ornaments, tinsel, figures of Santa and snowmen, reindeer, sending out 100s of cards, many to people you hardly speak to for the rest of the year, attending and hosting parties, meals, drink get together; buying gifts for friends and family, neighbours and acquaintances; buying enough food to make an army obese, even though the shops are only closed for one day.

But none of these things does a true Christmas make.

Even those of us who commit to keeping a holy Christmas and to keep the true meaning of it can get bogged down in all of these frills that have become the tradition and if we’re honest, Christmas in this consumer society does seem to be all about the cards, and the gifts, the parties and decorations.

And it makes me sad to see so many committing to the hollowness of the fills rather then the holiness of the season.

Advent is a season of preparation, but if your Christmas is about the frills, then what are you preparing for?

We have a different understanding of preparation given to us in our scriptures. We are preparing for the coming of the Lord, coming to us in human form, coming as one of us, to live with and among us. And no amount of tinsel can prepare you for that.

We’ve heard it said again and again at our Advent services, that this is a time of preparation and looking at the four last things, death, judgement, heaven and hell.

But how are we to do this? How are we to do this when the rest of the world is in the ‘Christmas Spirit’ so soon? And why would we want to when the rest of the world preparations are so sparkly and attractive?

Mary Reed Newland has a wonderful quote about what our advent preparation should be, she says, :

“…you cannot just walk into such a blaze of glory without preparation… you must creep up to it, think about it, count the days, watch the signs, and prepare.”

Listen again to the words of the prophet Malachi who speaks one method of preparation:

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple… but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,
This is a time of preparation—but what a preparation!

Refiner’s fire!

Strangely enough, when given the option between being put in a fire and fairy lights and tinsel, most people opt for the fairy lights and tinsel.

Refiners fire is not a form of preparation that we often opt for. Not many of us like being put into the fire by God; or by life’s circumstances.

But we’ve all been there, when the heat is on, and we’re under pressure, when life happens

and we have to deal with the messy reality of our fragile and fallible nature, and when we have to deal with the messy reality of the fragility and fallibility of others.

When we need to suck it up, and tackle those things that hang over us, and weigh heavy on our shoulders.

When we’re faced with the choices that we’d rather avoid, and face with the people that have hurt us, and the people we’ve hurt.

And when we’ve experience loss, and death. In all these, we are people in the refiners fire.

We have a choice in those times, to use them, to refine, improve and purify, For the bad things to burn away, and to allow God to create something new and to do a new thing in us, or not.

‘but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire….. he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver

A friend of mine, who is a priest in a little Welsh town, was a silversmith in a former life and made very fine jewellery.

He once described to me the process to of how silver is refined.

He said, ‘the piece of silver is held over the fire to heat up. It needs to be in the middle of the fire where the hottest flames are so all the impurities, the dross can be burnt away. You need to carefully watch during this process, there is no room for slacking because if the silver is left a moment too long, then it would be destroyed.

The refiner needs to wait until their reflection can been seen in the silver, then it is ready to be made into something beautiful.

If God is the refiner, and we are the silver, we can know, and trust in a few things about this process of preparation.

We can trust that God is a good silversmith, who doesn’t just throw us in the fire and leave us there to be destroyed.

He holds us, watches us, he is always nearby, unwilling to let us be destroyed.

And we can trust that when we are ready, that the refiners reflection is returned to him, that we reflect outwards God’s image.

“…you cannot just walk into such a blaze of glory without preparation… you must creep up to it, think about it, count the days, watch the signs, and prepare.”

Advent is that time of preparation before entering the blaze of glory, before meeting God made man in the manger of Bethlehem.

How will use the rest of this preparation time? With tinsel and shopping, or with burning the dross, and reflecting God to the world?

Carol Service Sermon for Townsend School

It’s so easy at this time of the year to get caught up in the ‘Christmas Spirit’. We all have our favourite parts of Christmas, those parts that we look forward to the most.

We had our toddler service this morning with the Abbey’s big white teddy bear, predictably named, Abbey Bear. And we asked the tots what parts of Christmas they enjoy the most.

I’d like to see if you agree with their list, so put your hand up when I call out something you are especially looking forward to this Christmas.

  • All the chocolates you get to eat.
  • The parities
  • The music and carols
  • Decorating the tree
  • Spending time with family
  • The presents
  • Eating huge amounts of Christmas dinner

There are so many things to enjoy about this season, and its good that we have so many things during these cold and wet days to look forward to. But at the same time, it’s

really easy to get so distracted by the glitter and sparkle of this season that we can forget what it’s really all about.

We need to remember that Christmas is a birthday celebration.

It’s the time we get to celebrate being given the greatest gift of all. A gift that will not wear out, or break, or needs batteries changing. It’s the time we celebrate God coming down to earth, to live with us and as one of us.

We’ve just heard, read so well, the story of Jesus, starting with the predictions from Isaiah, 800 years before his birth going right through that story we all know so well. Angels, Shepherds, Wise men and donkeys.

I want you to think for a moment of what that really means. What does it mean that God sent Jesus to be born a human?

Thanks to the Victorians, we’re given a particular image of Jesus at this time of year of him being sweet Jesus, meek and mild, no crying or screaming. We don’t often think about the man that this quiet angelic child will turn into.

The man who walked purposefully from town to town, village to village, community to community teaching people about

  • Justice
  • Peace
  • Fairness
  • Forgiveness
  • Truth
  • Love
  • Charity
  • Hospitality
  • Generosity
  • Faithfulness
  • Healing
  • Unity

This baby will grow up to argue with religious leaders and public officials so that the poor aren’t ripped off, so the sick can be helped, that the hungry will be fed and those with nothing would be given the things they need.

But we are quick to forget this.

We forget that he called and asked us to do these things in our lives as well.

But we’re easily distracted.

How often do we think about those that today, right now, are poor, lonely, sick, or dying.

If our celebrations at this time of year are only about the tinsel, turkey and presents, then our celebration is hollow and empty.

Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate the birth of Jesus among us by making a special effort to demonstrate some of those qualities in our lives?

We’re still in the season f Advent. We’re in week 3 of 4 in our time of preparation. And it’s a time, not only to buy our gifts and party, but it’s also a time we can prepare ourselves and make ourselves ready.

In the time we have left before Christmas, think about whether you are prepared to celebrate a real Christmas, or a hollow festival of tinsel?

Are you ready to meet Jesus when he comes?

Are you able to celebrate Christmas by letting others see God working through you, and showing those qualities in your life that we taught us about?

How are you going to celebrate this Christmas?

Amen.

Christingle Sermon

Reading Hebrews 1.1-3

(I had a child read for the service). Thank you for reading so clearly. It’s important that this reading especially was read clearly because it talks about all those different ways God uses to speak to us.

He gave us the bible, and all the stories in it and speaks to us through them. And we’re told that he can speak to us through prophets and visions and dreams.

And today we’re going to see if he can speak to us and tell us anything special through some objects that I have here.

(Get 5 children up to hold the objects, questioning them in turn what each of them are.)

Firstly what is this? An orange

Secondly what is this? Some ribbon

Thirdly? Four cocktail sticks

Next? Some sweets (I’ve counted them, and I’ll be checking at the end to see how many there are)

And finally?  A Candle

Now, a really difficult question: if you put all of these things together what would you make? A Christingle

As you will probably know the various things that make up the Christingle all represent something and tell us, speaks to us something about God:

The orange represents the world in which we live. The four sticks remind us of the four seasons of the year. The red ribbon reminds us of the blood of Jesus and the fact that he died on the cross for us. The sweets remind us that God gives us a lot of great gifts in our lives, and of course the candle on the top reminds us of Jesus himself – the light of the world.

And so when all those ordinary objects are put together we have something through which God can speak to us, and He can tell us through this the story of creation, and of Jesus and his love for us.

But individually those things are nothing more than what they’re meant to be – the orange is an orange, the stick is a stick, the candle is a candle and so on…

And the same can true for all of us – as we approach Christmas we can all have a good time hopefully, we can enjoy giving and receiving cards and presents, but if we leave Jesus out of Christmas then we are missing out on the real purpose of all these celebrations and we’re missing the one thing that gives meaning to it all.
(Get the kids to assemble the Christingle while you tell the story)

There’s a little story about Mary, Jesus’ mum, she had a very strange dream one night

she sees signs lit up saying Happy Christmas, she sees houses decorated, and people rushing around the shops buying lots of presents and food and drinks.

She hears of parties being arranged, and thinks how wonderful it is to see people enjoying her son Jesus’ birthday.

But then Christmas comes and she realises that people aren’t giving their presents to Jesus, and in fact, they’re not even mentioning him – She is filled with sadness as she realises that people have forgotten to thank Jesus for all he’s done for them, even on his birthday.

We must remember in the middle of all of the celebrations that we’re going to have, that Christmas is about, the light in the middle of our Christingles, it’s about Jesus coming to earth as a baby, and Jesus coming to us, as the light in our lives.

and it would be wrong to leave him out of his own celebrations,

So today God speaks to us, through our Christingles and reminds us again of the story of the world as we prepare to celebrate Jesus, light of the world coming to us. Amen