29 Nov 2020 - Advent 1
Isaiah 52.7-10; Psalm 80.1-7, 16-18; Mark 13.24-37
The Oxford English dictionary has struggled to identify a ‘word of the year’ for 2020, preferring to list a number: COVID-19, lockdown, furlough and moonshot are alongside coronavirus as words that have featured in an unprecedented lexical year. Alongside this, ‘2020’ has itself emerged as a new slang term, denoting ‘the worst year ever’. Hence so far, 2020 is a 2020 year – as such, 2020 has strong claim to be apocalyptic, and so is a good place for us to start our Advent journey.
Apocalyptic events are those which are momentous or catastrophic; those which point towards the complete destruction of the world. It is apocalyptic times of which Jesus speaks in the gospel of Mark in our reading today. Chapter 13 moves from him talking about the destruction of the temple (an event that actually took place in 70AD) to speak about the persecution of Christians which would follow and then desecration of temple worship, ahead of cosmic events including the sun being darkened (an event which Mark’s gospel later describes at Jesus’ crucifixion at Mk 15.33). He is pointing towards the end times, the return of the Messiah and the end of time itself.
What is curious -and I think particularly challenging – is that he says that ‘this generation will not pass away’ before all these things which come before the end of the age happens. How can it be that ‘this generation will not pass away’ before the end of time comes? Well, as much as Jesus is pointing to a future time, I believe he is also pointing to today. To pick up on what Alan said in his sermon last week – a thought I agree with – is that Christ comes to us in secret and in hidden places today, at least as much as he will come in the future. We have only to ‘keep awake’ and ‘watch’ if we are to see him.
So I’m bound to ask: where have you encountered Jesus recently? You may have a very immediate answer that occurs to you: like in a meaningful and graced encounter with someone who was homeless; or with someone who was particularly kind (an example that springs to mind is when a waiting customer paid for the shopping of a customer who had forgotten their bank card.) But you may not have something spring to mind – and then it helps to have ways to think about where Jesus is or what he might be doing.
I have three questions for you to ask which might help:
· The first: what are the places of joy around you?
· The second: where do you see a pattern of fractured community, absence of truth or acts of injustice being met with purposeful engagement and sacrifice, with this in turn leading to renewal?
· The third, where do you find worship that leads to enriched lives, love and transformation of community?
The first: places of joy. I’ve come to know and very much value Eastcote House Gardens and particularly the walled garden since I’ve moved into the area. When I walk down to the park, I see the large, well looked after houses, and I reflect on the privilege we enjoy in living here. I see people of different generations getting a coffee from the café and chatting with each other. In other contexts, they might be lonely and alone – far from relatives and isolated from friends. And I see happiness and joy in those relationships, and in people’s enjoyment of their homes and of this area.
I have to say that I think we are blessed here. We are blessed with relative wealth, with good facilities, with a lack of deprivation and with a community that is broadly kind, caring and capable. So I see Christ at work in this: we enjoy God’s blessing in and through these gifts. Our call is to value what we have and feel gratitude – and gratitude most naturally overflows into generosity - the desire that others may share in the good we enjoy.
So my second question: what patterns do we see around us that follow the pattern of the cross, such that injustice or lack of truth is met with challenge and sacrifice, giving rise to change?
You may be very aware of individuals’ circumstances that have followed this pattern: a unfair situation at work like bullying or discrimination, or prejudice, pride or abuse in a relationship. But here, I’m trying to look the picture for the local area – what we relate to as Eastcote. Looking at census and council data here, it has to be said that no big areas of injustice stand out.
Access to employment for those with learning needs are being addressed by the council. There is a good mix of ages: families and retired people. Population density isn’t high and most people live in their own home. Ethnic diversity is quite low for a London borough, with about 10% of the local population having roots in India.
In Eastcote, deprivation indices are low. Levels of illness are low compared to London and England with the exception of diabetes. The only detail I note is the perception that housing is being built which doesn’t benefit the local area (ERA newsletter Spring 2018). I wonder if the issue here are homes that belong to commuters, or gated communities that are seen not to participate in local life? I wonder if some of the local population’s investment in their work leads to them not being seen to contribute by local residents.
What does Christ do in communities that are estranged? In essence, he gets to know individuals and their stories and starts to build relationship through shared purpose and understanding. And so we might see Christ in those who build bridges between sections of this community: perhaps with those who attend yoga classes and talk and mix with people from different backgrounds; perhaps through activities like children’s clubs and schools, perhaps through volunteering: to help with language learning; to maintain local amenities; to run clubs and activities. Perhaps through concerts, theatre, book clubs and adult learning.
Which brings us to my third area which helps us to watch and wait for Christ: transformation through worship. It is through the relationships built by being a community of worship that we’ve been able to be a support to each other and those around us through the various challenges of lockdown. But the concentric circles of transformation that flow from out worship expand wider.
It was a delight for me last week to see some who don’t usually worship with us, finding enjoyment and a sense of belonging through coming to help with maintenance on the site and inside church. I’m delighted that our worship leads us to have contact with and support the uniformed organisations which meet on site in a way that is a gift to both the church community and to the Guides and Scouts. But I wonder how much further the aroma of Christ’s presence that we come to know in worship spreads through this community and its life and beyond in ways I don’t see?
As Christ asks us today in Mark’s gospel to keep alert; to watch for Christ; to keep awake, I believe that what we need to do today is to think and pray into the three areas I’ve outlined.
· To consider where the places of joy around us are, to be grateful for them and to let our gratitude flow into generosity;
· To think about the actions and engagement we can undertake that turns situations of loss into those of flourishing and growth;
· For us to trace the ways that our worship affects how we live and goes on draw others into Christ’s way of love
If we do these things – if we watch and pray for the coming of Christ in these ways today – then we will be awake for Christ’s coming in the future. And we can pray, Maranatha – come, Lord Jesus, come!
© John Seymour 29 / 11 / 2020