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7th December 2014 - Sunday Evening - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Advent 2 Evening
1 King 22. 1-28
Romans 15. 4-13

We are gearing up in our preparations now...

The decorations are appearing; the address lists for the Christmas Cards - "who on earth are "Bert and Stella" ??? and where did we meet them?; shopping lists are being drawn up and cakes and puddings prepared; invitations are being issued "Please join us for drinks and nibbles!";

And here in church it is much the same. The tree now waits over there in the corner;' Experience Christmas' will be created for our children to enjoy; carol services are being planned and haggled over - "Not Hark the Herald again!"

But what is it all for? Is it just about providing a feel-good factor in the middle of winter? That would account at least in part, for our experience of Christmas here in the Northern Hemisphere.... but what about our friends and relatives 'down-under'? It is no less Christmas for them too, even though it may be 80 in the shade!
Christmas is not - despite appearances - just about boosting the retail industry.
We celebrate the incarnation; We celebrate that God took time out from his busy schedule of creating worlds and galaxies to enter into our human condition here on earth. We celebrate that because Jesus was born, and lived and died - and rose again - among us, his message of love is real and relevant to every single person on this planet - whether they know it or not. And it is up to us to help show them that fact. That is God's mission to us - that is why Christmas is so important.

Well yesterday your PCC - the church council - most of them at least - took time out from the Christmas Shopping and preparations to do some getting ready of a different sort. We spent a few hours thinking and planning for what this church might be - might become - in the next few months; in the next few years.

There were lots of positives - a few negatives, but that is only natural and we can always learn from our mistakes, and some really good forward-thinking ideas. We have purposely limited ourselves to 3 or 4 main actions as a Church council and leadership for the next 12 months - aware that if we succeed in carrying out some or most of them, the effects will be felt in this community for years to come.

And key among that will be to encourage the wider community - many of whom we will see in the next few weeks at our Christingle and Carol Services - to tell us what they would like from us as a church. We know we need to build relationships - both within our walls and outside of them. Now that is not just down to me; or just down to the PCC; it is something in which all of us can be involved. Something in which all of us must be involved if this church is to thrive in this place.

The ancient Kings of Judah and Israel sought to know what God's intentions were for them and for their plans to go to war... But they did not like it when God's prophet seemed to tell them that all their plans were doomed from the beginning! Not what they wanted to hear at all! And the king's response is to imprison the prophet on short rations - hoping to influence him to make a more favourable prophecy.

But it doesn't work that way. God cannot be manipulated and bent to what seems convenient for our plans.

Rather we have to try and seek out what God's will is at any set moment, and then bend our actions and plans to help bring that about.

We cannot force people into relationship with God or with his church... Coercion has been tried often enough in the past and it never works. That is a lesson that some of the Islamist extremists still need to learn. Human beings can be terrorised - but not into loving the Lord. Terror, force, coercion will only breed hatred and resistance - not love and life-enhancing experience.

We cannot argue people into faith or belief. All we can do is show them; show them what a difference it makes in our lives; impress them with our commitment to the life and well-being of the community; invite them to join us in our celebrations ; be alongside them as a sympathetic and listening ear in their troubles and concerns. Build bridges and links, networks and friendships. Be prepared to learn from them, as well as to share our own values

And so - rather like the work that has to be done when a new road is created - 'a highway in the desert' as another prophet, Isaiah, reminds us often at this time of year. Only when the groundwork is done, the systems and strategies in place,; only then will God come and fill in our trench - the gaping hole - the great lack in our life, and fill it with his light and love. Filling the emptiness that tells us we were made for God; filling us with his very essence.... being born once more in humanity.

So as you continue in your preparations for the good time to come - and as we continue in our preparations for the life of this church, May the God of hope fill us all with joy and peace in believing, so that we may all abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.