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Advent Waiting

Sermon given on Sunday 27th November 2022 on the 1st Sunday in Advent based on the following readings: Matthew 24:36-44 and Isaiah 2:1-5

May I speak and may you hear, through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today we enter a new season in the church calendar. Our old church year has ended and a new one has begun. The colours around us have also changed, there are purples and pinks and candles to light – one at a time – increasing light coming into a time of shortened days and winter darkness. A feeling of anticipation and rising excitement. Yet we have to wait!

Waiting… the action of staying where one is… time passing… expecting something to happen… until one day it does! Advent, a time of waiting, of hope, of anticipation. We hear in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians, ‘when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son’

Advent is the church in waiting… the church’s annual reminder of what Christians worldwide anticipate in the days leading up to Christmas. We wait for Christmas as Israel waited centuries for a Saviour. Waiting for God to fulfil his covenant, for a virgin’s son of Abraham’s line, a descendant of Isaac, Jacob and David, for a branch from the root of Jesse, for a baby born in Bethlehem called Immanuel.

For generations, God’s people waited for the fulfilment of countless Old Testament prophecies of a Saviour, who would light up this world brighter than any Magi’s star. A Saviour, who was to be called Jesus, the long-awaited hope in a dark and sinful world. The true light, that gives light to every single human, was coming into the world.

As Christians wait for the light of Christmas, the four advent candles are lit with each week’s passing, but we know that our hoping and waiting doesn’t stop at Christmas, because he will return at the last day, a second advent.

Today, it is that second advent that we are thinking about. A time of waiting that equates with that of Israel. Waiting and not knowing when these prophetic events will take place. We can image that it is unlikely to happen in our lifetime, or without knowing it, it could happen before I get to the end of this sermon…. ‘Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.’ So, if you all disappear before my very eyes, I’ll know I wasn’t fully prepared!

It is from the Old Testament that we hear of what will happen in the last days, perhaps a more leisurely climax to the end of time and spoken in the beautiful prophetic language of Isaiah.

On a mountain higher than any we might have stood on and from which caught a glimpse of the awe and wonder of God. A mountain whose peak brushes against the thin veil of heaven, ready at any moment to tear a hole through which the Saviour can return.

From the very beginning of humankind there was but one nation, the nation of Eden. However, human rights, economic disparities and land disputes forced the people to spread to each and every corner of the world, creating nations that forgot the principle of working together for the common good or acknowledging their divine creator.

Then, on a mountain that will stand so prominently above all others, on which the gathering place of the people of God will be built, the nations will stream towards it. I was once given an image by one of my lecturers, Mark Chapman at Cuddesdon theological college, of a smooth sphere spinning in space out of which streams of people, like spumes of gas were escaping and forming new spheres, that bumped and grated against each other, but that how, at the end of time it would be as if the image was being rewound and those streams of people would be sucked back so that eventually the original sphere would take shape, not so smooth, but one single spinning object in infinity.

And the reason that people will want to climb the mountain and will encourage others to come with them, is so that the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, Peter, James, Paul, Augustine, Francis, Theresa, Luther, Sacks, Mohammed and of you and me, can teach us once more to walk in the ways that He intended us to.

A time of preparation, before Jesus, the Word of God, undertakes his role as the final judge of the people, settling disputes and bringing the nations back into harmony, so that there will be no need of wars, no need for the machinery and weaponry of conflict, no need for military tacticians or economic masters.

Instead, for those who have re-turned to, re-tuned into and re-stored the one true faith, the light of God will shine on them so that they will appear like beacons of hope in the darkness.

It’s a beautiful picture, and one we might dismiss as poetic licence, an Old Testament allegory designed to give hope to the peoples of Israel and Judah who were in dispute, and who had been subjugated by the Babylonians. Yet this same image of a gathering of the nations and the formation of a new earth and heaven is given to us by John in his vision in Revelation, ‘I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple… The nations will walk by its light and… the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it,’ and for each and every person, ‘they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’

Yet, none of this calls for complacency. Today, tomorrow, next year or whenever… we can’t just simply wait… the things that are foreseen are also the things that we should be striving for each and every day, to work together as individuals and as a global nation, to do all we can to bring about peace between the nations on earth, to teach people the way of God, so that all can be restored

So, this year during Advent, as we continue to watch and pray for our Saviour to come again let us also make plans, whether in the long term or short term… who knows… to prepare ourselves and our world for the smoothest transition and be truly ready, ‘because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’.

Amen.

Day Eight – Children of Darkness, Children of Light

stars of light

One of the most moving memorials at Yad Vashem is the Children’s Memorial. This is a  tribute to approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who perished during the Shoah. It has been created by hollowing out an under underground cavern, which has its own symbolism.

The memorial is entered by a descent that funnels you into a darkened room. The images of several unnamed children stare out from photographs which resonate with unfulfilled hope, as the sound of a mournful lament softly plays. Then further down, feeling your way into the darkness you enter what appears to be a room filled with stars. The effect is created by just five candles, that are replaced each day, being reflected by mirrors to produce an infinity of tiny lights.

In this twilight we listen to just a few of the names of some 1800 of the children, their ages and where they were from; a representation of stolen lives. It is very moving and I immediately think of my own children

Then we move up and out of cavern to the daylight outside. Today it has been raining and a light breeze seems to sigh as it stirs the leaves of the trees planted opposite, and the hills and valleys of Jerusalem are shrouded in a fine mist.

‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more.’
Jeremiah 31:15
Matthew 2:18

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The entranced to the Children’s Memorial

 

Day Five – Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Meal

Coming from a country where the Sabbath is no longer really considered a day of rest, what with shops opening twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and sports events filling the whole weekend, it is strange to find myself in a country where it is almost a compulsory observance.

As part of our course we had been invited to join the Kehillat Yedidya (Friend of God) community in the Baka neighbourhood in Southern Jerusalem at their evening prayers and afterwards to join with members of the community in their homes to celebrate the Shabbat meal.

But the preparations for  Shabbat started a few hours before that with most workers finishing by 2pm. At Yad Vashem we packed up our notes and made our way with the stream of visitors and staff leaving the museum. It was already obvious that things were winding down as the traffic was flowing more freely as the roads emptied.

Yedidya Synagogue

Our arrival by coach was quite conspicuous as all around us people were walking in preparation for the fact that no vehicles are allowed to be driven during Shabbat. We were greeted and welcomed by Dr Ophir Yarden* who had lectured to us earlier in the week. Founded in 1980 The Modern Orthodox congregation of the synagogue is made up of 195 households comprised mainly of immigrants from English-speaking countries, including Britain and America; many European countries, and some native Israelis.

We were led into the main hall where the Qabbalat Shabbat (Welcoming the Sabbath) had already begun with the singing  of the Yedid Nefesh (Opening Hymn) and were divided into men and women’s sections. This gender differentiation is normal for orthodox Jews, however despite this practical inequality, this community do recognise the validity of women’s voices being heard, as the homily was delivered by a woman

I soon realised how very hard it is to follow a service not only in a foreign language but also trying to read the Hebrew Alphabet at speed – something I failed miserably to do with my limited knowledge. I, therefore, just let the melodic sounds and harmonies of the sung psalms wash over me – a real change from plainchant.

After the service we were walked to our hosts homes, about 15 minutes away off of the Hebron Road. Now shared out in pairs, Angie and I were welcomed by Elise and Moshe, both originally from American, and their sons Jacob, David and Noam. Two more friends of the family also joined us.

Shabbat_Candles.jpg

The Shabbat candles had already been lit (no later than 18 minutes before sundown) and as we sat down the family sang Shalom Aleichem (Peace be unto you), a welcome and offer of hospitality to the angels who they believe accompany us. Moshe also took the opportunity to bless his children, as he had been away on business overseas and had only arrived home that afternoon. The translated words he used were very familiar… it is the same blessing I would use for those coming up to the Communion rail.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace
Numbers 6:24-26

The Kiddush was then recited over a large cup of organic grape juice, before being divided among us and then we were invited to wash our hands with a two-handled cup, once on the top and once on the bottom of each hand, after which we were to keep silent until the two loaves of Challah bread had also been cut and a piece given to everyone. Now the meal could begin.

Challah Bread.jpg

The Challah loaf was delicious, Elise having made it earlier in the day. A fish dish was followed by an orange and vegetable soup and then chicken with rice, prunes and beans. Clear tea (without milk) was then served with a short extemporisation by Moshe concerning his namesake Moses, before prayers ended the meal.

It was a real privilege to join in such an intimate meal with a Elise and Moshe’s family and after we had finished our conversations on the differences between Anglicanism and Methodism (Angie is a Methodist Minister) and the reasons why they chose to come and settle in Israel 29 years ago, the fact that Moshe could not set foot in Hebron or Bethlehem, and the surprise and delight Elise had when two women priests turned up (she was expecting men) we were walked to the Hebron Road to hail a taxi to take us back to the hotel (the taxi driver was non-Jewish).

Somehow these occasions help to break down barriers and mistrust between people of  faith, when people talk first as human beings and then as adherents of different religions with a common root.

Shabbat Shalom
Reflections.jpg

Please note that none of the images used in this blog were taken on the evening as the use of mobile phones or indeed any technology is prohibited and it would have been considered bad manners to use it as a camera, so it remained off, in my bag.

Ophir Yarden.jpg
*Dr Ophir Yarden is the Director of Education at ADAShA (meaning ‘lens’ in Hebrew and Arabic) The Jerusalem Centre for Interreligious Encounter. He is active is Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.