Luke 1:66-79 (The Benedictus)
Philippians 1: 3-11
Luke 3: 1-6
The Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert 2015: Mog’s Christams Calamity
Sermon: St. Andrew’s West Kilburn, 6th December 2015
I’ve had a more than usually stressful week. I’ve got a cold; sore throat, and sneezles, and just feeling like getting tucked up under the duvet. My new cat ran away; I have been calling her and calling her, and I’ve put up notices all along Windermere Avenue, but nothing. My country has got itself into what is to me an immoral and pointless war, despite my best efforts to stop it. My mobile broke. I’d just got that sorted when all my kitchen electrics went. That’s without all the usual hassles of church and home life. I feel like Mog in the story, with danger on all sides, running and running. Running into trouble, running away from trouble, running around in circles; sometimes the source of the problem, sometimes the answer to the problem, sacred a lot, sad sometimes, occasionally a hero, mostly a twit, nearly always in a bit of a flap. Do you ever feel like Mog?
If so, then I have good news for you – good news for us. Christmas is for Mog! Our children’s story has her at the end in the centre of family, enjoying the sights and sounds, enjoying her egg. Christmas is for us, too. Jesus didn’t come to save a perfect world; he came to save us, just as we are – easily made anxious, not specially clever, accident prone, longing for freedom from hassle and difficulty.
Christmas is for us AND we can prepare for it. That’s what today’s readings are about. Luke quotes Isaiah, telling the people to prepare for the coming of the Lord, to make his paths straight, to smooth out the bumpy hills and the crooked roads. What does he mean? I don’t want a world without hills and winding roads, though I guess these kinds of landscapes made for hard going when travelling was mostly on foot. I think he means that when we prepare for God we learn to be less at the mercy of the ups and downs of life, the pull of things we like and repulsion from things we don’t; less at the mercy of our moods, in fact. We need to develop equanimity, an equal mind; a contentment that rests on trust in God and in God’s providence.
What does that look like? In the Benedictus, that we read at the beginning off the service, baby John is told he will teach the people to know that God has saved them, God has forgiven them. They will experience that loving forgiveness first, have insight about it afterwards. First God’s lovingkindness, then wisdom. Then God will be able to guide the people’s feet into the way of peace. Rest in God is the message; know God; be at peace; make peace.
Same thing in Philippians. Love first; My prayer is that your love may abound; followed by wisdom – more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. This is so that they can discern what’s best, and be good partners with Paul in the Gospel.
We are loved, just as we are. And we can bask in that love and begin to reflect it back. We can learn to exercise that love in and for a difficult world. In Mog things are put right partly by accident. At Christmas – before, on the day and after – it is equanimity, not accident, that prepares for a happy ending.
We can prepare, then, by checking ourselves as we run round – as one of you said – like a headless chicken. Stop. Take time alone or quietly with others. Light a candle. Read a bible passage. Decide whether to sit for five or ten minutes or more and stick to it, even as the thoughts bubble away. Let the anxiety simmer down. Let the highs and lows even out, Let the tangles of your life unknot themselves. Seek equanimity. Know that all is in God’s hands, that all is well. Leave behind craving after things you like, trying to avoid what’s painful; remember that God works in us through ALL experiences, the unpleasant as well as the agreeable ones. Be still. Be silent.
I hope that sometime in this Christmas season, that equanimity, which is close to patience and calm, will blossom into peace, which is close to joy. I hope you will feel something of what it is to experience knowledge of salvation by God’s forgiveness; that the dawn from on high will break upon you; that you will have an experience of the sweetness of inner peace and the royalty of inner happiness. Communion is a moment when we can savour our past experiences of grace, and experience it afresh. Then your equanimity stops being a neutral thing, is no longer hard work; it is a door through which the Christ child can enter and transform you.
Then you can use your equanimity to lead others along the paths that lead to peace. Then you can become a grown up in God’s kingdom. We will always have a Mog in us, but we can play the part also of the others in the story; the firemen who rescued; the parents who were solid and stable; the children ho, though fairly powerless, were very protective of Mog – the neighbours who felt for the disappointed family and abandoned their own private familiar Christmasses and came and brought gifts and shared and did things differently and made a community of love in their street. Then we play the part of the prophets we celebrate this second Sunday in Advent,, and of John the Baptist who prepared the way for people to receive Jesus, and paid a high price for it. We become mature Christians and respond with lovingkindness and intelligence to others.
We don’t, actually, live in a children’s story. We live in an unequal city where there is real material and spiritual suffering and in a world where this very moment people are dying because of Isis and because of our sophisticated Western weapons. We bring our equanimity into that world, not because we don’t care but because we do; because the very best thing we can offer to the world is a calm and compassionate mindset. We take action; we welcome strangers; we speak truth to those in power; but what we are doing is bringing good news. God’s intention for the world is for its good, not its ruin; salvation is there for all of us. Together, though it may take a long time, we can build a world of peace and security, kindness and plenty.
Revd. Maggie Hindley