What might Christ look like as a teenager? Have you ever thought about that? The occasional modern film and book has sometimes considered it. Yet I suspect it is not one that most people, even Christians, ponder much. This is somewhat of a shame, especially in our contemporary world. For teenagers today are full of amazing life and diversity and face unprecedented levels of challenge and opportunity. So where among their gifts and struggles is God to be found? Where is the image of Christ to be seen among them? What is the gospel – ‘good news’ – for teenagers today? Do we have any answers to those queries I wonder? Maybe we might even ask whether some churches actually like teenagers? For teenagers are not always conspicuous in their presence among many church communities today. So what is it that we find difficult, and what is it that God might be trying to teach us through them? These are challenging questions for us as we reflect on today’s Gospel story, where Jesus, at age twelve, is on the very cusp of what today we call teenage years. What might God be saying through him to us today?...
'We gather in the darkness of this Christmas night to celebrate - to celebrate that into the midst of darkness comes light and life born in the frailty of a human child. For darkness is where incarnation begins. The glorious prologue to John’s Gospel brings this into shimmering perspective - what has come to being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5). But, as the wonderful poet and artist Jan Richardson expresses it:
'the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us. In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. I will give you the treasures of darkness, God says in Isaiah 45:3, and riches hidden in secret places. For the Christ who was born two millennia ago, for the Christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins'...
Do you have a womb? - literally, or spiritually? Most females are literally born with a womb, but not all. It is just one of those aspects of life which point to gender and sexuality being slightly more complex than some might think. This can be quite distressing, as we know in the lives of others who are not able to bear children literally. Yet it can be the source of amazing grace. One of my own close female blood relatives for instance was born without a womb. She has been, and very much still is, a wonderful woman in so many respects. Yet, literally speaking, she has never had the biological capacity to bear children. By the grace of God however, she does have two children, both of them fully genetically those of herself and her husband. That was a kind of miracle, assisted by the miracle of modern science. So, perhaps, when we reflect on the doctrine of the virgin birth at this time, such diversity in our lives and families may give us pause to wonder about the marvellous complexity of human gender, sexuality, and creativity. For what the Catholic Church calls the Joyful Mysteries of Mary are much more than ancient accounts of the participation of one remarkable woman in the creativity of God. They are also profound and immensely fertile symbols for us: grace-filled invitations to bring Christ to birth in our own bodies and lives. Not least this is the case with today’s Gospel story of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Indeed, this is a story of two wombs, one of them, which was formerly barren, actually jumping with joy. It is also a story which encourages us to discover our own womb-like capacities, and to participate, in our different ways, in the bearing of God’s new life. So let me offer three pointers on the way…
Rejoice! For this is the Sunday for joy! By tradition this Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for the first word of our second reading today, Rejoice! Just as Refreshment Sunday comes half way through Lent, and is a day for feasting and letting go of the Lenten disciplines for a day, as we rejoice in being half way to Easter, so Gaudete Sunday comes half way through Advent, and tells us that we are half way to Christmas. The note of warning is still present as we heard from John the Baptist in our Gospel reading, but the other readings begin to sound a note of celebration. On this day by tradition the pink candle of our Advent wreath can be lit, and rose coloured vestments worn in those wealthy churches that own them - it is an expensive matter to have vestments that you only use once or twice a year!
So why is any of this important?...
How do you picture peace? I wonder if your vision is quite the same as that of the prophet Isaiah in the John the Baptist story in our Gospel reading today? Isaiah says this: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Well, that definitely doesn’t work for me if it were taken at all literally. For I was born in the North Pennine hill country of England, which owes so much of its life, history, wildness and picturesque beauty to the variety of its landscape, its hills and valleys. I certainly know that the folk of the Durham Dales would do all they possibly could to avoid every valley being filled, every hill being made low, and the winding paths and rough ways being made smooth. I suspect too that few people in Toowoomba would take kindly to such an environmental transformation of our own Range, valleys, hills and landscape. No. On this second Sunday in Advent, as we centre on the theme of peace, we need to look deeper if we are to find fuller meaning in today’s Gospel reading. Perhaps we are helped by re-casting Isaiah’s words a little. To that end, I offer some words of the great El Salvadorean archbishop and martyr Oscar Romero: words which I believe catch up the spirit of the Advent prophets, that “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” Let me return to that, and to John the Baptist in our Gospel, again, in a moment…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,