Sermon for 1st Sunday of Advent (Advent Sunday) – Year B (1)

Isaiah 64.1-9
1 Corinthians 1.3-9
Mark 13.24-37

As part of a psychological study two groups of people were shown exactly the same video clip lasting about 6-8 minutes. The clip showed a man and a woman meeting each other on a riverside path, under a bridge. They engage in an intense conversation then walk away from each other. There are various shots of the surrounding scenery and other people walking by and so on.

The groups heard no dialogue but each heard background music accompanying the mini-film. One group heard the sort of music you hear in thrillers suggesting tension, drama, maybe threatening. The other group heard soft violins, gentle, romantic music suggesting peace, love and a happy ending.

After watching the clip each person was asked to write an outline of the story they had seen on film.

Although their eyes had all seen exactly the same video clip their minds interpreted what they had seen depending on what music they had heard. So one group wrote stories of tense drama involving spies and danger; the other stories of close encounters of the romantic kind.

It seems to me that, of all the seasons in the Christian year, Advent is accompanied by the most varied kinds of background music. There are so many kinds in fact that I wonder what someone not used to our faith, someone on the outside looking in on us, would make of it.

There’s the music of Advent as a time of preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus who we believe to be the incarnate Word of God. Our hymns and prayers look forward to the birth of God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. We sing of his coming and the love, healing and redemption he brings with him. We are encouraged to prepare ourselves to receive him again in our hearts and minds.
There’s the music of Advent as a time of preparation and expectation as we look forward to Christ coming again in glory as King and Judge. Our first reading and the Gospel this morning reflect this expectation but their music is perhaps a bit threatening, over-powering and dangerous. Perhaps we’re not quite sure that we really do want those things to happen: mountains quaking; awesome deeds; fire; falling stars and the need to be ever vigilant. – then there’s all that “deeply wailing”!
There’s the music of Advent when it’s Christmas already. Carol services, mince pies, lights on Christmas tree – all the things that rightly belong only from 25th December, add their music to the Advent sound.

But there’s more!

There’s the background music playing in our own personal lives. There are as many kinds of music as there are people here this morning.

A family in which a child will for the first time be aware of and excited about Christmas.
A family in mourning – the first Christmas without a special someone.
A family who knows that this will be the last Christmas for a beloved relative.
A couple newly married looking forward to a lifetime of Christmases together.

The list goes on.

It seems to me that in this season of Advent, filled with hopes and fears; sorrows and joys; mourning and celebration, we all need to hear a melody which weaves its way through all the background music. A melody true and sure; beautiful and loving; reassuring and strengthening.

And there is such a melody, the melody of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It’s the melody of a loving creator who formed us in the womb, who knows us better than we know ourselves and who wants only our healing and what is good for us. A creator who wants what’s good for us so much that he is prepared to risk everything by becoming a tiny, vulnerable baby and living among us to teach us what we need to know.
It’s the song of the man who is God in human form – Jesus who is our brother, friend and teacher, our Emmanuel who saves us from ourselves.
It’s the melody of the great Spirit who comes to us as a dove of peace and reconciliation and as a flame of fire burning within us. A Spirit who gives to each of us gifts to be used in the service of God and each other, a Spirit who protects and guides us throughout our lives.
It’s the melody of God and we heard something of that melody in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

Paul’s greeting speaks of the grace and peace of God which rests among us and within us. A peace that the world cannot give us, perhaps especially in Advent; a peace that is beyond understanding and given freely by love. It’s a peace deep in our hearts where it can never be totally lost in the disruptions of life.

Paul also speaks of the spiritual gifts of God and the strength we will be given to cope with whatever it is we have to face.

Paul is convinced that God is faithful and that we are called by God to be in fellowship with him and with each other in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So as we once again begin this season of Advent let’s remember our fellowship in Christ and while we celebrate with those who are joyful let us also support with love and prayer those who weep, mourn or are in despair.

Above all let’s listen out for the melody of God which will, in time, become the only music in our ears.