St. John 1.vv.1-14
~ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into 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.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full and grace and truth. ~
"Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that richly bearing the fruit of good works, they may by you be richly rewarded, through Jesus Christ our Lord". Amen
"Amen" is a very "Churchy" word. We don't often hear it used outside the Church, but when we do, it is always in the true sense of the word, "I agree wholeheartedly with what you've said" - "I'll say 'amen' to that".
But have you ever thought out the real implications of saying "amen"? Did you say "amen" to the "stir up" Collect this morning, the Sunday before Advent?
In the Church we are expected to say a "crisp amen" at the end of prayers, but have you really thought out the danger of this? Yes, I mean danger, because today's Collect says, "Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people", and if you said "amen" to that, you are really saying, "Yes, that is my prayer too", and you identify with all God's people who ask to be stirred up. If then you said "amen", its too late to hang up the sign "Please do not disturb".
Do you really want to be stirred up or to be left alone? Some of us often wish to be left alone. Isn't life more comfortable if we are left alone to opt out of our responsibilities? Isn't life all too often a nasty mess of our own or others' making? Don't we often feel, "I've got troubles enough of my own - why become involved?".
Who then is this disturber of our peace? It is "Christ who makes all things new", who says, "Keep watch, be alert". It is the Holy Spirit, the "Comforter", that is, not simply one who calms and brings peace, but one who forcefully stirs up with wind and fire. It is too late, therefore, if you said "amen". "Stir-up Sunday" is not, as some imagine, a reminder to stir the Christmas puddings but a preparation for Advent. Whatever the rest of the world is doing, what are we Christians about? Are we awake, alert, asleep or idle? Are we ready for the coming of Christ into our lives?
Not all members of the Anglican Church know what is meant by the word "Cóllect". They know the meaning of colléct, i.e. to gather. "Cóllect" is a very "Churchy" word. It is a brief prayer used early in Divine Service to express the collected thoughts and ideas associated with the theme of a particular Sunday. The Advent Collect composed by Archbishop Cranmer for the 1549 Prayer Book and based upon a passage in Romans (ch.13.vv.8-end) is a masterpiece of spiritual writing. "Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which your son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; so that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever".
Not all Christians, and certainly not all non-Christians understand the meaning of "Advent". It simply means "coming", but for Christians it is associated almost exclusively with the coming of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, the "Word made Flesh", Emmanuel, "God with us", and Advent is the period of four weeks before Christmas when Christians prepare for the coming of Christ into their lives.
When we refer to the coming of Christ, we think of it in three aspects - the past, present, and future, the Christ who came, who comes, who will come again.
Jesus said, "I am the Light of the World". Fifty years ago I spent the night of Christmas Eve in the "Field of the Shepherds". It was a dark night, and in the world around there was darkness and warfare, violence and sin - how like the world into which Jesus was born! Yet there were stars over Bethlehem and light was coming into the world. In humility, as our Collect reminds us, the Son of God came into this world. He came to offer mankind forgiveness, peace, eternal life and to share his glorious risen life. What he asked of mankind in his first coming was welcome, love and commitment to him.
He is the same Christ who comes to us today. "Behold I stand at the door and knock", he said. He comes to us as he came to the fishermen of old and says "Follow me". He comes to us in our prayers, if we will but listen, in our bible reading, in worship, in Holy Communion. He seeks out, and again asks for welcome, love and commitment to him.
He will come again; for we know that we must stand before his judgement throne - not so much to say what we have done (or have not done), as to declare how we have (or have not) responded to his love. Sometimes Christian people over-emphasise the judgmental aspect of Biblical teaching. We need to remember that judgement is now. What we do now in response to his invitation, his call, is of eternal significance, for on this depends the kind of person we become. It is all too easy for preachers to dwell unduly on the separation aspect of judgement (the sheep and goats parable of Jesus, Matthew 25.vv.31-end), painting lurid pictures of Hell Fire. A just and compassionate Saviour knows that most of us experience here on earth a great deal of hell of our own making - and perhaps a little bit of heaven. We know that these are realities in our lives, and may be perpetuated into the life to come. As our children in their schools are assessed continuously, but eventually have to face examinations, so there is for all of us a day of reckoning, but the "Examiner" is one who strives to make sure we do not fail the test. "God has not destined you for wrath, but for salvation", said St. Paul.
Again what he asks of us is our love and commitment to him as he offers us his abiding presence, his love, his forgiveness, his peace.