Sunday Sermon 5th December
A transcript of our sermon and chosen prayers for the week can be found below.
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 5th of December and the second week of Advent.
In this week the candle represents the prophets, especially John the Baptist and the theme of JOY.
And we will hear a bit of what a message of JOY may mean in a world of greater and greater restrictions, a world that is getting harder to live in, where care both physically and mentally are getting harder and harder to access, and where the gap between rich and poor is getting greater and greater.
But first, let us hear our messages from the Bible and prayers to guide us from Margaret.
Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
Reading: Luke 1:68-79
I remember hearing this psychologist talking about watching ourselves.
We rarely watch ourselves, rarely reflect on what we are doing.
We think all our actions are random.
And this psychologist said that we can learn a lot from ourselves if we honestly look at what we are doing, because our minds crave stuff, and if they don’t get it consciously, then they will get it unconsciously.
At the time I was hearing this for the first time I was watching a lot of comedy shows, it dawned on me that what I lacked in my life was joy, and my brain was screaming out to have some fun. Life was just one chore after another, one responsibility after another, and what my mind was seeking was a refuge for joy, real joy, that life was more than just duty and rsponsibilty.
The reason I mention that is that at this time of year I catch my wife watching a lot of Christmas Movies. You know the ones, people start the movie and they are workaholics with no time to enjoy life but then they bump into someone that initially gets up their nose but by the end of the movie they have fallen in love and snow is falling everywhere and everyone is happy and the world is content with itself.
And I can understand why Roseanna watches that stuff.
She is a workaholic and she sees Christmas day as a day where the whole family get together and get on with each other and everyone has a wonderful time. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone.
So she escapes in the vision of these movies.
It is either that or it’s more literal and she sees me as the one that gets up her nose over the Christmas season and she is hoping that by the end of the Christmas season she might eventually fall on love with me...no that can’t be it.
We have times in our life when we crave things, and if we can’t get the real thing, we will find a substitute to get us by.
We have millions of young people seeking meaning in their lives, if they can’t get the real thing they will get in computer games that make them the hero that can defeat any villain.
Others crave some control over their lives, and they either seek it metaphysically in games like Minecraft where they are literally the god that creates a world, or physically in food disorders where they can control that one aspect of their lives.
As a world we crave something better; why do we think that there are so many Star Wars and Hero films, each one displaying a world that is hard but the struggles are overcome and the world is better.
What are we craving this Christmas?
Hope, joy, love, peace?
Our main reading today looks at a priest called Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
He has done the work of God for a long time, and he is jaded.
He has diligently and dutifully done his work as a priest all his life.
And now he is old, and his wife is old.
They have done all that the Lord requires of them, and they know that they are at the latter part of their life.
More of their life is about looking back rather than looking forward.
And it is not that they are bitter, and it is not that they are angry, they are just tired.
And maybe there is the felling that things could have been different, maybe there is a worry about what is ahead of them with no one to look after them.
Does that sound familiar?
Does that sound a bit like our church?
And there, in the Temple, unexpectedly, Zechariah meets God.
And angel appears and tells him that Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, can be happy, can be joyous, because they are about to have a son...who they will call John.
And like all religious people, the last place they expect to meet God is in the temple.
You lot are just as bad.
Let’s imagine God decided to speak to you this morning.
Let’s pretend that when I click my fingers an angel appears just to you, and says, ‘Be at peace. The future is OK because God will be with you. You will become a great prophet for God in Alva.’
Only you saw this angel.
How many of you would go home and say to spouse or child or neighbour, ‘I saw an angel today in church. And he told me that everything was going to be OK and that I would be a great prophet in Alva.’?
I can only think of one person in this church that would come out and say that to their spouse, and probably everyone else as well, and no one would believe him.
Well it was no different in Zechariah’s day, he doesn’t believe the angel and the angel makes him mute until the prophecy comes true.
I don’t think that was a punishment, I think maybe most of you look at it as a punishment, and I am sure Zechariah thought it was a punishment, but I think what the angel was giving him was a gift.
9 months of not being able to speak, 9 months of not being able to comment on what was going on.
9 months of just watching and reflecting.
We don’t reflect enough.
We have too many distractions.
we have created a word of distractions.
We watch TV and half the time we don’t even like the stuff we are watching.
Did you know that 52% (Radio Times Poll) of people admitted to lying about what programmes they have seen so that they look more impressive than they really are? Why?
Why are the majority of people so insecure about their lives that they won’t admit to not seeing a specific programme in front of their friends and family?
Younger generations are attached to their phones creating experiences to put on their social network sites to prove that that they are living meaningful lives.
Always creating this fiction of their own lives or looking at and comparing their lives with the fictions of other people’s lives.
The fastest growing surgery just now is cosmetic surgery. We are not only unhappy with our lives, and our bodies, so we are creating fake lives; we are literally creating fake bodies.
And part of me sympathises with this.
The world can look really awful just now.
COP 26 was a bit of a failure. The commitments governments were willing to make were still inadequate, and then at the last second even that was watered down.
Our governments are talking about the fourth wave of COVID 19 and more restrictions.
Don’t even get me started on presbytery plans. My sister in New Zealand asked about that and that conversation had to stop because my phone ran out of battery power.
Life feels scary just now.
And I am sure that for Zechariah he felt the same things.
The Romans were occupying the land and the culture was changing, not for the better in Zechariah’s opinion.
There was more violence in the streets with those zealots stabbing people that they thought were collaborators.
There was a whole new set of restrictions and taxes at the entrances of every town and village.
And not only that, he was facing it with his wife alone, with no one to take care of them when they got frail.
His life was scary.
And God gave him the gift of silence, or rather, having to stop and reflect and watch.
And see that it didn’t matter what was happening in the world, God was with him, and God was active.
And then he saw it.
I noticed it in a verse I had never clicked onto before. It is in Chapter 1 verse 23. Zechariah has been told by the angel that he will be silent until the prophecy is fulfilled. So he finishes doing his stint in the Temple and then goes home.
‘When his period of service in the Temple was over, Zechariah went back home. Some time later his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and did not leave the house for five months.’
Elizabeth didn’t leave the house for 5 months, so in a male dominated society, who did the chores?
Who looked after Elizabeth?
Who looked after Zechariah?
Did extended family, cousins and nephews appear and they looked after them?
Did Zechariah suddenly see the importance of his wife, of how much he feared for her, cared for her and he found the strength from within to do all the work because he realised just how much Elizabeth mattered to him?
One way or another, they got through that tough time, God’s strength was with them; God’s help was with them.
It didn’t matter what was happening in the world, they could see and show God’s love and care.
That is what brought real joy.
And that truth still does.
If we spend time to be silent,
if we have the courage to stop distracting ourselves and be still,
I believe that we can see that truth in our own lives.
It really doesn’t matter what is going on in the world, the world can’t bring us real joy.
And the more we spend our lives trying to create a world that will bring us joy the more frustrated we will end up becoming.
Our real JOY comes from knowing that God is with us, active in our lives,
that no matter what is happening in the world
we can show God’s love, we can receive God’s love,
we can show God’s care to others, we can receive God’s care from others.
That is the good news of Zechariah; that is our good news.
Now all we need to do is live it.
Let us pray
There is a silence in waiting: and if we are brave enough to live in the silence, the stillness, we find a cleansing, a renewal.
For we find a chance to centre the soul to the truth of your presence. You are there in our lives, you always have been, always will be, whether we acknowledge you or not.
You give us the freedom to ignore you, to be angry with you, even to reject you.
But no matter what, you wait for us with patience and love.
There is a hope, a joy in waiting: that there will be a meeting, a chance to start again, to find forgiveness and strength to do life differently, better.
With that hope empowering us, may we in turn help others in their struggles.
May the love that is risen in our hearts, reach out in love to seek the wellbeing of those around us, so that they too may find the real love that they seek.
This we ask in Jesus name.