I don’t spend a lot of time reading for pleasure, but when I do, I usually gravitate towards mysteries. I love the way skilled mystery writers can weave together a complex plot involving a whole cast of characters, somehow leaving us hanging at the end of each chapter, eager for more. The situations the detectives find themselves in are always so complicated – there are numerous suspects with possible motives and pieces of evidence that don’t seem to fit, and we’re wondering how this tangled situation will ever be resolved. But, invariably, in the final pages the truth comes out, the villain makes a fatal mistake, a key piece of evidence comes to light, or the detective has a brilliant flash of insight, and the whole complex situation finds resolution. 95% of the book is spent weaving the complicated plot, and the last 5% is spent resolving and explaining the mystery.
Most of the time I find these kinds of stories satisfying. (I do like a tidy ending!) But at times the ending feels too neat and I think to myself, ‘that’s not how life works.’ Situations in life that are as tangled as this don’t resolve themselves quite this conveniently, most of the time.
We have partnered with TryTank – the experimental laboratory for church growth and innovation – to produce a new preaching resource aimed particularly at smaller congregations (those with an average Sunday attendance of 29 or fewer). That said, any congregation can use it. We have also paired it with an adult forum curriculum. From Christ the King Sunday to Christmas Day, we have six sermons each about 12 minutes long. They are based on the Sunday lectionary. The video sermons will be available on the web and can be played as a sermon during the service.
More information and to watch the video: https://www.trytank.org/vpmdec12.html
Several years ago, one of my favourite newspaper columnists wrote about how she loved going to Church on Christmas Eve, especially if there was a light snowfall that night. She wrote about how she loved to hear the nativity story and sing the Christmas carols familiar from her childhood. She wrote about how she would line up with the other members of the congregation, and kneel before the altar, decorated with poinsettias, and receive Holy Communion. She wrote about all this, and then ended her column wondering why she bothered, because even though she had grown up in the Church, she had long ago stopped going to Church, because she didn’t believe a word of what was said in Church on Christmas Eve, or any other day for that matter.
What she loved was the ritual, the familiarity of the story, and the picture-perfect Christmas card scene of a moonlight night, with lots of bright stars and snow. For her, there was no sense that the ritual, or the story, could mean any more than a reminder of a simpler time in her life. What she loved, and these I hasten to add are my words and not hers, what she loved was the nostalgia of Christmases long ago.
Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing. Certainly, I often get lost in daydreams of other, simpler times and places in my life. I have great fun remembering how things once were, or at least how I remember they once were. But nostalgia, as is clear from my newspaper columnist, and my own experience, is not the same as faith, and faith isn’t about being nostalgic. As people of faith, we are not longing for some imagined time when life was simpler, when the ritual was comforting, when the story was familiar, and you didn’t need a book or a leaflet to sing the hymns. No, as people of faith, what we are longing for is not some imagined time when life will be simpler, but a promised time when God’s reign of peace and judgement, salvation and light will be fulfilled.
If you have been worshipping with us with any regularity this Advent you will notice a slight variation this morning in our liturgical colors. The traditional Sarum blue is normally flanked by earthy green and highlights of crimson, all colors that represent the mystery of the Incarnation; that is, God becoming flesh and putting on our human vesture in the womb of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Just as future parents prepare themselves for the birth of a child, so this season of Advent is a time for prayer, recollection, and getting our lives in order in preparation for the birth of Jesus at Christmas.But today, the Sarum blue is complimented by swatches of velvety rose to signify the 3rd Sunday of Advent which is known as ‘Gaudete’ Sunday. Gaudete, is a Latin word that means “Rejoice,” which is the first word we hear in both the Introit to today’s Mass as well as the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.