This weekend sees the first service of the new church year, and the start of the season of Advent.
In this short season, we’ll look backwards to the first Christmas and what God has done for us in the Incarnation, and we’ll rest in that knowledge. We’ll reflect on all the times that God has reached into our lives, and we’ll take comfort in the remembering.
We’ll also look forward with anticipation and expectancy to where God is leading us – the new work, the new insights, the next chapter – and we’ll find hope in that mission. And, resting in the promise of God With Us, we’ll know peace and joy.
Amidst the busyness of this time of year, we’ll make space to meditate on the themes of hope, peace, joy and love – both in our own lives, and also for the world, because of the Gospel.
We’ll hear again the stories of the Incarnation. We’ll consider what Mary and Joseph must have thought as God broke into their lives and everything changed. We’ll imagine what the shepherds on the hillside must have felt when they saw and heard the angels. We’ll remember how Mary “treasured in her heart” the shepherd’s account of the angels and their message of “good news of great joy”. We’ll think about how Simeon must have felt to hold Jesus in his arms and say, “my eyes have seen your salvation… this light to the Gentiles.”
And we’ll hear again the old prophecies, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God… Let them know that their sad days are gone and their sins are pardoned… God is coming, with authority and power, and like a shepherd carrying the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart.”
I especially love the image of One who comes like a Shepherd, who carries us in His arms like lambs, close to His heart. That’s where peace is! In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I’ve always cherished those words. And as we enter this Advent season, at the end of a very busy 2023, I know that I’m weary. In need of peace and rest and comfort. Do you ever feel like that – like you’re limping towards a finish line? This year has certainly seen its share of troubles and sorrows. There have been days when the world seemed to be moving backwards. So much grief and so much darkness.
But that’s why Advent is so precious. To remember the coming of the Light. Like a new Dawn shining in the darkness, and guiding us towards peace. This season says to us: here is a new year; refresh your soul in the familiar stories; meet Christ again, with all the wonder of the first time you met Him, with all the joy of your first love. Lay everything down, wait on the Lord, renew your strength. Find again your source of hope in the One who, like a shepherd, carries you. Find again your source of peace in the One who surrounds you. Find again your source of joy in the One who delights in you. And find again your source of love in the One who loved you first, and loves you still.
I lost a friend recently, and I also found myself on the unfortunate end of a cruel joke. Both events still weigh heavily on my heart as I approach this Advent season. But the truth is, Advent reminds me that I already have the best friend in Jesus, who loves me with utter seriousness, despite my flaws and the bits of me that may lend themselves towards ridicule. A friend who gave up glory to walk this earth for my sake. A friend who knows what loss feels like, what rejection feels like, and what ridicule feels like. And knowing loss, and knowing me, says, “Come unto me… and I will give you rest.” He says, “I’m preparing a table before you in the presence of your enemies.” So this Advent, I come forward, to lay down the sorrows and disappointments that have been taking up too much space, I hand over the worries of the world, and I wait on God. And in the waiting, I remember His mercies to me in the past. And here I find my joy. And I rest my hope in God’s continuing grace in the days ahead.
Scripture refs. from Luke 1&2, Isaiah 40, Matthew 11:28 and Psalm 23:5