Summary: Jesus is the light of the world who through his birth brought new hope to the world.
Today is the fourth, and final, Sunday of Advent. Very shortly we will be celebrating Christmas – the festival which bears our Saviour’s name. Each year we seem to move further and further away from the religious ideals of Christmas and nearer and nearer to an orgy of conspicuous consumption. We are inundated with people trying to persuade us to buy this or that gift, or trying to convince us that our celebration will not be complete with this particular food item or that particular drink. No wonder a journalist in one paper jokingly suggested that Advent should be renamed ADVERT!
Not that I’m suggesting that there is anything wrong in giving presents to friends and family. There’s also a lot to be said for eating and drinking in good company – as those of us who went to the Mothers’ Union party will testify. But if this is all that Christmas is about, isn’t it rather unsatisfying and unsatisfactory?
Today’s Gospel reading reminds us that one of the things this period of Advent is about is the anticipated birth of a child.
Many of us here are parents and for most parents the time leading up to the birth of a child, especially a first child, is a time of great hope, expectation and anticipation. There is a feeling of great changes taking place in relationships. Our relationship with our partner begins to change because of this new role. As we take on a new status – that of parents – so our relationships with the outside world changes. And our relationship with the future changes because we have a new concept of continuity and continuance.
Because of these feelings of change, there is also apprehension that we may not be up to the task we have undertaken, fear that in the changes we may lose something important and also, of course, anxieties about the birth itself.
I don’t know what the experiences of other parents are, but I do know that nothing truly prepared me in advance for the amazing changes that parenthood brings. I knew it would be different, but I failed to realise how profoundly and completely different things would be from then on. For me, it was like opening a door to another world, or of suddenly being able to see a colour I never knew existed. It has been a wonderful, terrifying, exhilarating, awful, awesome journey into a strange country – but a journey with the benefit of a map. Not only that, but I had to pick up the language and customs as I went along. Nothing has ever been the same for me again.
A new life holds such promise, doesn’t it? As parents, we invest a lot of hopes and expectations in our children. Some of these hopes and expectations will be realised – maybe even surpassed – and we will glow with pride at the success of our child. Because we are human, we sometimes forget that our children are not in our ownership, but only in our guardianship. Sometimes we look to our children to fulfil the potential we did not achieve, to succeed where we have failed, and our hopes and ambitions for our children are unrealistic or unsuited to their personalities. When they fail to achieve all we want for them, we feel a pang of disappointment.
The birth of my child changed my world, but the child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas changed everything for everybody and for ever. The promise of his birth has been gloriously fulfilled. There is no sense of unrealised potential or expectations not lived up to.
Advent is a season of hope. Through Christ’s coming into the world everything is changed for ever. Through the simple glory of his life, Jesus showed us the potential for good that exists in all of us. He demonstrated human life at its ultimate. He showed us life as God intended us to live it – a life of service to others. Jesus lived in such a way that all those who came into contact with him, however briefly, were changed by the experience.
Through his glorious, shameful death, he made it possible for us to be reconciled to God. He paid the price for our sins to enable us to start again. He demonstrated both the glory of God’s amazing love for us and the glory of a life lived in complete obedience and harmony with God. In Jesus, divinity and humanity unite and reveal the wonderful glory, both of the Creator and of his creation.
It is sometimes difficult for us to appreciate the glory of God’s creation. We are told in Genesis, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” But that is not always how it appears to us – the world often seems very dark and bleak, doesn’t it? The news over the last few weeks has been “business as usual” with tragedy, cruelty and greed high on the agenda. Strife in many parts of the world, such as the Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, and, nearer home, the threat of terrorist attacks, all remind us that we are living in a fallen world.