Preaching from Years B to C, November 2021 to January 2022
There is a longing in my heart
Asked how the pandemic changed his preaching? John Wilson, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, replies that it has made him ‘really consider what might be on the hearts and minds of my hearers and how these Scriptures speak to them.’ This is echoed by Anglican priest, Vicky Johnson saying that it has made her ‘more attentive to the challenging situation in which we find ourselves today’ and by Jennifer Brown, Director of Training for the College of Preachers, ‘I think it is important to acknowledge within my preaching the suffering that people have experienced because of the pandemic.’
One thing is certain; that there is a longing in the hearts and minds of all of us coming from the experience of the pandemic. We were all longing for it to end. And most of us were not just wanting to go back to normal but were hoping for something new, something better, not just for us as individuals but for our world.
HOPE AND FULFILMENT
The sermons in this section cover the Advent Season, the period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas, for his Second Coming at the end of time and for his coming in mystery, in word and sacrament, and in the everyday circumstances of our lives. Looking at the sermons for this period, we can find a close parallel between the theme of hope and fulfilment in the Christian calendar and the hearts and minds of those who have endured so much during the time of Covid.
CRYING OUT FOR DELIVERANCE
Pentecostal preacher, Joe Aldred observes that the as a consequence of the pandemic, ‘eschatology has become popular in our UK African and Caribbean churches and beyond.’ In his sermon for 14 November 2021 he seeks to encourage his congregation to discover and act upon life enhancing factors ‘after the adversity of the Covid-19 virus.’
In the text from Daniel, 12 Joe sees ‘a situation of distress and perplexity and lost hope, and a prophet crying out to God for deliverance’ to which God, in response, reveals ‘new possibilities where death is replaced by resurrection, and the wise shine out of darkness like the brightness of the heavens.’
Joe concludes this powerful sermon by urging that whereas ‘Covid-19 may not signal the end of the world…it is an opportunity – guided by God through scripture, reason and experience … to respond to the challenges we face today and tomorrow.’
IT STARTS HERE AND NOW
For the same sense of the immediacy of the challenges of Advent, Church of Scotland minister Laurence Twaddle begins his Advent Sunday sermon with his usual inimitable poetic intensity, telling us that ‘I’m not holding my breath for the Second Coming! I’d happily be wrong …but I don’t think the world will end a week next Tuesday. Or in my lifetime. Or probably yours.’ But he brings us face to face with a challengingly realised eschatology, reminding us that ‘again and again’ Christ ‘has reminded his followers that it all starts here.
And now. With them … in them. Every Monday morning, we embrace the coming of the Kingdom of God; we seek the coming of the Kingdom of God …’ And he suggests that ‘unless the Son of Man is present here and now, in this most practical of contexts, there is no Kingdom of God. His Kingdom is not an abstract shimmering mirage – some vague entity we look for or wait for impatiently: but rather, it is the quite disturbingly definite.’ Laurence concludes that to ‘wait for the Coming of Christ suggests, requires, a deliberate opting for his presence in our life, in our experience. Otherwise, it’s just words …’
SOME COMFORTABLE DISTANCE FROM GOD
The same disturbingly definite message comes across in the sermon on Luke 3:1-6 for the Second Sunday in Advent. Roman Catholic priest, Vladimir Nikiforov, asks if the ‘image of a highway for God’ has any relevance for us. ‘Don’t we hate roadworks in principle? … Are we not happy to be in a long-distance relationship with him rather than letting him into our homes, into our very hearts? Is it not better to give him a grand reception a couple of times a year instead of having him as our neighbour whom we cannot ignore?’ And he sees ‘Mountains and valleys that isolate us from him... mountains of our indifference and the valleys of our spiritual lethargy.’
TAKING ON THE CHALLENGE
For Advent 3, Anglican priest, Sarah Jones finds an analogously disturbing challenge in the preaching of John the Baptist (Luke 3:10-18) ‘Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’ ...’Wow! Imagine going to see John, hoping to be welcomed into a deeper relationship with God and then being spoken to like that.’ After exploring the practical implications of John’s preaching, she ends by stressing that there is ‘a choice before us … Advent is partly a time for preparation for Christmas and so we can choose to take on John’s challenge as part of our preparation for welcoming Jesus into our hearts and homes this Christmas.’
WISHING IT COULD BE CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY
But if our active Advent hoping finds its fulfilment in the coming of Christ at Christmas, the challenge of Advent has not gone away. Speaking from the context of the lockdown, pandemic experience, John Wilson, reminds us that ‘Christmas is a challenging time for many people, not least given the fallout of the Covid pandemic’ and ‘those who are lonely, bereaved, homeless, or trapped by poverty, can really struggle in the bleak mid-winter.’ However, hope is not disappointed, ‘When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, arrived in our world as a tiny baby, nothing would ever be the same again.’ So ‘there’s a sense in which it’s right that every disciple should want it to be Christmas every day…’ and ‘as we recall Christ’s birth, and the Father’s plan for him, we can give thanks for our own birth and seek daily faithfulness to what God’s asks of us.’
KINDLING THE FLAME
Similar inspiration is found in Congregational minister, Janet Wootton’s January 2 sermon on the Word becoming flesh (John 1:1-18). For Janet, this ‘is not a Christmas soundbite, but a real lived experience in our own lives … no matter how dimly we may feel that our own lamp burns. Each of us can kindle the flame of God’s love in another, and each can warm our hearts at the hearth of another’s faith.’
In these and other sermons, we learn that if the pandemic has changed our preaching at all, it will be because we have become aware of what might be in the hearts and minds of our hearers so as kindle the flame of God’s love in one another.
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