Vicar's Sermon - Advent 2, December 6th 2015

Luke 3.

I’m not ready. Certainly not ready for Christmas – hardly started writing the cards. Still plenty of presents to buy...and to post in time for the big day, let alone think of something to buy Kim. But forget Christmas ...I’m not ready to become a grandpa, or at least, I don’t feel ready. Earlier this week ‘mum to be’ went into hospital for a check up...high blood pressure...and emerged with the news that baby may have to be born earlier than expected. ‘Boxing Day’ was mentioned. Good grief, that’s not far away. Libby hasn’t finished knitting baby a blanket. ...we have any amount of stuff accruing in our spare rooms for an infant but where on earth is the time to be having a baby over the Christmas holiday especially when we were gearing up for mid January! But rest assured he will come ‘ready or not’.

Are we ready? A big week for us in the life of the church: All hands to the decks: Fifty Five Christmas Trees arriving at church on Tuesday morning. Names signed up on lists to serve refreshments. Mince pies to be made. Wine bought for mulling. Has it really come round so soon? It’s not long since we filled the church for Remembrance: now Christmas is upon us. Next week will fly by: are we ready?

Planning gets you so far doesn’t it. Thanks to the little group that have been working on the festival and you, as willing volunteers, we are as ready as can be but when it comes the festival is still a big ask...lots to do to be ready to welcome people through the doors. Thankfully we have a few Christmas Tree Festivals under our belts, some experience gained down the years to draw upon but, at the back of my mind there’s the thought...’and after the trees have gone will I be ready for the school to come into church a week on Tuesday, will the church be ready to welcome them?’ At this time of year it pays to be thinking a few weeks ahead at least.

Were you ready for the storms on Friday night? There was no damage, as far as I am aware, to the Vicarage. There were some leaks here in church however, presumably because water gets driven underneath the lead on the roof. But I’m glad we had our late autumn clean the other week and we managed to clear the gutters and gulleys of leaves that could have blocked the downspouts and caused more problems. Any weakness gets tested by such heavy storms: Gordon phoned up yesterday morning to say he saw a roof panel blowing over the wall into the Vicarage garden – a loose fixing and up, up away it went. Loose tiles on roofs meet their match with the weather we have just had. It pays to be ready but sometimes we are caught unawares

Nationally we go to great lengths ‘to be ready’. The police and the security forces have disaster plans. The environmental agency has it warning systems. The weather folk give us advanced warning of what to expect. There are civil defence exercises of great complexity: volunteers offering to act out horrendous injuries to stretch the emergency forces to the limit. Chains of command established. Lessons learned for next time.

Today in the church year we are called upon ‘to be ready’. John the Baptist is the messenger who announces the impending coming of the Lord. Of course, the gospel story has been shuffled well and truly: here, John the Baptist is an adult. We’re well passed the first Christmas Day. John proclaims the Lord’s coming some 30 years after Jesus’ birth. He is preparing the people of Israel for God’s coming amongst them – still unaware himself that this coming would be fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth. But of one thing John is sure: the Lord will come and people will need to get ready.

The picture language quoted from the prophet Isaiah speaks of preparations that require hard work and effort. The image is of a town awaiting the arrival of a special visitor: the roads are levelled and smoothed out, potholes filled in.  It was the practice back then, when a special visitor was expected at a city, for the residents to flood out of the city to greet their guest and bring them back in triumph within the city walls. This is us. This is a picture of God’s people at this time. Making space. Putting things in order for the Lord to come. It will not do to be caught out. It will not do to be found wanting. Shame on those who are not ready for His coming.

In our Big Story telling of the shape of the church year up at Green Lane School the children are shown how we need four weeks at least to get ready for the Feast of Christmas.  Is 4 weeks enough ?- have you started yet....I don’t mean have you written your cards or bought your presents. I don’t mean have you organised the family ...have you started to get ready to meet with Christ the Lord? Have you put any thought into being ready to greet Him at Christmas Time.  When we tell the children the story of the ark in the wilderness and the building of the temple the language of ‘being ready’ is used. You can’t (says the story) just walk up to something as important as the Ten have to get ready. The whole paraphernalia of the incense, the menorah, the Bread of the presence, the Holy of Holies, the altar and the basin outside the Tent of meeting and the Temple ....all these things were given to the people ‘to help them to get ready’ to meet with God. If the people of Israel went to such lengths to be ready...what are you doing?

‘When He comes, when He comes who will make Him welcome?’  asked the carol. What sort of world have we made for Him to come to? What part are we playing in making Barnard Castle a place where Jesus finds a welcome?  Is the Kingdom visible here? Will he come with the words ‘well done, good and faithful servants?’ or look with disappointment on our efforts? 

I’m going to finish by playing some music. Eva Cassidy singing ‘People, get ready, there’s a train a coming.’