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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Advent 1, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 3, 2017

Psalm 80; Mark 13:24-37

‘Try creating something - you're in for a surprise!’

Happy new year! Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. The Latin word means “arrival” or “coming”. [You might like to write the word “Advent” on the Advent calendar box you are decorating. You could even add a few letters to create the word “Adventure”.]

The wonderful thing about Advent is that it encourages us to make space for something new, a new adventure – even as we remember the goodness of God. Advent prayers feature words like “surprise”, “unexpected”, “unknowing” ... On one level, we know that we will celebrate Christmas in a little under four weeks’ time. On another level, this can be a truly surprising event – for adventurous hearts and minds. God be with you ...

Faith is an adventure. During Advent we light four candles: for hope, peace, joy and love.

That’s because these words help us to remember God in thanksgiving, to cry out to God for help, to imagine God’s coming again and again to bring new life. [Those who are making Advent calendars this morning might try creating small artworks about hope, peace, joy and love – the idea is to fill 24 envelopes with drawings, Bible verses, prayers, family projects and other good things.]

Faith is about how we do things – how we approach the Bible and the stories and rituals of the church. Seeing Bible verses and traditional practices like lighting candles as promises – as exciting and challenging words, ideas and actions. What is the promise in this reading?

I love these words from today’s Psalm: “O God, return to us – / let your face smile on us, / and we will be saved!” God is a smiling God who wants to save or help us. We remember God as a smiling God, and we look forward to God appearing in many smiles. [Perhaps you’d like to write that Bible verse on a card to place in one of the envelopes. It’s from Psalm 80:3.]

And I love these words from today’s Gospel (Mark 13:29,33,37): “Know that the Promised One is near, right at the door … Stay awake! … stay alert!” [You might like to write them, too.] Jesus encourages us to look around, to notice when people are in trouble, when people are worried or frightened, when the animals, the earth and skies are showing signs of distress. Faith is about being awake so we can look for the promises of God at all times.

Phoebe and friends are putting something else into their envelopes – little slips of coloured paper with some words about the Christmas Bowl projects this year. For more than 60 years, churches in Australia have been taking part in the Christmas Bowl – learning, praying and acting together to help bring hope, peace, joy and love to countries and people in distress. [Perhaps we can read a couple of information slips …]

We are being encouraged to stay alert for something else, something other than conflict and despair; to be alert for something more respectful, more humane, more sustainable, fair, kind …

One of our candidates for the ministry of Elder once mentioned understanding this new regard – this alertness – in terms of becoming wise, as a wisdom that ventures beyond naivety, beyond self-centred concerns or wishful fantasies, across unfamiliar terrain, towards a genuine hopefulness.

It is striking that the mainstream Santa story underlines the importance of being found asleep. Santa will come with gifts only for those who are asleep. In contrast to this Santa – also called, aptly, Consumo – Jesus emphasises the importance of being awake – being aware, being active.

Not that sleeping is a bad thing, of course. A good night’s sleep helps us to be awake the next day. But there’s something important to note here. Something important about preparation, about preparing for Christmas – preparing to welcome the God of many smiles, the God of new awareness.

One of the best ways to prepare for the arrival of God is to try creating something. Read the Bible and create a poem or picture. Light a candle and make a prayer. Pray to God for help, and help create a space for hope, peace, joy and love. Create a space for love and make/risk/venture your own promise …

Try creating something – you’re in for a surprise!

I can’t say what will happen for you. One thing I’ll say, though, is you’ll probably learn something about being in the world with others. Your experience of God will change – the God who comes again returns in wonder – and you will be changed. [If possible, try sharing/swapping some envelopes with a friend before giving your own collection a shuffle and then writing the numbers one to 24 on the sealed envelopes. Each morning between now and Christmas Eve – each morning when you wake up – may you be a little surprised by what you discover when you open the envelope for the day. May you be a little surprised by conversations with family and friends.]

A simple commitment to creativity – stirring in us the very power of God – helps to prepare us for the shocking story of a Saviour born into poverty, into obscurity, into an occupied country; the shocking story of a Saviour born of a woman alert to the ways of God, alert to hope, peace, joy and love.

Try creating something – you’re in for a surprise! Amen.