Fourth Sunday Before Advent - Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    Precentor - Canon Gilly Myers

  • Readings

    Isaiah 1.10-18 2; Thessalonians 1.1-12; Luke 19.1-10

All the talk this week of a Christmas election!

We struggle in the Cathedral to maintain any semblance of Advent as we make our way through the fast moving December diary full of Christmas Carol Services, Christmas Carol Concerts, Christmas Sing-alongs and the thousands (yes, literally thousands) of mince pies that are served throughout the month in the post-service party receptions in the Millennium Courtyard marquee.

Surprisingly to many, therefore – and quite out of step with popular culture, the Church on the 12 December is most definitely still in the middle of Advent – and is several days even before the choir begins to sing those great Advent antiphons at evensong (‘O Come, O come, Emmanuel’, and so on) which is our liturgical equivalent to a daily count down to the Feast of the Nativity.

So it’s an Advent election, really – full of Advent’s rich themes of waiting, longing, judgement and of the second coming of Jesus. That will certainly give us something on which to chew.

And while we’re thinking about patterns of the Church’s year – you may have noticed that today we have entered into a fresh mini-season in the yearly cycle. (The emergence of the colour red, is a clue – in contrast to the green vestments and altar frontal that we have been living with all through the summer months.

These Sundays before Advent are semi-officially identified as the Kingdom Season. It started on the eve of All Saints and includes the solemn and reflective days of All Saints and All Souls, and also Remembrance-tide. And at this time of year, when the leaves are falling, the temperature is dropping and the days are drawing in, we are given Sunday Bible readings that explore themes of power and sovereignty, comparing earthly kingdoms with the Kingdom of Heaven, and culminating in the bright golden celebration of Christ the King at the end of November.

As we approach a very unusual December General Election – what better time to be considering the threads of power and government that are woven throughout human history and the pages of the Bible.

These are very big themes for these four young children, who have been brought by their families for baptism today – but struggles for power are a reality of the world into which they have been born, and in coming to baptism, they are taking on a new citizenship. For in those cleansing, renewing, life-giving waters of the font, they are becoming citizens of the Kingdom of God.

All those of us who are here today, have dual citizenship, in that we have both earthly and heavenly passports.

And perhaps one of the greatest challenges is our calling to live according to the ways of God’s Kingdom, and to promote God’s values, whilst dwelling in the midst of an earthly culture, which can so often be pulling us in the opposite direction.

We, who are gathered here this morning, have come to worship because we see in Jesus a very different way of approaching power.

He is:

a King who rides in triumph on a donkey;

who stoops down to wash his disciples’ dirty, dusty, feet;

who says:

Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep…
(Luke  6.20, 21)

Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you.
(Luke 6. 27)

In the words of a popular worship song: This is our God, the Servant King.

My family wasn’t terribly interested in discussing politics when I was growing up, so it was first at university that I began to meet people who loved a good political debate.

It was there that I began to consider how my faith as a Christian might have a bearing on my political views. And it was there that I learned that politicians of many different party colours each made their own claims for being the party that most closely emulated the values of the Kingdom of God. It’s a complicated business.

What then, might a preacher say about the forthcoming election?
If we are looking for guidance, there are many ways to turn. Our Bible readings today give us some clues as to what God thinks is important.

‘I’ve had enough of your phoney worship,’ says God to the people of Jerusalem through the prophet Isaiah. ‘I want to see you living out your faith.’

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
…cease to do evil,
   learn to do good;
seek justice,
   rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
   plead for the widow. 

These are indicative of the values that are important to God; these are signs of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Then we heard about Zacchaeus – the vertically challenged wealthy tax collector who had to climb a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus.

Tax collectors in those days were despised men. They were hated by the people not only because they took their money from them as they collected the taxes, but also because they was doing this on behalf of the Romans – their enemy, who were unbelievers and who were occupying their land. And, what’s more, tax collectors had a reputation for over-charging and pocketing the balance. It would appear from this passage that Zacchaeus certainly did fit this mould.

This short narrative leaves much to our imagination – and possibly conflates a longer timescale in which Zacchaeus encounters Jesus and his teaching. But however long it took for Zacchaeus to utterly reform his intentions, something happened when he met the one who said to his disciples:

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume, and thieves break in and steal; Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ 

From time immemorial money and possessions have equated to power; and most people who have power hold onto it for all they are worth.

Where does this leave us in the weeks before Advent and the Election?

I would say, ‘Look out for the signs of God’s Kingdom’. They are not limited to those that come out of today’s readings – they are many and varied, and run through the pages of our Bibles.

Look out for signs of God’s Kingdom …

  • through the policies and manifestos;
  • through the promises and intentions;
  • in trust, integrity and truth;
  • and in the way that our political leaders model their relationships.

And, of course, we must not stop praying for all who are standing for election, and for those who will be our leaders in the months and years to come.