On 29th November, Advent Sunday, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 25:1-9, Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36.
Last Monday my husband, Phil, had a hospital appointment fairly close to where our daughter lives. He was invited to have an evening meal at her house before returning home. On the way to our daughter’s home, Phil called at our granddaughter’s day nursery to collect her. As Phil approached from the car park he saw that Emily was with a group of children outside. They were just getting ready to go back inside the building. Emily looked up and exactly in the direction of Phil. She gave a big shout: “It’s Grandpa!” One of the helpers told Phil, “It’s easy to tell whose she is!” All the way home in the car Emily said, “Grandpa” and Phil replied, “Emily.”
This simple incident in the life of a small girl has something to tell us about Advent, the season of the Church Year we have just entered. Emily will no doubt have been told that her Grandpa was going to collect her. However, that was in the morning and a lot had happened in her life before she was collected in the late afternoon. Jeremiah and other prophets, whom we particularly focus on today, relayed God’s message to his people faithfully. God promised time and again that one day he would send a Saviour. In the passage from Jeremiah this Saviour is called the “righteous Branch”. The people at that time and since have heard or read the promise. They knew the Messiah would come. We know he has come and will return. However, a lot happens in our lives to drive that message to the back of our minds. At this time of the year the readings are designed so that each day we revisit the promises in Scripture and refresh our minds about them.
Even if Emily had thought about what she had been told, she doesn’t really have a concept of time. What does afternoon mean to a her? There is only the ‘now’ and ‘not now’ as far as a small child is concerned. For us also, our concept of time is rudimentary. We don’t understand it in the same way as God does. Our lives are concerned with our immediate time period. The whole sweep of history is a challenge to comprehend. The eternal perspective on time is beyond us. When God promises something will happen soon, what does that mean? Tomorrow, or in several thousand years’ time? When we think about the second coming of Christ, when might that be? The early Christians thought it would be in their lifetimes but here we are, two millennia later, still waiting. Because of our limitations, Jesus encouraged his disciples to try to stay alert to the possibility of his return. It could be any time, so don’t be caught unprepared. Advent gives us a chance to prepare.
Little children have a reputation for not concentrating, but anyone who has observed them will see periods of intense concentration. It was only as Emily changed activity and was preparing to go inside that she looked up and saw her Grandpa coming to collect her. We, too, have our focus on many things which prevent us noticing what is going on around us in terms of God’s promises. Strong emotions engulf us: love, fear, anger. Commitments occupy us: work, home life, church, hobbies. Jesus encouraged his disciples to look up, to look around and notice the signs of the times, just as they might notice the changes of the seasons. Advent provides the prompt for us to do just that, to change our pace or our focus for a season and really look with the eyes of faith.
When Emily looked up, she exclaimed in joy and surprise. Yes, she had been told that her Grandpa was coming, but the reality was a wonderful surprise. Because Emily shouted out, those around her knew who this man was who was approaching. They knew how Phil and Emily are related; they knew to whom Emily belonged. One day it will be the same for us. We will look up and see someone we recognise, someone with whom we already have a relationship, whom we know by name and who knows us by name. Although we have been promised that it will happen, it will still be a fantastic surprise when Jesus finally returns. Advent gives us a chance to anticipate with joy that time of reunion. The chances are we too will repeat Jesus’ name in wonder and joy, just as Emily repeated her Grandpa’s name.
Much of a child’s learning is done by imaginative play. I’ve watched Emily move her play figures around, telling herself what they are doing. Sometimes it’s a re-enactment of something she has seen in a children’s programme, other times she seems to be making it all up. Her language still has a way to go but she knows the story in her own way. The Epiphany community and friends do much the same with the Posada which begins today. Figures of Mary and Joseph will set off from the Cathedral today on a journey around Second Life. They will move from host to host each day and we will follow them by visiting the venues when we can. By recreating the journey to Bethlehem, we are entering into Mary and Joseph’s experience in our imagination. We are also putting ourselves in the story as we imagine our journey through life which takes us closer to the time when Jesus will return. Imaginative play is not helpful for children only!
I’m very grateful for the preparatory work which Celberon did to organise the Posada. I’m also grateful to Lady Queen who offered to continue with that work, which has meant that the Posada did not have to be cancelled. Lady Queen is very sure that, at a time when we see many of the worrying signs which Jesus described happening in our world, we should focus with hope on the bigger picture. She sees the Posada as a way to do this and I agree with her. I really hope the Posada blesses your Advent and that of everyone who connects with the journey of the Holy Couple this year.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor