“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.”
Advent has begun. We are surrounded by purple, instead of green. It is the colour of penitence. The time has come for us to repent. But what does that mean, really?
Repent. The Greek word used in the gospels is “metanoia”, which means to go back in your mind. Repentance is a call to reflect on what we have said and done. Have we been careful with our speech?we disobeyed God’s commands?
Most of us probably haven’t stolen or murdered. Most of us haven’t committed adultery, borne false witness or…we been covetous? Most of the commandments are very serious and very clear, and we obey them.
The first fourthe ones which we struggle with, I fear…
“I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods but me”
“You shall not make for yourself a graven image. You shall not bow down to them and serve them”
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”
“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy”
So, how are we doing, with obedience to God’s law? Do we need to repent? How do we feel if we look back in our minds?
What false gods have we set up, like idols?
It sounds archaic and ridiculous… But then again… Is something in the way of our worship of God? What takes precedence over our faithful following of Jesus Christ?
Some people make an idol of their loved ones. A precious grandchild. A son or daughter.some, it may be their house and garden. Or their car. Or their social life.
For others, it may even be ”me” – our image and our appearance, our comfort and the satisfaction of our wants, can become the focal point of our lives.
Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. Advent is a time to reflect on where we direct most of our spending, and most of our attention.
What does it mean, to take the Lord’s name in vain? When I was younger, it was rare to hear ”Oh my God!” it might be exclaimed in extreme horror, or shock, or fear. Now, it is so commonly used, that I hear primary children say it, and it has become a commonplace comment on text messages – abbreviated to OMG, because it is so easily recognised. TheAnglican church on Dandenong Road, Malvern, which faces the end of Glenferrie Rd., several years ago, decided to ’reclaim’ the phrase. They installed an enormous sign – OMG – onthe church, which is visible all down through the shops for miles. Clever!
But I have to admit, I don’t use it. It makes me uncomfortable. It sounds and feels disrespectful. There is an old saying, which goes: ”familiarity breeds contempt”. Is such use of God’s name fostering contempt for God? That’s worth reflecting on. Yet, if we call out those who say it… ”I’m sorry, but that makes me very uncomfortable”, how are we seen by others? Prudish? Old-fashioned? Yet, people these days are sensible and respectful enough for the most part, never to call an Indigenous or African person black. Rightly so. And we are much more careful not to sexually harass others. Why is it ok to disrespect Christians? ?…and God?
Finally, I come to the issue of remembering the sabbath day to keep it holy. Oh how difficult! These days, Sunday may be a day we are required to work. That’s ok. We can choose another day to set aside for remembering God, and for prayer, and reflection on our walk as Christians following Jesus the Christ, right?
All right, but do we? Remembering the Sabbath means meeting as community, and worshipping, and reading or hearing Scripture, reflecting on our response to it. It means admitting to ourselves and God, where we have made mistakes, and asking forgiveness. It means praying together in community, for the welfare of others, the world, and our church community, and it means sharing in Holy Communion together, side by side – accepting the grace and love of God, in fellowship and reconciliation with God and our neighbours. In this parish, these things happen on Sundays and Thursdays. Would you need other options? Let us know.
This is a busy world, we are constantly told. Christine and I are in conversations every week with people who are busy. We are busy too. There are family visits, grandchildren to be minded, football games and cricket, social events, golf, Probus, birthday parties, and other social commitments, and simply relaxing together as a family, or catching up on the garden or housework, before Monday comes again. All these things make Sundays precious, and difficult. There are so many calls on our time.
In our ending is our beginning, then. Have all these activities become our God? Were they, perhaps, always our God, and we occasionally try to pretend otherwise? Confronting thought.
When I use ’metanoia’ – the reflection on how my mind works, on how I live my life – I am disturbed, discomforteded. This is what Advent is for. We look forward to the coming of theChrist who is already amongst us. We look forward to his appearance as a baby, but also to his reappearance st the end of time. We are plunged into mystery!
It is inexplicable and very challenging. It feels dangerous… I invite you on an ADVENTure!
This Advent, allow yourself to be challenged. Reflect on your faith. Participate in a study group. Invite others to pray together. Bring a neighbour to church. It might lead you to a different way of living, or feeling or being.
The theme of the first week is HOPE.