A sermon preached at Croydon Minster at the Eucharist on Advent Sunday, 2nd December.The readings were Jeremiah 33.14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13 and Luke 21.25-36.
‘Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’ (Luke 21.28)
Most families have their own quirky phrases. One of the phrases in my family is addressed to someone who is slumping in their chair or not standing up straight: ‘posture police’.
In other words stand up straight, get your posture right!
The season of Advent is a season of watching and expectant waiting. If you are watching and waiting expectantly, you are on the lookout, so your posture has to be alert and upright.
Advent is a season when we are called to adopt a posture of expectation. We need this posture throughout the year, of course, so that we are alert to Christ’s presence in the world, in word and sacrament day by day: watching and expectant waiting is for life; not just for Advent!
Our patron saint, John the Baptist, didn’t use the phrase ‘posture police’, but figuratively speaking, that’s what he was saying: ‘gird up your loins’; ‘be watchful’; ‘posture police’.
John the Baptist adopted the posture of expectation because he was watching and waiting expectantly for the coming of Christ day by day. That’s why he was ready to see, recognise and point out Jesus Christ in his midst.
There was John, out in the wilderness, baptising countless people yet he sees Jesus. John the Evangelist records it in a quite prosaic way, ‘the next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Behold! Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1.29)
That is the posture of expectation. A life attuned to seeing Christ in our midst and proclaiming him to all.
That is why John has such a high profile in Advent.
Another aspect of our tradition that raises its profile in Advent, and actually should throughout the year, is the reading of the Old Testament. Most obviously at this time of year we can draw on the promise given to our ancestors in faith, the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Deborah and Sarah - and the prophets – most notably Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah.
But the Old Testament is not there simply to be appropriated when it suits us. Reading the Old Testament throughout the year is to read a collection of books that witness to the posture of expectation and God’s faithfulness, because read through Easter eyes they point us to Christ: incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended: Adam’s ‘no’ to God in the garden of Eden points to Christ’s ‘yes’ to God in Gethsemane; Noah’s deliverance from the flood prefigures baptism; Abraham’s abortive sacrifice of Isaac points us to the Lamb of God, the sacrifice God provides for his people; Hannah’s yearning and rejoicing in her child inspires Mary’s Magnificat, her song of praise to God; Jacob’s twelve sons become God’s people, Israel, the forerunners of the twelve apostles and God’s people the Church: the people yearn, expectantly for the coming Messiah of God.
Expectation and yearning, ‘O Come, O come Emmanuel’: come ‘God with us’.
Posture is important. It is said that over half of human communication is non-verbal, in other words, body language. A key component of body language is posture, and you can read it all too well.
Try these. [Arms folded] this posture is defensive; [clenched fist] this one aggressive; [yawning, looking around] this one switched off, [eyes open hands outstretched] this one engaged.
Posture tells us what’s going on inside and helps us become something we are not yet.
I am not asleep! And I can’t go to sleep standing where I am. Bring me a duvet and pillows, let me lie down and I have adopted a posture for sleep, I will become a sleeper. Likewise prayer is more likely to bubble up in me if I adopt a prayerful posture, attending to my hands, considering whether I kneel or stand, breathing deeply and meditatively.
So the Advent posture is one of watching and expectant waiting: a posture of expectation.
When a church adopts a posture of expectation things happen. We don’t make them happen, God does, but our posture is ready for God to act, and, like John the Baptist, we see Christ, we proclaim Christ and others are attracted to Christ.
This Advent let’s shape our habits around expectation.
In Christian liturgy body language and posture are used and matter – over half our way of communication, remember. We stand, kneel and sit; we stretch out our hands to receive.
In many ways it is sad that the most expansive gestures and posture seen in churches are those of the priest: [open arms] ‘the Lord be with you’ [orans] ‘let us pray’[extended hands] ‘send your Holy Spirit’.
So this Advent in our worship let us be alert, upright, ready to see the Christ who comes to us as his word is opened up, as bread is broken, as he promises. In our prayer let us adopt a posture of expectation: not praying by clasping our sinuses, but by kneeling in our adoration; not by praying as if we are blinding ourselves, but joining our hands in supplication or stretching them out to receive; not by slumping into our pew but setting ourselves expectantly; not by sitting back for a performance of words and music, but expectantly engaging with the Lord who comes to us.
This is what the scriptures call us to: in Jeremiah’s words, ‘the days are surely coming says the LORD, when I fulfil the promise I made to Israel and the house of Judah’. This shapes us, as St Paul in the first letter to the Thessalonians says, that we may ‘abound more and more in love’.
The Lord is near. Now is the time to restore what is lacking in our faith. Now it is time to wake up, sit up and take notice. As Jesus says in the gospel: ‘Be alert at all times…’ (Luke 21.36)
The days are surely coming, so let us be watchful, expectantly waiting for the Lord who comes: ‘Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’.
© Andrew Bishop, 2018