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Reading: Luke 21.34-36
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
Today is the last day of the Church’s year. Tomorrow is Advent Sunday and our cycle of anticipation, preparation and celebration will begin again. Yes, in just twenty-six days we will, once again, be recalling and celebrating the Incarnation of Jesus as a baby, in a stable, in Bethlehem. But what about the intervening time? How are we going to use the days between Advent Sunday and Christmas Day?
For many, Christmas began some weeks ago. The challenge of Covid 19 led people into beginning their on-line Christmas shopping even earlier than normal. Since the height of the first wave of the pandemic there has been discussion about how we might or might not be able to celebrate Christmas. So much time and effort has been wasted on conjecture, and none of it was focused on the right issues. Of course, the gathering of family and friends is important, but that is not what Christmas is really about. And today, at the end of the Church’s year, as we stand on the brink of a new year, we are reminded of that. Jesus is warning us, in words of one syllable to keep focused on that which is important. Jesus tells us to: be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.
In his novel, The Trial, Franz Kafka writes of a man who was told to enter a kingdom through a certain gate. When the man arrived, he found the gate, but he also noticed that there was a guard standing by the gate. The man did not know whether to enter or to wait, so he sat down and waited. He waited for the guard to give him permission to enter. But the guard did and said nothing. So, the man continued to sit and wait for something to happen, or for someone to come. The man sat there for a whole lifetime. Then, one day and without warning, the guard closed the gate. He then turned to the man and said: This door was made for you, and for you alone; and because you chose not to enter it, it is being closed for ever.
We have been called to enter the gate of discipleship in order that we might, in our time, be welcomed into the nearer presence of our God. We know that in twenty six days’ time we will have the opportunity to do just that, to stand before the crib in that lowly stable and worship God. Will we be so caught up in the secular view of Christmas to miss the opportunity we are being given, or will we have accepted the invitation to step through the gate that is standing open for us?
The choice is ours, and ours alone. I pray that at the start of the new Church year we might all find the courage and the determination to respond in joy, set aside our worldly concerns and come to kneel before the baby who changed the world for ever.