St John's Church, Harpenden - letter from the Ministry team

We publish a Parish Magazine 4 times a year and in each Magazine there is a letter from the vicar or a member of the Ministry team.

Advent Letter

Our lives today often seem to be spent between rushing and waiting. We rush to the airport only to queue up at the check-in desk. We rush to pre-Christmas/post-Christmas sales and wait to pay at the checkout. Waiting involves a necessary slowing down as well as hope of fulfilment.

The Advent season (Advent means 'coming' or 'arrival') that begins the Church's year summons us to slow down, even if our lives seem even more hectic than normal; it also calls us to live in hope and real expectation. Usually we think of the coming of Jesus only in terms of his birth at Christmas. But there are actually three ways in which to think of his coming: past, present and future. Jesus came as a human person like us when he was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. Jesus still comes into our own personal histories today, through prayer, through the sacraments, to those willing to receive him. Finally, Jesus will come at the consummation of history to judge the world.

Through a careful selection of readings from Scripture during Advent the Church reminds us that we will not be able to truly celebrate the anniversary of his coming to us at Bethlehem properly, or receive him into our hearts through prayer and the sacraments worthily, unless we are prepared to meet him at the final judgement. To celebrate the joy of Jesus' birth fully, we must live each and every day prepared to meet the Lord Jesus whenever he comes.

This Advent God calls to us through the voices of the prophet Isaiah, King David, John the Baptist, Paul, Peter and Mary of Nazareth. They speak urgently to us.

Through the words of the prophet Isaiah, God assures the people that he is always their redeemer and nearest kin, a God who has never been absent from them, a God who is always ready and waiting to be found, even by those who have given up looking for God. 'Here I am, here I am' God also calls to us this Advent.

We also learn from the book of Isaiah that the Holy God in Israel is repelled by injustice and violence and summons people to turn and walk a different way. How unrealistic Isaiah’s vision seems when appalling violence and war still seem to prevail. Yet Isaiah’s messages were proclaimed in a no less difficult time, when the small and insignificant nation of Israel was threatened with destruction by the superpower of its day.

During this Advent may we recommend a deeper engagement with the book of Isaiah through study and prayer perhaps for ten minutes each day, letting his words refresh your care-torn weary hearts. And then there is the voice of John the Baptist, a voice that refuses to be silenced. Herod Antipas tried to do just that by having him beheaded; yet here we are, centuries later, listening to him. John the Baptist stands before us, blocking out sentimentality and reminding us that Advent is less about 'baby Jesus' and more about the adult Coming One and the mystery of his life, death and resurrection that is offered as a means of interpreting our own lives.

John, the new Elijah, does not deliver his message in the second temple or anywhere else in the holy city of Jerusalem, but by the River Jordan. At a busy crossing place, so significant in the history of Israel, John urges people to cross over into God's forgiveness through the waters of a ritual baptism of repentance. During this Advent the Baptist invites us to engage in an honest assessment of the water - not of the Jordan, but of our baptism - and to a searing examination of our conscience. Advent is the times to ask ourselves just how faithful are we towards Christ Jesus into whom we were baptised?

Finally, we are brought up short by Mary of Nazareth - a powerless woman in a patriarchal world; a poor woman in a highly stratified society; found to be pregnant before she cohabits with her husband. Mary's God, our God, is full of surprises, always taking the initiative, turning our expectations upside down. This Advent this humble woman challenges us to live lives of attentiveness to the stirrings of God at work in the world, lives that are obedient to the call of God so that we can stand upright when he comes in glory at the end of time.

Every blessing for Christmas,

Nicholas and Amanda

Nicholas Anderson, Vicar and Amanda Duncan, Curate



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