Sunday 6th December 2020 Advent II Year B
There seems to be an awful lot of shouting going on in today's readings but then perhaps shouting the message is better than mumbling as proposed by the Dean of the Cathedral of St.George, the Shires and the Utterly divided Trinity in one of his cathedral diaries (as found on the Tobymalcolm weblog):
"Is it time to revive the honourable custom of mumbling?At some theological colleges, ordinands are still taught in the best English tradition to mumble; to speak 'with the lips partly- closed' as the OED has it. For a church which needs to be everything and anything to the pewsman, it seems sermons delivered in a mumble are never misunderstood.
And what of 'mumble-matins?' Sadly, such are scarcely ever heard these days even by yonder combe or deepest dell. Rooker (does anyone read him nowadays?) tells how rising at 6am, he would stumble and mumble across the frost-rimed winter fields while saying the Offices in the falsetto tones, which so inspired a generation of vulgar artistes.
He would arrive at the last of his 19 parishes as two or three gathered, just in time for a flagon of porter and Devonshire porridge. Then as the sun dropped slowly in the western sky and the bells of Bovey Tracey rang out their evensong peal, the quiet and ancient tones of 'mumble-matins' would rise like wood smoke.
Writing at the time when our land was agog with dangerous enthusiasms, Rooker could not have anticipated that the Reformation would produce Albert the digital organist, or that doubtful enticement; 'The Antiques Road Show' (which comes to our Cathedral early in 2009 as a result of an over-enthusiastic Administrator). For Rooker, 'gums unarmed to mumble' as Dryden has it, made him a much misunderstood figure in our firmament. Would that today our Anglican communion could grow a generation of 'mumblers' who lead a blameless life from the pulpit without ever upsetting the faithful. "
Mumbling, would I agree not upset the faithful but today's readings remind us that we all need to be stirred up, now and again.
If like me you are a fan of historical novels you will be quite familiar with messengers arriving and
shouting out their news. Usually, in the novels the news they bring is more often than not, unpopular - well you wouldn't want to spoil a good story. In most cases the herald is exhausted having travelled far to proclaim their message. Sadly, some of them end up dead - either because others do not want the message to be delivered or the recipient doesn't like what he or she is told. Whatever their fate, messengers were important in conveying the news of the society in which they lived.
In our 21st century world it is all too easy to forget that radio and television or the internet have only been around in some form for the last 100 years or so and available to the masses for only a part of that time. Before we could listen or watch the news we depended on others bringing it to us, either in a printed or oral form. The messenger was vital in the life of society but there was an onus on them to get the message right and not to forget it, confuse it or deliberately change it.
John-the-Baptist is one such messenger and his ministry seems to have been foretold by the prophet Isaiah centuries before. In today’s readings what is clear is that the messenger is not the one 'to come' but merely the pre-cursor. The messenger, so says
Isaiah, is the one sent to tread the path 'to make a highway in the desert', to level out the uneven path for the more important figure to follow. Mark tells us that John-the-Baptist came to make 'the paths straight' and to encourage repentance. Both Mark and Isaiah seek to tell us that we need to prepare and be prepared to meet the Lord, the Christ.
But how are we to prepare?
In the lives we live today we need to prepare by creating time and space to listen to what-the prophets have to say. We have to try and clear space in our lives, hearts and minds in order to shut out the ungodly din of life and allow the godly voice of our Creator to talk to us. Easier said than done, though. So what to do?
This Advent try and find just a few minutes each day to be still, to stop and let the busyness of the world pass you by. You might snatch a few minutes as you wake up or go to sleep; as you stand waiting for a bus or as you drive somewhere without the radio on. However you grab this time, make trying to grab it a priority.
See this as prayer time in which: “The still, small voice of calm” can talk directly to you in the silence or even with just the silence.
We all need to hear the messages shouted by the prophets but we also need to hear the messages whispered or just 'felt' because it is often these messages that are meant for us. It is a bit scary, though, because if you are quiet and allow God to speak to you, you might find yourself having to do things you did not expect to do or particularly want to do. You might be challenged by the message to change.
Who are today's messengers or prophets?
This is difficult to answer but as God is God, then anyone you meet could be the messenger God is calling you to listen to. That's a sobering thought because it challenges us to keep on our toes, to keep awake. For if anyone we interact with could be God's messenger we need to be ever alert and ready to hear and respond to the message given. We are called to be like watchmen, ever awake, ever ready to espy the herald as he or she approaches and then to be prepared to respond to what we are told.
So as well as trying to carve out space and quiet this Advent, you've also got to be ready to respond
to what you might hear and who knows what message you or I might be given before the 25th December, as we continue to journey through this anticipation time of Advent.