My favourite season of Advent has arrived – catching me as always unprepared!
On Sunday we sang the Iona chant: ‘Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away.’ That image of fire and flame, of wood catching light, was what I was staying with – in hope.
Here’s my sermon.

..as a spark ignites brushwood .. so may your name be known.

This is the season to watch and wait, to keep awake. Who will watch and wait with us? Imagine the people throughout the ages and now. Today I imagine the reluctant leader Moses, and have found inspiration from Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s book, ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’. http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/walking-backwards-to-christmas/

The wind whistles and rattles across the plain. Harsh and unforgiving, it scours the land, and few things grow. You hear it and you don’t. It is here and it is gone. There is a dread chill in the air. Eventually it gets inside you, and then one day the cold earth claims you for its own. The leaves on what few plants there are, fade, dry up, and when the wind blows over them – they are gone.

It is nearly evening. It goes on, the cycle of the days. The rhythm of the seasons. And I think over my life – what have I achieved, where am I going? I knew privilege, brought up in a royal palace, and now I am an outsider. Inside me is the fire of anger. It’s a fierce anger at the way my people are treated by the Egyptians. A smouldering anger that erupts sometimes – as it did the day I killed another. Then the glowing embers of hate and fear filled me – I hated myself for what I had done, and I ran for shame and fear of being discovered.

In the land of Midian I found a new life, working on the land. Though I am still a stranger, an alien – neither Egyptian nor Hebrew. A misfit. Once more I fled, into the wilderness, to hope for another way. So here I sit, in the half-light, half-dark of a day’s ending. I have let the fire go cold. Something changed today, and now I am trying to make sense of it all.

At first, it seemed an apparition, a mirage, like the illusion of water, shimmering on the horizon of the flat plain, on the border of land and sky. Then when I came closer there it was – a blazing bush, ablaze with a thrilling intensity, but not consumed in the fire. It confounded and amazed me. For I knew all too well the fiery passions that consume. My anger and fear have almost devoured me. But this was a different kind of passion – raging and rousing, flames reaching up into the sky. It’s light and beauty drew me, lit me up. I turned aside to it, drawn like a flower to the sun. And I heard a voice, calling: ‘Moses, Moses. Come, take off your sandals, for the ground on which you stand is holy.’

Barefoot I stood before the fire, heartened by the power it gave out – a life-giving, transforming. All in a moment, I was changed. I know it sounds stupid. Can a man enter his mother’s womb and be born again? Well, perhaps. That is how it felt. The voice from the fire was God’s – I know it now, and knew it then, even as I asked who it was who spoke. I was full of excuses, and wanted to turn from the voice who spoke of deliverance from slavery and suffering, and my role in the work to be done. My excuses were burnt away like brushwood lit by a spark. Yet how dare I take on this role? In desperation as much as in hope, I wanted to be sure, to have the right words to say to those who would challenge me. The voice said: ‘Say to the people, I am has sent me.’

Now, I look to the horizon, to the setting sun, imagining my future, the sunrises and tomorrows of a lifetime, and beyond it a good land, a land of abundance and hope. Hope even for me? And beyond that time, I look and catch a glimpse of another, born out of the blazing fire of another revelation, from the depths of someone ordinary like me, who is also able to say yes to God. His presence will scatter the darkness and his light will burn for ever. He will not allow his people to be slaves, He will search out the lost. He will care for the lowly. He will be salvation. He will go down into the night. Let there be hope.

..as a spark ignites brushwood .. so may your name be known.

Embers remaining of a November evening of storytelling around the fire, at Emerson College, Sussex.

Embers remaining of a November evening of storytelling around the fire, at Emerson College, Sussex.

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