Sermon – 27 11 22
Advent 1 Year A
Llandaff Cathedral – Fr Richard Peers
[Photo: lighting the first Advent candle in the Deanery]
Yn enw’r Tad,
a’r Ysbrd Glân.
One of the many advantages of having spent much of my life working in schools has been the excuse to read children and young adult literature. In my opinion some of the best novels of the last fifty years have, ostensibly, been written for children and bear re-reading whether you are an adult or a child:
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials
Almost anything by Malorie Blackman
The surprisingly disturbing Hunger Games
And even Harry Potter.
I’m tempted to say that Pullman is my favourite but then remember a sequence of five books published during my own teenage years and which I have read and re-read many times.
A poem unites all five books in the sequence and ends with this verse:
Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold.
Played to wake the sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.
It is, of course Susanne Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence.
There are good Welsh connections in much of the mythology of Cooper’s work, and the books won several Welsh literature prizes.
Watching the news, listening to the radio, following current events it is not hard to believe that the dark is rising. Satellite pictures of Ukraine show that the lights have gone out, the darkness is not just rising but has risen.
In August 1914 British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey remarked to a friend:
“The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
We may well pray that such a sentence does not become true in our lifetimes.
Darkness rising is the theme of Advent.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere the days get shorter the nights longer. On December 21st we will get less than 8 hours of daylight. Two thirds of that Wednesday will be in darkness. It is no wonder that this is the season when pubs and restaurants are busiest. On the longest, coldest, darkest nights we need bright lights and the noise of human chatter.
But I love the dark.
Not the dark of the evening, but the dark that precedes the dawn. I came down to the cathedral in the last hours of the night today just to experience it in the dark, to be near the shrine of St Teilo, to feel the centuries of prayer that saturate this place.
I have always loved the dark that comes before dawn.
As I told new colleagues this week they will never get an email from me after 9pm, but as for 4am …
My parents used to ask why I couldn’t be like a normal teenager and stay in bed all morning.
The darkness before dawn is full of expectation, the day lies ahead. It is the best time to pray. The phone never rings, most people don’t send emails, the sounds are, mainly, the sounds of nature.
Darkness, expectation and the battle for the light are the themes of Advent.
Look at today’s magnificent readings:
the beating of swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks must seem a laughable expectation to the people of Ukraine. But still, says the prophet, Come: let us walk in the light of the Lord.
St Paul tells us to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.
Jesus in today’s gospel instructs us to stay awake.
We here are fortunate. We don’t have to put on body armour. the armour we need is the armour of light.
In this cathedral dedicated to five saints we live with the constant reminder that we are called to holiness.
A member of this congregation came to the Deanery for tea on Friday, and I hope that all of you will come and visit our home in due course. This member of the congregation asked me: What are you going to change?
I wasn’t quick enough to think of the real answer:
What I want to change, most of all, more than anything, is myself.
To become the holy person that God wants me to be.
To be more deeply converted, to be free from sin, to walk in the light.
Yes, I want our congregations to grow, for more people to come to faith, to know Jesus and the freedom he brings, to experience the stillness of prayer, the presence of God, the happiness, the technicolor that is living a Christian life.
Yes, I want us to have more visitors and tourists who become pilgrims.
Yes, I want the city and its politicians and artists and business people to know that this is their cathedral, to feel at home here.
Yes, I want people of all faiths and none to belong here in this sacred place.
But we will only achieve any of those things if we together,
every one, you and me, walk more closely with Jesus, put on the armour of light, deepen our prayer, read our bibles, work for justice and make this a place of welcome not on our terms but on God’s terms.
In the sermon at my installation last Sunday I presented four words for us to think about:
the first I have already used, together. I hope and pray that we will come to love one another, that is my job and my joy as your Dean.
We will do that by praying together, revelling in the beauty of this building, in the music that our musicians create, by making this a space in which the people of our city, our diocese, our nation can be at home.
From tomorrow Father Mark, Mother Jan and I will be praying Morning Prayer and Eucharist every day, Monday to Saturday here in this church.
Starting the day with God.
Join us for 30 minutes of prayer.
Perhaps you can commit to a day a month, or a day a week, or maybe God is calling you to pray with us every day?
Dear friends, put on the armour of light.