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Christmas Present
Tuesday 17th December 2019 @ 9:47 am

What are you waiting for?

We are in the season of Advent – not yet Christmas – and Advent comes from the latin word, Adventus, which in turn comes from the verb Advenio, ‘to arrive’ … this friends, as anyone with small children in the home knows, this is a time of waiting! 

But there are other translations of ‘Adventus’ – several in fact, and more than one of them can give interesting sermons during this season … ‘an occupation’ ‘an invasion’ ‘a ripening’ One of the more interesting uses of the word in the Roman world to me is Adventus as ‘the triumphant arrival back to the City of the Emperor after a successful campaign of violent occupation and suppression … a war won would lead to a glorious royal arrival back in Rome. The Adventus – the returning victorious King. 


It’s nice isn’t it, the early church choose to keep the use of this word to describe the arrival of another Royal, another King. The King coming to reclaim the earth and everything in it.


And so we miss something when we remember Advent as simply ‘waiting’ … waiting implies something not yet done, something not achieved … whereas the arrival of Christ, of God in skin, is about something that happened … the historically verifiable birth of a human boy named Jesus into the Holy Land, some 2000 years ago. How that happened, and where exactly it happened can be the lively conversation over glasses of mulled wine afterwards – but that it happened? According to the rules of historical rules of truth – it’s verifiable!

It’s done.


So what are you waiting for?


Might I humbly suggest that what we are all waiting for, is that the light & life of the Christ–child would be made full in the world.

This is a world full of lengthening shadows and upheaval. A crisis of creation, with human dignity in too many places around that creation being revoked, a world where financial systems hold everything to ransom, and military might looms Damoclesian sword like as the central herald of power. These things are not the way of life – of full life, these are not the life seen in the Christ child.


So, let me make a suggestion for Advent this year … let me make a suggestion that begins to invite that world of light + life to live deep within us. Let me invite you to be present to Advent

Fully present, to the present. 

The here, the now. 

Not waiting. 

But present. 

If you do – maybe, just maybe, the small or large moments of miracle that are life & light in this world, will present themselves to you

breaking barriers, creating newness of life. 

Warming you as you are present to God, present to those around you, present to yourself.


Why not choose this year to be present in your celebration, not to pomp and circumstance, order and merit, but present to peace, and kindness and gentleness and trust. Present to what we will remember when we celebrate the life of the Christ–child

strength born in weakness, 

transformation shaped in tenderness. 

This is not military endeavour, this is bonds of sisterhood & brotherhood. The Advent of Jesus is not victory of violence, this is a victory of vulnerability. Christ is not the prince of war power, Christ is the prince of Peace.


I saw my friend in occupied Palestine be present to this a couple of weeks ago. It was during the days when the American administration branded the settlements in Palestine legal, setting them at odds with the international community, international law and the international courts of justice. I just happened to be on a Skype call with good friends – an Israeli Rabbi, and a Palestinian peace activist. We were making plans for our next Space to Breathe program, bringing together Christians Muslims and Jews who are Irish, British Israeli and Palestinian. 

Said told us he was sitting in a café in manger Square in Bethlehem at that moment. 

Our Rabbi friend talked about his ill wife, who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer. 

When we finished the meeting part of the conversation, Said, the Palestinian, said to the Rabbi, I’m going to go into the church of the nativity and light a candle for your wife. And so Said walked across Manger Square, into the church of the nativity in Bethlehem and lit a candle in prayer for this Jewish Rabbi’s wife … in occupied Palestine. Occupied by the army this Rabbi used to serve in. Ten minutes later Said sends us a picture of the candle, so we knew he was praying. And I remember the Rabbi tearing up as Said had mentioned he would go and do this. He responded with words of thanks from his wife, deeply moved by the gesture of solidarity and hope.


It was a simple gesture, but it was also a stab against the darkness of oppression and occupation. A stab against diving walls and broken hearts. A stab against pain and suffering and illness and loss and separation and all that can break us. A stab against the darkness, in the place Christians remember and give thanks, that Christ was born bringing light.


What did he do? He was present to the moment. Present, to the present. Living in the today of existence and taking loving actions that pull people together in a midst of a physical setting where their own tribes would tear them apart.



The ‘Jewish News’ Media reported on 26th Nov about a brave Muslim woman who came to the defence of Jewish children being subjected to racial abuse on the London underground in a viral video which I am sure many of you have seen. The news report on 26th informs us that Asma Shuweikh, met the dad whose family she stood up for, sharing coffee + stories of shared experience of racism and violence.


Asma had rightly been hailed a hero as she intervened in conversation to defuse a situation where a man wielded a bible and was reading from it aggressively, grossly misusing it, to making racial slurs against the Jews from the text. Ironically reading Jewish authors in making his attack.


Asma simply said of the moment – “I tried to bring him down to a level where you can have a conversation so he doesn’t go back to the Jewish family that were on the train,” “I’m a mother and I thought if I were with my children, I would want someone to intervene, and the poor man was trying to keep calm for his children,” she added.

The father was of course deeply grateful, and several days later, met Asma to show his appreciation and thanks. He said, “This Tube journey has left me with mixed feelings about society,” he added. “On the one hand my wife, my children and I were subject to vile abuse in a full Tube carriage, however I am grateful for those who stood up for me.”

Asma, during the meeting, was able to share her own experience of racial abuse with this father, and informing him that, “My faith is what drives me to do this. We always encourage [everyone] to speak out against injustice,” she said.

There. A young Muslim woman on a train in London,  present to the moment, and engaging an aggressor in conversation, defusing the attention away from young children.


Sisters and brothers – you do not know what you will notice, achieve, learn, imbibe if you make a decision to be present to the present this Advent.


But …


A warning …


What you gain, might not be what you expect …


I was walking home, probably some 20 years ago, in the early hours of the morning around this time of the year on the Lisburn Rd in Belfast. It was around 2am, I had just been at a formal, and I was in my tux. In all modesty, I looked great.


I had also, for background information, just been reading ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ – stories of encouragement and inspiration. And one of them was a story that begins in a little familiar way to Asma’s story – it’s about a young drunk man on a train, being rude and verbally abusive to fellow passengers, and as the nervousness thickens, an old Asian man engages the perpetrator in conversation … asking him, as I recall, about what he grows in his garden. The diffusion worked – the aggression subsided. The story is about the power of gentle conversation.


So there I am, 2am in the morning, looking great in my tux, this story of an old Asian man in my mind, and 3 drunk young men walking toward me. The big one, most drunk, in the middle makes a beeline for me, begins to talk aggressively in a threatening manner. But I have read ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ – so I engage him in gentle conversation, I tell him it looks like he has had a good night, and ask him where he is just coming from … his response is to punch me in the face, in an action that left a scar just about still visible, 20 years later. You can imagine my surprise, 2am, 3 aggressors, 1 failed Chicken Soup for the Soul tactic … but hey, you can ask me afterwards about my deadly escape, which no doubt over the last 20 years has become a little embellished, but what I will in all humility say is that as soon as the opportunity arose, I fled in such a way would have left Usain Bolt in my wake.


I was trying to be present to present, living well in the moment – and got punched. Got scarred. Have been left with the memory and the shame and anxiety and the nervousness skepticism of chicken soup for the soul stories.


In your desire to be present to the present, to the here and now, I cannot promise all will be well and harmonious.

I cannot promise that Advent will bring sweets and loveliness, cake and peace.


But I can promise you, that you won’t ever be alone in whatever you face – because Christmas is coming, and that means


God is with us.


What are you waiting for?


It’s already happened


God. Is. With. Us.



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