The Sky at Night

Advent 3c – Sunday 16th December 2012
Luke 3: 7-18

I was saddened to read this week of the death of Sir Patrick Moore at the grand old age of 89. I grew up in the days when his face was a familiar sight on television and was always engaged by his knowledge and enthusiasm for space discovery and astronomy. He was also very well known because his many eccentricities made him an easy target for impersonators to gently rib him. Of all his many skills and attributes, perhaps the one I found most fascinating was his ability to play the xylophone! I was amazed to discover, reading one of the newspaper obituaries, that he’d written over 100 musical compositions. What a guy! He could play the xylophone almost as fast as he could talk … which is why I like the following story about him.

Patrick Moore began presenting the BBC programme The Sky at Night in April 1947. The Russians were about to launch Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, and his programme recorded most of the rapid developments in the space field. This created an overnight sensation and a couple of years later a huge television audience tuned in to see the progress of Lunik 4, which unfortunately missed the moon by 5,000 miles and all the British astronomers delegated to watch it were defeated by bad weather. So Patrick Moore had “one of my first experiences of what is known in broadcasting jargon as padding”. His ability to think on his feet, and to talk so fast that critics were never quite sure of what they heard, was vital.

John the Baptist was another one who talked fast and hard:
When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”

Advent is a time not just for watching the children in nativity plays, getting that warm feeling inside whilst watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and eating wonderful concoctions of turkey, chocolate and mincemeat. It’s also a time for a serious appraisal of your life. “Is it green and blossoming?” asks John. And your answer is…

John always seems like the ultimate party pooper. Just when everything seems to be going swell he turns up like the proverbial bad penny with his downer on everything. But actually, it’s not a downer. It’s a wake up call. And I for one am very glad for John’s prophetic voice. Otherwise I might be tempted just to wander through life as a child of Abraham with no real regard for the dynamic life of faith that God is calling me to.

The Advent message is not just an invitation to accept God’s mercy, it’s an invitation to live out God’s mercy. God knows that I have failed on every level of my life and that my only hope for salvation is his wonderful grace and mercy. But that is not the end of the story …

“Then what are we supposed to do?” asked the people.
“If you have two coats, give one away,” John said. “Do the same with your food.”

We are called to love extravagantly like God. We are called to love unconditionally like God. We are called to love unendingly like God. That is the heart of the meaning of Advent. Our lives are to blossom and flourish and create fruit that is the produce of God’s kingdom.

Many years ago an interviewer asked Patrick Moore what happens when we die. He replied: “I don’t believe partings are for ever. If we die when our bodies do, then everything would be pointless. And the universe is not pointless.”

There is so much suffering, tragedy and heartache in this world that many think it pointless. But it’s not pointless, because behind it stands its Creator and its Saviour. A God of love, a God of wonder, a God of majesty. My God, my Saviour, my King. Alleluia!

Happy days

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About Neil Chappell

Husband, father, Congregational Minister and football fan all rolled into one convenient package.
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