As we approach the celebration of Christmas the world looks more than usually a mess. We have the spectre of terrorism, the refugee crisis, climate change and all the challenges it presents, economic woes, political turmoil here, there and just about everywhere. The woes could go on. The world at this point looks quite a mess! Yet it is not just the world. The church in many ways also looks quite a mess. Perhaps your family too, in some ways, looks quite a mess, as well as your life, or mine. So given that as the fact, and it is with the facts which we always have to start and not in some dream world, the question that rises in our heart is the question they put to John the Baptist back in the days when it was a serious mess in the Holy Land. Mess is not new to this planet or to the human family. The question they put to John the Baptist in a time of great crisis in the first century was ‘what must we do?’, faced with the mess of the world. In fact there is a lot we can do, we are not powerless or paralysed. This Year of Mercy, which we begin today, has to become a year of action because the Mercy of God is not just sentiment, it’s an action which is power. So the question ‘what must we do?’ is a very, very real question. We can always do more than we imagine, so let’s imagine more through this Year of Mercy. What can we do that is realistic and powerful in order to enact the mercy of God. Yet however powerful and effective our action might be, we face another massive fact – that left to ourselves we can’t do it all. No matter how hard we try and how effective we may be, at some point we simply say we can’t do it all. That is another way of saying what the whole church says on this third Sunday of Advent – we need a saviour. One who is infinitely merciful, and therefore infinitely powerful. The good news though, and we were told that John the Baptist announced good news to the people, is that we are given a saviour. You can’t go to the shop and buy one. Yet we are given a saviour and his name is Jesus and his face is mercy. He is the saviour that in the end we desperately need. If you see him, and only the eye of faith can, then you are able to discover more and more the magnificence at the heart of the mess. If all you see is the mess then in the end it becomes depressing and defeating, however if you see the magnificence at the heart of the mess then it is He, the saviour, towering over everything else and who has the last word. At that point, you can live beyond what the prophet Zephaniah calls fear. He says ‘you have no evil to fear’. Or, as St Paul also writes, ‘Do not worry – I do not want you to worry.’ So beyond all our fears and worries we can find our way into that mysterious experience that we call joy. The weak translation of St Paul’s letter to the Philippians had Paul say “I want you to be happy in the Lord”. What he really said was “I want you to be joyful”, and that’s more than happy. Paul dictates the letter to the Philippians when he is in jail, and believe me, the jails of the ancient world were seriously messy. So from the heart of his own personal dilemma, he says to the church at Philippi I want you to share the joy that I know, even in the mess of my prison. So at the heart of the mess, he finds his way to joy, why? Because he has seen the saviour who sets him free from every prison –the magnificence at the heart of the mess! Joy is what we were created for and joy is what this moment is all about, and it’s the promise of the saviour. It’s not just fun, or happiness, or self-fulfillment – but joy! It is the ecstasy of God himself – of perfect love.
Today we have opened a door, and we have done so in a world where there often seems to be no doors. We look for a way out but we find there are only walls. We have said that there is a door that is wide open. We have done this in a world where, if there are doors, they so often seem to be locked. We need to walk through the door, we desperately want to walk through but the door is locked and seems so forever. Yet we have said ‘no’, in such a world there is one door that is unlocked and we have opened it here this morning. We have done this in a world where so often what looks to be a door only turns out to a mirror. We only see the reflection of ourselves when we long for the image of something or someone else. Well here today we have said there is a door which is not just a mirror – it is a door which opens on to the vison of Him who is the magnificence at the heart of the mess. A door is only symbolic but this one is mightily so. Please walk through it. Jesus is the door and that’s what it means to call him saviour. He is the door that is unlocked and not just a mirror where you see only your own reflection. He is the way into infinite mercy and hope, which alone satisfies the human heart. In the end he, the door, is the only way into the joy for which we were created, one beyond all our fears and worries. Beyond all that is dispiriting, depressing, destructive and death dealing. He is the way to joy. In him we see the possibility of a more merciful world, and that’s what’s at stake through this year. Also there is a the hope for a more merciful Church, which is certainly what Pope Francis wants and why he has proclaimed this Year of Mercy following on from the journey of the two sinners. We also pray for more merciful families – not places of condemnation and judgement but places of the forgiveness that opens doors. And in the end we hope for a greater mercy taking hold of each one of us individually, so that we become for others, especially those most in need, a new and more powerful experience of the mercy we ourselves have known.
Brothers and sisters the door is wide open through this year. Look to Him who is the mercy of the Father in flesh. Glory be to Him, whose mercy working within us can do infinitely more than we ever ask or imagine. Glory be to Him in the church, and in Christ Jesus, from generation to generation. Amen.