Event Name Sermon given at Matins on the First Sunday of Advent 2016
Start Date 27th Nov 2016 10:00am

The Reverend David Stanton, Canon in Residence

In the first of CS Lewis’ books in the Narnia series, ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’, the main characters are four children, who stumble into a cold dark place called Narnia. Narnia is a land where it is always dark, always winter, and Christmas never comes.

The one visible glimmer of hope in Narnia is the lamppost, a light that shines on in the darkness of that cold place. And when the children travel between the professor’s house and Narnia, whenever they see the light of that lamppost, they know they have come home.

Today is Advent Sunday and one of this season’s main themes is light. Light to guide us through the complexities of life, sometimes in a clear and orderly way, and sometimes in a more challenging and flexible way.

Today’s Collect, unlike most of the collects which have come down from the medieval church, was composed by Cranmer himself: `Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility…

He says `Give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now’. Suddenly, as for the children in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, its not the historical past or the unknown future that is brought before our minds, but the immediate present.

We all approach this divine light in one of two ways. According to both Jung and the Myers Briggs personality tests, we’re all either ‘judgers’ or ‘perceivers’, in how we relate to the world around us, and how we live our lives on a day-to-day basis.

People with the judging preference want things to be neat, orderly and established. People with the perceiving preference want things to be flexible and spontaneous. Judgers want things settled, perceivers want things open-ended.

All our worship here at the Abbey follows a well prepared liturgy, ranging from the early morning services to this service, to large special services such as last Thursday’s service to celebrate The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Charity.

Other churches around London are known for a much more spontaneous, relaxed style. Neither way of worshipping is completely right or completely wrong. Both have their strengths and shortcomings.

This dichotomy is what, in technical jargon, may be called - the judging-perceiving dimension. Let me explain. What would you say if I asked: How ordered do you like your worship to be? Do you like it to be very structured? or do you prefer it to be open to change?

Generally speaking, judgers tend to want everything to remain the same. New ideas are viewed with suspicion and unease. They feel far more comfortable when the order of service is the same each time they go to church.

Perceivers, by their very nature, want more variety. They see the divine in the novel presentation. For example you may recall a recently departed priest known up and down the country as ‘Holy Roly’.

Roly the clown, dressed in a multi-coloured costume, outsized dog collar and clerical cap, enormous boots and red nose and cheeks, toured Britain and the world for more than 25 years performing slapstick and tricks, all with an underlying, but very contagious, Christian message.

On the whole, spiritually mature characters are invariably autonomous individuals, who get along with others, and have a heightened sense of being part of something greater than themselves.

When we think of particularly holy people, who radiate the light of Christ with brightness and penetration, they’re often wildly different characters with hugely different personalities and temperaments who somehow hold the common themes of humility, obedience, commitment, wholeheartedness, happiness, and inner peace. This is spiritual diversity at its best.

Deep down we all know we can be much more tolerant and rounded if we not only accept our own personality preferences, but also warm to others quite different from ourselves.

Within this light of tolerance, perceivers shouldn’t just see those who have a preference for Judging as being stuffy, set in their ways, and never changing. Similarly judgers can become more accepting, for example having a go at sampling a more informal style of worship that complements the other extreme.

Whether we’re judgers or perceivers, we’re all on spiritual journeys, and part of this travel is to explore our own inner nature and to expand our understanding of God.

Firstly we’re all challenged to recognise our own instinctive personality type by finding out just who we are, being comfortable with ourselves. And secondly we’re all challenged to look beyond ourselves to see new opportunities for spiritual growth through experiencing things that are beyond our natural inclinations.

Interestingly, C S Lewis, author of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, refused to be ‘labelled’ with any particular spiritual tradition and was happy to meet with all Christians who’s faith was based on the creeds. When away from Oxford he would worship at whichever church happened to be most convenient.

And although much of his theology has been embraced by evangelicals, there are certain aspects, most notably regarding the afterlife, where he’s much closer to catholic teaching. From him we learn that mature spirituality embraces both neatly ordered ‘judgers’ and flexible, spontaneous ‘perceivers’.

Christians, both young and old, know that spiritual growth is all about a continual turning to Christ. And here we find an astonishing truth, that spiritual growth is really a growth in relationship, a constant deepening of our relationship with Christ and each other.

This comes from a powerful awareness of our need for Christ’s light, to penetrate our most fixed prejudices and fears. We trust God not just with our current worries, but more importantly, with the salvation of our souls and all those we care about.

And so we grow through our awareness of Christ’s constant presence, and God revealed through others around us. We grow as our trust in him grows. We grow as our will becomes one with his. We grow as we allow ourselves to learn from others who are particularly close to God. Christ offers us many paths to meet him.

Primary among these this Advent is, of course, an open and receptive faith, willing to see the light of Christ active and present in people very different from ourselves.

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