Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Change is in the Air

A Homily for Holy Communion on
Wednesday, 21st of December, 2011, 9 a.m.

for the Sisters of the Love of God
Convent of the Incarnation, Fairacres, Oxford

Gospel - Luke 1:39-45

“Change Is In The Air”

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Perhaps you know the feeling of a having a song in your head, quite unbidden, which won’t go away? It happened to me yesterday as I travelled back from Sussex after a week with my parents, after my father had received a diagnosis of cancer. I rarely listen to modern songs, I’m more of a Bach and Tallis sort of person, with the occasional burst of Cole Porter, and Flanders and Swan, but this song in my head was insistent, and it was insistently wrong. The words were “change is in the air”. The right words are “love is in the air”. But it seemed that even the wrong version might be right.

Looking at this morning’s reading, about the Visitation, it seemed that surely both Elizabeth and Mary could have joined in humming “change is in the air”. It made me wonder – and let’s be simple Bible Christians for a moment, and lay aside our theological wisdom and ingenious New Testament analysis – whether there were others too, in that week before the Incarnation, who were aware that “change is in the air”.

Were Joseph’s neighbours – doubtless preparing his dinner while Mary was away, as surely a man, then as now, couldn’t possibly look after himself – wondering “what’s got into him? The child can’t possibly be his, and he doesn’t seem to mind”. Did they know that change was in the air?

Or further away, in the fields around Nazareth, or Bethlehem – remember, we’re being simple Bible Christians here, and it doesn’t really matter which – was there a shepherd saying to his colleagues, as they tended their sheep, themselves anticipating the lambing of early Spring, “you know, something’s going to happen this year, there’s going to be a change”. And did his friends raise their eyebrows, and a wineskin, and mutter, “he’s off on one again”?

In Herod’s palace were the obsequious and frightened flunkeys looking at their ailing monarch, and wondering what would happen next? “Look at his sons, the lightweights, there’ll never be another Herod like this one”, pondering where their bread would be buttered in the future? Change, but no credible heir.

And most of all, the Magi, already on their saddled camels, and heading from the East, they knew that change was in the air – they’d seem it in the sky, the star, promising a change so momentous that they wanted to be there to see it; leaving behind the monotonous grind of conjuring for lives and deaths anticipated or willed, spells and potions for cuckolded husbands, and barren wives, or whatever it is that Magi do all day. Change was in the air, and even their camels could smell it. Doubtless everyone else could at least smell the camels.

“Change is in the air”. Most of us don’t like change, but God does. To God it is not “change and decay, in all around I see”, but “new every morning”. And every year God reminds us afresh of the newness of life that is all around us, and epitomised in the birth of Jesus, for, as John Donne put it “all Divinity is Love, or Wonder”.

“Change is in the air”. To mis-remember another popular saw: in Advent, God tells us to “wake up, and smell the camels”. Amen.

Richard Haggis
Littlemore, Oxford
December 2011

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