Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Third Sunday of Advent (16 December 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

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12:00pm Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Evening Prayer
5:30pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Third Sunday of Advent (16 December 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

The Canon Pastor reminds us that the approaching feast that God intends for us is "an expansive feast for all peoples, where death will be no more, where the most vulnerable find refuge and shelter."

These middle days of December mean that our kitchen has been overtaken by the sights and smells of Christmas cooking: yule logs, cranberry sauce, mince pies, fruit cake and a few Indian delicacies.

Which, when presented with our Biblical texts this morning, brings me to consider Festive Feasting and Famine and the meaning of the word ‘Ruthless’.

Let me share with you a dilemma – what would you have done?

Recently I was on my way to an important appointment – one of those really important ones. Arriving 25 minutes beforehand in the early afternoon and not having eaten breakfast or lunch I thought to find a coffee shop where I could quickly re-read the material I needed to present, catch a bite to eat and settle myself. But, there he was sitting outside on the pavement, battered and bruised by life, asking for money from passers-by.

A stab of conscience: how could I eat if he couldn’t?

So I asked ‘Since I’m getting some lunch for myself, is there something I can get for you?’  In a few moments I’d delivered a hot tomato soup, salmon sandwich, tea with 10 sugars and a packet of crisps and I went back in to the shop– I’d done my bit, job done.
Only somehow it wasn’t.  

Drinking my coffee, munching my sandwich I still felt so uncomfortable. How could I eat at a table, warm and sheltered, whilst he was eating out on the kerbside? The contrast was sharp.

Exasperated with myself - Why hadn’t I asked him to join me?

I went back out…but he was gone. The moment had passed.

Feasting and famine are about our need for nutrition but also so much more - questions of dignity, worth and humanity; of whom we allow to come close and whom we keep at a distance.

These questions of dignity, belonging, worth and humanity are why we are so inspired by the countless churches running night shelters, debt advice services and foodbanks, while being appalled that as a society we are content with the fact that they are needed at all.

They are why former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has this past week spoken of the impact of our official policies on the most vulnerable around the world, the current situation in Yemen being especially highlighted. There, up to 14 million people are on the edge of famine as a result of a war in which the UK is profiting through its arms sales. 

Which brings me to the meaning of ‘Ruthless’ – a word found several times in our reading from Isaiah.

A recent conversation touched on the way in which some words have evolved. I wondered about the almost lost word ‘whelmed’…and the way in which we might describe ourselves as under or over whelmed but rarely ‘whelmed’ itself. The Dean highlighted the word ‘Ruth’, which we mostly speak of by way of its absence, as in ‘Ruth-less’.

Rarely used these days, ‘Ruth’ refers to ‘a feeling of pity, distress or grief’ usually at someone else’s circumstances. To be ‘ruthless’ means to be lacking these human and divine qualities.

Ruth characterises the feasting described in Isaiah’s image of the type of feast God intends. An expansive feast for all peoples, where death will be no more, where the most vulnerable find refuge and shelter.

The hope of Advent is made real whenever we see evidence of this coming feast and when the people of God are imbued with the spirit of the Feast. 

Yesterday I visited a church in East London where our Cathedral music outreach programme was running a fabulous Christmas choral course with local children. That church regularly hosts our involvement with Hackney Children’s choir and so much more: an afternoon NightClub for over 60’s with glitterball and full-on cabaret, the winter night shelter, a sexual health clinic for people working in the sex industry, a kitchen gardening club, cooking on a tight budget classes and a community choir made up members of these community groups and more. 

The name of the choir: the Cant - ignore-us Chorus.

Doesn’t that just capture the spirit of the feast to come - of welcome, dignity and worth. 

So then the hope that our Christmas feasts may be rich, joyful, holy and Ruth-full.

I wonder what will make them so – and what the Spirit will bless?

Let us pray
O Love which bids us welcome and invites us to sit and eat,
Forgive the paucity and famine of our compassion and
so nourish us with yours that we might make room 
to feast together with all your guests.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.