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When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple

December 8, 2019

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Preached by Canon Andy Trenier at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 8th December 2019, the Second Sunday of Advent.

Eternal God

As your kingdom dawns

turn us from the darkness of sin

to the light of holiness

that we might be ready to meet you


keep alert…

be on the watch…

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

And what I say to you… I say to all…

Keep awake!

Great scholars have given all kinds of interpretations to the advent described with such drama and alarm in our readings today.

Some say the events describe the second coming-

the Son of Man really will come riding on the clouds of heaven.

Others like St. Augustine thought Mark was talking about the sudden coming of death and the judgment that comes soon after…

I’m not going to contend with them this morning- a bit above my pay grade really-

but what I do want to do is to draw our attention to those final set of commands…

Wait!-                             Watch!-                   Keep Awake!

It is a perfect purple passage and reminder of what Advent is for:

Waiting and Watching!

Of course, this gospel is here front and centre- at the top of the bill-

so that we cant avoid the immediate job of preparation

and so we don’t simply trip over into Christmas without getting properly ready.

A task made somewhat harder for the residents of this close….. (I’ve been singing I dreaming of a White Christmas for a week already!)

Yet on a deeper level

…we are also being taught how to live ‘watching-and-waiting’-kinds of lives

… the kinds of Christian lives we need to be living the rest of the year.

Advent is not just about getting ready for one day but for all our days.

As with all the Christian liturgy, its seasons and symbols what we are getting in Advent is a concentrated practice that creates a pattern for the whole Christian life.

And here the first pattern we are learning in Advent is ‘waiting’.

Waiting may not seem, on first glance, a very useful practice but-

as anyone with much Christian experience will tell you- it is a pretty vital one.

In life- Good Waiting …: the skill of being still, ………..of not doing very much.

is actually very useful indeed.

Christian Waiting is that attentive looking and listening that changes us deep within so that we are ready to live the right kinds of Christian lives.

It becomes a kind of undoing of all the busy doings that clog up the arteries of our spiritual lives and makes space for God’s spirit to flow unchecked.

In her commentary on the Rule of Benedict- Joan Chichester writes a story of a monk who comes to his abbot, seeking enlightenment.

He questions the abbot eagerly and impatiently, firing questions at him, 

But the abbot says, ‘Just Look’. 

The monk is very disappointed-…….. I’m always looking’ he says sulkily……’I’m doing it all the time!’,

“No” says the abbot with a deep sigh- ‘No you’re not”.

“In order to look and see what is here, you have to be here,

 and you, my dear child, are mostly somewhere else!”

I don’t know about you but that certainly rings true for me….

One of the things we learn to practice during Advent–

and which take practice to learn…

is to stop, look and listen to God…

to be just still enough that we might stand

just  half a chance of meeting Him in his coming to us.

So First we learn that we need to be still.

But there is something else beyond the stillness a second thing —which is  SEEING

First we wait …………….and then we watch.

First we learn to be still……………… and then we also learn how to see.

We learn to stop…………, but this is simply becomes part of learning how to look and listen.

…………….Speaking of which- I hope then you’ve noticed the change of scenery in Church this morning….

Not least you’ll notice that our Advent colour—- is purple,.

I think this can be confusing because Purple seems like a Royal Colour and we think- ah yes we are waiting for a King…so….. purple,…..

But really Purple is our colour for penitential seasons- like Lent

And Just like in Lent we will have no flowers in Advent.  We will sing no Gloria.

As long as you don’t live anywhere near the market you might fast in Advent

or perhaps take up a deliberate habit of daily prayer. –

All these things make us concentrate, to have a second look, to turn around again

and watch out for God coming to us in unexpected places.

In her 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Colour Purple Alice Walker tells a story, set in the Deep South, of the downtrodden and abused Celie.   A poor girl who starts to lose her faith in God.

Throughout the novel Celie imagines God as an aloof bearded white man because she can’t see that he could come to her in any other way.

Throughout large parts of the book purple is the color associated with abuse and pain.

It is the colour of bruises and shame. It is a colour representing  blindness and separation.

And yet Walker also uses purple as the colour of the advent of a new experience of God coming into Celie’s life.

When they were in a field of purple flowers, her friend -a Jazz singer- tells Celie to look at the flowers and embrace their beauty.

“I think it really hacks God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it”.

“You must look at all the good flowers and acknowledge them because God placed them all on earth to show you himself”,

And so by being introduced in a new way to something totally familiar Celie found that God came into her bleak life in a new and fresh way.

And yet he was always there-

as he is for us…and for whatever reason we just like Celie fail to see Him

……………………… in his stable…in his fields… in the marketplace…

at his table ……..or amongst his people.

Fact is that many of us need to be stopped in our tracks

And many of us need to learn how to raise our eyes to the fields. 

We need to wait……… and watch

We need learn to be still.  ………………….And we need to learn to seek and see God afresh:

noticing and naming the presence of God into our lives and into our world.

In St Luke’s updated version of this story this command to wait and see is placed next to the institution of the Lords Supper.

In every season of the Churches year it is here- at the family table that we really do our most concentrated practice-

where we really LEARN all that it means to find the still point at the centre of the world, and to have our horizons enlivened and able to receive Christ. It is here also where we taste the first fruits of his already-having-come for us.

In Jenny Joseph’s famous poem ‘Warning’- you’ll remember that the subject exclaims

‘When I am old I shall wear purple’…

…run my stick along the railings, pick flowers in other people’s gardens and learn to spit….  and all sorts of other surprising things…

Less well remembered is her realisation “But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

“So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised, when suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple”

Let us practice too and not leave it too late. Let us wear purple for Advent.

This Advent let us learn afresh those most necessary of Christian skills- being still, waiting attentively upon God and watching for signs of his coming.

And let us begin by coming to this table of the first fruits of his Advent with expectation and hope and openness that this advent God will meet us and make us ready to know him and love him.

Eternal God

As your kingdom dawns

turn us from the darkness of sin

to the light of holiness

that we might be ready to meet you