Sermon 30 November 2014
First Sunday in Advent
Back in 2010 I received for the auction the first edition of a soldier’s diary published in 1861. It is the record of the short life of Hedley Vicars, a young officer killed during the Crimean War. At seventeen, Vicars was an ordinary pleasant young man from a privileged but not exceedingly rich background. He was strong and athletic and wild without being wicked. He went with the Army to the Ionian Islands and then to Malta and Jamaica. In Jamaica he underwent a conversion experience and remained an Evangelical Christian for the last three years of his life.
From now on we see him marked by that seriousness typical of a Victorian Evangelical. He sometimes uses the language of a piety which, quite frankly, I do not understand but his service to God and to his fellow creatures is humble, generous and self-sacrificing. We find him in the houses of the poor and by the bedside of sick and dying soldiers. It takes courage to be a Christian in the army and he seems initially to have suffered for his faith but his happy, popular character when wedded to his service to others gained him acceptance and approval among officers and men alike. When Britain went to war with Russia, Hedley’s regiment was sent to the Crimea. Here we find him amidst danger and disease, upheld by a fervent love of the Lord Jesus. He gives comfort and encouragement to his men and he labours among the wounded and the cholera victims, giving physical comfort and reading the Bible and praying with them.
In 1855 he died defending his men and so war once again brought a beautiful young life to a premature end. He was a man who brought hope to a place where light and joy had vanished. Many CR Fathers went with the armed forces to bring the light of the Gospel to men on the battlefields of WWI. Charles Fitzgerald wrote in the CR Quarterly of Michaelmas1915 ‘One thing about these men is the way that they love their chaplains’. I believe that love was not because the chaplains were amusing or jolly good chaps but because they brought news of ‘another kingdom’ and gave hope that things didn’t have to be as they are.
is hell and the Crimea was an ugly brutal war with men dying from the ravages of
battle but also in their thousands from cholera. To wounded, frightened men
surrounded in a ward by other wounded and dying men, there was very little to
hope for. To such, the sight of a nurse in crisp clean clothing, bearing a light
in the darkened ward, the sound of a female voice confident and caring, the
tenderness of a hand bandaging or bathing a wound – all of this must have
acted like some sort of promise that ‘hell cannot last forever’. One is
reminded of Samwise in the dark land of Mordor where all his hope of survival
had been withered up nevertheless:
may not have been able to reverse the inevitable in a dying man but because of
her and those like her, some of them would go with the vision of a love stronger
those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not
give its light and the stars will be falling from heaven and the powers in the
heavens will be shaken.
often we think of the judgement of an angry God but actually we have the wrong
focus: he is angry because he loves. This is our hope – because God loves us
we will see the Son of Man. St Peter uses the symbol of the lamp to bring hope
to Christians under persecution:
have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay
attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the
morning star rises in your hearts’.
is so easy to be overwhelmed with headlines about the Islamic State or Ukraine
or any of the many other horrible things which happen in the world, that we
forget the splendour and the wonder of creation, the beauty of the earth, the
magnitude of the universe and the mystery of love.
whatever way God brought all things to be, he put his self into it. St John says
that in the beginning was the Logos – the Word, the Meaning, the Reason that
lies behind all things.
'When human hearts are breaking under sorrow's iron rod, the re they find the self-same aching, deep within the heart of God'.
what of us? Where do we fit in.
each of us needs that lamp, that star, that light in a dark place. Each of us
has our share of pain grief and sadness. Each of us has our fears and sometimes
despair seems not far off.
Each of us is that lamp, that star, that light in a dark place. Each of us has the light of God within us. Someone needs you, someone needs me to light the way to bear hope that there is a King who whose name is Love.
John Gribben CR