A sermon preached at St Mary’s Fordingbridge and at Sandleheath Uniting Church on Sunday 18th December by Mark Ward – Meeting the real Advent and EasterJesus
Has anyone been to see “I Daniel Blake”? It’s available now on Amazon and at all other good DVD sellers, I did consider buying 50 copies but I thought the treasurer might blanch so I suggest that a few people buy one and then do one of two things – spread it around for people to watch or even better invite a few people round to watch it and then maybe have a chat about what it says to you. It’s not a happy watch, in fact it’s 100 minutes most of which are miserable, about the dreadful way that a widower, Daniel, and a young mum, Katie, are treated by this country’s faceless benefits system. On days when I’m being generous I blame it just on the system and on days when I am not I cannot believe the behaviour of some of the people who work in the jobcentre they both have to attend. My problem is that whilst I know this is a fictional story, I also know that it is based entirely in reality. I have heard people’s stories from their own lips, I have heard them tell MPs those stories and I sit there and think “why would anyone make that up”.
Daniel, 59, worked all of his life – carpenter, looked after his wife as she died and then had a heart attack, now signed off work by his doctor who refuses to let him go back until he is healthy enough, is told to claim jobseekers allowance and as a result has to apply for hundreds of jobs, but he knows he can’t take one if offered because he isn’t fit, and then he has his employment support allowance refused having done an interview with someone who has no medical experience and is solely interested in completing a form with questions that mostly are not appropriate to Daniel, – when refused he has to await a decision from “The Decision Maker” – which is to my mind very 1984. Of course the system goes wrong and no-one can correct it and in the meantime Daniel has to sell all his possessions and starves. I won’t tell you the ending but it isn’t pleasant.
Whilst at the jobcentre Daniel befriends Katie, a young mum with two small children. Apart from the scene at the foodbank this is the most heartening part of the film as they in turn reach out to each other providing mutual support. Katie ends up selling herself to pay for a pair of shoes for her daughter Daisy. It is a truly awful situation.
What has this to do with us here today, a week before Christmas – well, some of you know there is a young girl living in a flat behind Fordingbridge High Street who until a few weeks ago had one possession apart from the clothes she stood in – a mattress. Thankfully a few people helped me furnish her flat from the Trussell Trust warehouse. There is also a family where dad has just died, and there is no money, who will receive Christmas lunch courtesy of a man who rings me up once a year and says “hello it’s me, can I help someone” and each year he delivers a full Christmas meal to me and presents for the children. I don’t know his name, he won’t tell me it, but this is, I reckon the fifth year he has dipped deep into his own pocket for the love of people he doesn’t know. And there are many, many more people living in poverty just around the corner from you and from me who have nothing.
I’m not telling you any of this to make anyone feel guilty; I’m telling you because you may not know, and I’m telling you this because the child that we welcome in 7 days’ time was born into poverty also. I don’t think it was as abject as the stories I have told to you, but Joseph was not a rich man by any account, and nor was his mother Mary. They were just ordinary people struggling to get by. And once the baby was grown to a man, who did he consort with – the “nobs of the day” – no, but with the destitute, the fallen, those afflicted by mental health issues, by physical infirmities, and with those who had just got it all wrong. And he reaches out to them now, and he knows how it feels to have very little – you can’t say that about many kings can you?
Unfortunately for Daniel and for Katie and her children Daisy and Dylan, they didn’t meet Jesus. If they had, Jesus would have rescued Katie from going on the game and he would have avoided what eventually happens to Daniel, why, because Jesus was full of love and compassion. You could argue that Katie had made some mistakes, she was a little like the woman at Jacob’s well, her children had different fathers and she wasn’t married to either, but Jesus would not have rejected Katie. Daniel like the woman who had been bleeding for years – “if I could just touch his clothes I will be healed”, Daniel the carpenter would have been cured by Jesus. But they didn’t meet Jesus. Even the people at the jobcentre would not have been past redemption with Jesus, even after they had turned their backs on Daniel and Katie. But they didn’t meet Jesus either.
So in 7 days we welcome a baby, and all will be joy and peace for a few days, but as I have said before, Christmas would not exist without Easter, and at Easter it was a very different story, after a very different life spent loving those who the world had kicked into the gutter.
As I said, Jesus isn’t here now, in a physical sense I mean, for we all know he is here. And we, you and me, we have a choice – we can meet him, the real Jesus, in here and unfortunately we can also leave him in here as we walk out that door, or we can take him with us and we can be the people who rescue the lost, reach out to those who have made a mess of everything, offer help without judgement, make a real difference, or of course we can just leave him here as a baby. I know the people I would rather we are – Easter people bringing hope and looking out for those in trouble. Easter people are Advent people because Advent is about the birth of a baby but it is even more about anticipating the second coming of the risen Jesus, – we worship the risen Jesus, – the Easter Jesus – the Jesus of hope. I pray that as we leave here today we are Advent and Easter people – that we will look out for the Daniel’s and the Katie’s, and that we will look after them. Amen.