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'Let all that you do be done in love'
Sermon preached 29th Nov 2020 - First Sunday in Advent
‘Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Like you, I really enjoy Christmas. The preparations begin; The Christmas tree, the lights, decorations, cards, stocking up with great food, presents etc.
At church we prep our services; not so this year with COVID, but usually our nativity rehearsals; who could forget last years brilliantly put together drama?
We put up the posters and light the candles, ready the choir and stock up on mince pies. We have our Christmas Day short service and intersperse our carols and readings with fun testimonies about what was under the tree that morning.
It really is a great time for all in church..
Boris has bought the Christmas cheer and said we can meet up with others over the holidays; the face masks are being printed in Christmas illustration and everybody wants a COVID vaccine in their Christmas cracker!
Then on a serious note there are those to whom Christmas will be difficult this year; the absence of a loved one; the concern over pressures of financial debt; loneliness for some, homelessness for others…
To some Christmas is a few days escapism from the realities of a life that is otherwise daunting, frightening to some and unbearable for most of the time.
But whatever Christmas is to you, its coming in a few short weeks…..
What is advent?
The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia.
People may know that the Advent season focuses on expectation and think that it serves as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas. This is part of the story, but there’s more to Advent.
Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.
By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
Understandably to some degree, and less forgivable to another, I think the church has innocently or not, shifted the perspective of the importance of Advent, to become a liturgical experience to build the anticipation around the celebration of Christmas. Important though it may well be, to have anticipation around a coming celebration, I believe that shifting ourselves from a liturgical approach to Christmas and developing a more mature spiritual approach to its earliest intentions, would be a great advantage to the people with a real future hope.
"The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come." ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In Acts 2:17 Peter quotes the prophet Joel explaining
‘’In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
During the time we know as Advent we join the expectation that was evident in the prophets of old, and in Elizabeth and Mary, Simeon and Anna at the temple of Jesus dedication and so on. As Christians, we belong to this same fold - though we look back on the experiences that came to fruition following the birth of Christ and now we look forward to His second coming, all the time enduring joyfully the generations in between.
So let’s consider where we are …..
During the liturgical Advent, we celebrate rightfully the known, already historical, birth of our saviour. We celebrate not so much that he came, but our Joy of His HAVING COME is cemented in our knowledge of why He came - To save people from certainty of death that results in eternal punishment. You don’t really see that message on your Christmas cards!!!
BUT OUR CELEBRATIONS IN EXPECTATION MUST FOCUS ON THE ALREADY MENTIONED REAL ANTICIPATION OF THE FUTURE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST..
IT IS THIS SECOND - OR WE MIGHT SAY - ULTIMATE ARRIVAL OF JESUS THAT SHOULD BE THE FOCUS OF THE CHRISTIAN MIND DURING THIS NEXT MONTH OR SO
This is where life gets interesting……
It’s my feeling that we somehow join in with the world at Advent. Yes, we might have our understanding and get really pious about the real meaning of Christmas blah blah, but is that really a wasted witness?
I’m not suggesting that we in any way discount the importance of Advent and definitely not trying to stamp on your Christmas parade, but what I am saying is this….
Do you think there is a greater case for the Advent of the second coming in these last days? Let’s make the case for the second coming, or ultimate arrival of Jesus in our world again. Remember you are the new Simeon’s, Anna’s, Elizabeths and Mary’s of this world today. You are the new prophets, visionary’s and dreamers!
Lets look at a few pointers to the second coming…
15 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshipped God, 17 saying,
“We give You thanks, Lord God, the Almighty, the One who is and who was, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 18 And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
19 And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder, and an earthquake, and a great hailstorm.
Note verse 17 which omits ‘the One to come’ now - This is a foretelling of His arrival!
It is the foretelling of a Jesus who is now not the babe of a manger, pursued by enemies and persecuted through His own life for our sake - HE IS NOW THE JESUS WHO COMES IN JUDGEMENT TO DESTROY HIS ENEMIES AND REWARD HIS FOLLOWERS.
Revelation is a book dedicated to informing us of things that will happen in the last days. The very first words of the book tell us ’The time is near’
Chapter 19:11-16 describes to us an image of the bursting forth of Christ as He comes in judgement..
‘11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many crowns; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will [a]rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the [b]wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written: “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
So the first coming, the Christmas we celebrate holds little fear or conviction for the world; why would it? A baby in a manger, depicted in nativity plays as some archaic event that apparently gives the world a reason for a self serving approach to a capitalist greed.
It appears to the world that Jesus came to kindly give us a holiday extravaganza called Christmas! HOW VERY DECENT OF HIM?
So it is the duty of the church to wrestle back, and take control of Advent; celebrate it in two forms - The birth of the Gospel to the world and the final devastation of a world that rejected it.
Try finding an Advent calendar amongst the Santa on His sleighs with an image of that on!