Audio transcript available at https://youtu.be/DpI2w63igPE.
Advent 1 C 2015
I Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21: 25-38
Who here is interested in Social History? I have to confess that understanding how people lived is the thing that makes me interested in history as a whole, and of course the large political things, and wars and natural events all impact on people’s lives. It’s harder to find historical information that goes into the every day life of people, so for that knowledge I turn to novels. Let me read you a bit from one of my favourites. Read novel Written in 1935 by EF Benson, whose father, incidentally was the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is set in the period between WW1 and WW2. Did you notice how Christmas was celebrated less than one hundred years ago by the middle classes of Tilling? Cards were purchased on Christmas Eve and delivered on Christmas day along with the gifts- no public holiday, the postman still had to work. If I had continued to read you would have learned the Lucia had a Christmas tree for the benefit of the choir boys, but Miss Mapp certainly hadn’t a tree- she had some sprigs of holly to decorate her house. Things have changed! In our day and age, in a much more consumerist society, the trees have already gone up, apart from some stick in the muds like me who won’t put their trees up until much closer to Christmas, the decorations are happening every where, we have carols blaring and Christmas parties galore. Christmas has left it’s season of Twelve days from 25th Dec to the 6th January, and gobbled up Advent. Does that matter?
And what is Advent about anyway? Well the brief answer is that Advent is preparing us, simultaneously, for the first coming of Christ Jesus and the second coming, what ever that may mean. When it became a “season” in the church calendar, the purpose was to direct our thoughts simultaneously to the incarnation, where we celebrate the great truth of Emmanuel, ‘God with us’, and the parousia, God coming in glory.
Of course, when the social historians look back at the Advent of 2015, they will see a period of time notable for the emphasis in news reports on terrorist attacks and the fear of terrorist attacks. Other things that might be reported over these next weeks are the climate marches that are taking place around our world, as we head towards the summit in Paris from the 30th November to the 11th December. Of course, I cannot predict what other world events might occur in the next month. But I do know that as we draw nearer to Christmas itself there will be discussion on the news about the road toll and safety, including advice about drink driving, all the decent programs on the TV will have finished, if they haven’t already and we will be into the silly season. We may have bush fires this year like other years in the past but generally speaking we want, and get, in this season the good news not the bad.
And here we are, in the church, beginning our year with a text that promises both good news and bad. It is much more akin, however, to the reports on terrorism and climate change, and the perils of bush fires, than it is to the massive consumerism into which we are about to dive. Jesus, just before his crucifixion is warning the disciples and those others listening in the temple, that things are going to get difficult. He predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and terror, and terrorism for the people. After the sack of Jerusalem in AD 69 the next generation of followers of the way, thought that this promise was about to be fulfilled and that they were about to ‘see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory’. But we are still waiting for it to happen, and 2,000 years down the track, some of us are beginning to wonder if we haven’t misunderstood what Jesus meant. Of course, particularly in the US there are those who are making urgent preparations for the “rapture” and this is the kind of biblical passage to which they turn- “be on guard”, Jesus says that, “that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
So, is there going to be a time and a place? Are we all going to see it, because it will be beamed live by a satellite? Or is there another way of understanding this? What about the Kingdom of God, present here and now? We live in the ‘now’ and in the ‘not yet’.
When Luke recorded this saying of Jesus, possibly in the early 80’s, though also possibly later, the events of the destruction of Jerusalem had already happened, and the followers of Jesus had already had a chance to ‘stand up and raise [their] heads, because …redemption is drawing near’. That’s a long time ago, but it is still our experience, we can still “raise our heads”, because the calamities of the world have not ceased. When we see the signs, Jesus says, we will know that the Kingdom of God is near. In fact Jesus has already ushered in the Kingdom of God, right back in Chapter 4, as we discussed last week. We live in the reality of God’s great Kingdom, but in the midst of difficulties and confusions, of terrorist attacks and disasters. If we have an idea that the rapture will soon be upon us, it takes away the obligation to live as people of God here in our present world. If we have the idea that it’s all about to be wound up why should we care about climate change, for example? But if we see the coming of Christ, as the coming in of the Kingdom of God we should all be working to bring love, joy, and peace, those words we see on our Christmas cards, to our world. We also need to work for justice and mercy, release for the captives, sight for the blind and the end of oppression. This is the coming of Jesus Christ and it has already taken place and at the same time it is still coming, now and not yet!
Jesus gives us some good advice for those about to be plunged into the Christmas season, he tells us to, “be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with the dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life”. No, we are to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, not as devotees of the great idol of consumerism. We have to keep in mind the things that are really important, so that the “day does not catch us unexpectedly, like a trap”, and I don’t think he means Christmas Day, but rather the day when we need to give account of ourselves, and “stand before the Son of Man.” And I read this as every day. Every day we are judged, perhaps by God and certainly by our fellow human beings, on how we have lived in the Kingdom and how we have lived in the world. At the end of each day, we need to ask ourselves if we lived a life characterised by love, joy and peace, and whether we sought justice and mercy, as we lived the day surrounded by God’s grace. Because that is what Emmanuel, God with us promises- a life lived in God’s grace.
It is because Jesus the Christ, chose to live our earthly life with us and to experience everything that we experience, that we are able to live this Kingdom life.
And we do it together, as a body, as a kingdom, not as lone and frightened survivors, but as those who have the strength of others around them. Together we can work for justice in our world, together we can speak out on climate change, together we can love and support each other. Together we can bring peace.
As Paul says to the Thessalonians, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” Here is the Kingdom of God in action, in this congregation of believers, this group of people who are characterised by their love for one another. Together they are working for the kingdom. Let me encourage you to read the whole letter and see how Paul loves them and what they have been doing. They are people, like us, struggling with hardship and a complicated world scene and yet they able to be full of joy because of their faith and trust, imitators of Christ, as Paul says.
Christmas is coming, we will be caught up in it whether we like it or not but let me encourage you to take time, this advent, to live as people alert to the coming Kingdom of God. And as we begin our Advent journey together through what might be difficult days, let me encourage you to be characterised by your love for one another and for the people around you, and to be imitators of our Lord, Jesus, as we remember his incarnation and look for the coming of the Kingdom.