This sermon was preached by Reader Christine on Sunday 27 November. Here it is for you again:
Today as we celebrate the first Sunday in advent, we also remember that it is the first Sunday of the Church’s New Year and we begin to prepare for Christmas Day. Yes, I’ve said it Christmas Day (I think we can now officially say it as it’s only 4 weeks today!!)
But are we prepared? Are we really ready? It’s on the same date every year, that special date that doesn’t change, but for some reason it always seems to creep up on us.
I’m sure I’m among many when I say every year, this year I’ll be ready and prepare early and get everything ship shape and more or less every year I never do!! There’s always that last minute rush, but I do have to admit I trust God to help me sort everything out and he usually does.
Why is it though that we don’t really prepare early, it’s not as if the media has forgotten, they’ve been subtlety reminding us for weeks, with Christmas Adverts, T.V. shows and we even have Advent Calendars reminding us of the days to go up to Christmas from the 1st December.
However, sometimes everyday calendars can work against us, we look at it in October and think, Oh I’ve got two months yet, plenty of time to prepare and then it’s November, a month away, then days, then Oh heck it’s next week and there’s always that last minute rush. I’ve also noticed that the older I get the quicker the days seem to be, or is that just me!!
However, back to today and let’s be honest in church we have a very good way of remembering the weeks to Christmas, to that very first appearance of our Lord and that is with the Advent candles. They are lit each week and are a visual reminder of the weeks to come before we light that special Christ candle on Christmas Day.
Today being Advent Sunday, is the first day we light a candle and I’m sure many of us have heard the saying or heard it said, that today is the day we look backwards, but also forwards. It’s the time when we look back to Jesus’ first coming as told by the prophets, but we are also looking forward to his second coming. Something he said in today’s Gospel, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” And also, in the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then will he sit on the throne of his glory.”
So, while we might be in the midst of preparing for Christmas Day, buying gifts preparing the house, thinking about food, what are we doing to prepare ourselves spiritually and how much time are we giving to God?
In the O.T. the prophets tried so hard to get the people to prepare for their Messiah, they didn’t actually know themselves when he was coming, but they knew he would.
Isaiah was one of those who tried in every way he could to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. He instructed them about how they should prepare. ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’
He even tried to explained about the peace that the Messiah would bring. “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Unfortunately, it’s a shame that that message has yet to be heard by other nations. Isaiah also appealed to the people by saying, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” A phrase many of us are familiar with.
People probably took in Isaiah words, they may even have begun to act on them, but I’m fairly sure many of them would have gone home discussed what they had heard and then forgot it over the days and weeks, like the farmer sowing good seed and bad seed. However, some definitely began to prepare in their hearts and minds and one who we have to be very thankful for, Mary. She had obviously, prepared herself and when the spirit came to her was willing to follow what God wanted. It was his plan not hers, but if she had been unwilling, what would have happened then? I firmly believe God would not have given up, he would have found another willing participant, because if nothing else God is persistent and his plans are usually followed through, even when we can’t understand them.
The prophets all learned this, they had a message to give to the people and low and behold they would deliver it, even if the people didn’t want to hear it.
God chooses people out of the blue, it may not make sense to them at the time, you only have to read some of the O.T. stories to see how reluctant some of the prophets were, we only have to think of Jonah and how he tried not to follow God’s plan. (He didn’t win!!) and in the New Testament although not a prophet the followers of Jesus didn’t always understand where they were going, but they trusted in God to lead them and to give them the words to say.
Paul was one of those people and looking at his background no-one would have chosen him to be a witness for Christ, but God did. It was his plan and Paul had to work hard to gain the respect of the people he was trying to teach. He too spoke about the peace that Jesus brought. “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; 13let us live honourably as in the day,”
The people then and now live in hope. In the N.T. many were fortunate enough to see Jesus, to be witnesses to his words and teaching, God came among them.
We live in the ‘now’ and ‘not yet.’ We believe God already came to us in Jesus and we have been redeemed, but our salvation has not yet been completed.
At Christmas we hear the words, “and the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,” (John 1: 14) but do we really comprehend it?
The world is not yet as God wants it to be as there is so much to be anxious and fearful for, but we do not know when “…that day and hour” will be as “no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So, in hope we can only prepare and try to live each day in preparation for the Son of Man to come, because we too are not yet as God wants us to be.
However, the H.S. is at work in us as we are shaped by the Word of God into the likeness of Jesus, knowing that our true identity is to be found not in our past or in our present, but in our future.
Advent is a time of hope and renewal, when we can try to focus our attention on God to prepare not our houses, but ourselves through prayer and study to keep alight that flame that burns within us, so that we too can walk in the light of the Lord!
Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father. “Let us be full of hope. Let us live in hope. Let us be transformed by hope and transform the world by hope as we await the coming of Jesus, the one who has already come to give us hope.” (The Preacher – October 22) Through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen