Sermon - Advent 1 : 29 November


Sunday, 29 November 2020

(The video version is available by clicking HERE )

One Word

A single key word in the sermon for the first Sunday in Advent. One word.

Professor Willie Barclay used to say this was the most difficult chapter in the whole of the New Testament to interpret, so one word is enough.

Today’s reading is the sort of passage the religious door knockers of the past would always mention when they came to your front step.    Didn’t they love these apocalyptic passages which unsettled those of a nervous disposition?

24 “In the days after that time of trouble the sun will grow dark, the moon will no longer shine, 25 the stars will fall from heaven, …  Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 

However, our word today is neither fear nor apocalyptic!

However, it will invite us to consider the future.

This year has been full of surprises. The pandemic has affected every person on the planet and our expectations have changed.  Our view of the future will affect how we live today... and most of us see the future in one of two ways: bleak or bright.

Bleak. There are many who see the future as a slide into disaster;

things are going downhill fast, from bad to worse. There is evidence to back this trend from every continent.

Bright. There are some who see the future as holding promise.

Nothing being beyond us if we will only pull together.

The bleak ones tend to live the present in a state of anxiety, which results in either frenetic activity (the headless chicken scenario!) or immobilised like a deer in the headlights. Because they have no faith in God or the future, the present becomes a series of threats, a struggle for survival.

The bright ones, provided they are not superficially optimistic, are more likely to live purposeful, daring, creative lives. They crave order and have goals. Because they believe in the eternal future they can be relaxed, more productive and patient for the things which take time to come to fruition.

For Jesus, in our passage, gives us the word for today. He said,

Watch therefore...

 for you do not know when the master of the house will come;

And what I say to you I say to all: Watch!    Mark 13: 35-37

The word is watch - eyes open, alert, not sleepy or frightened.

However, I want to pair with another word – Hope. Watch and Hope.

Christians can see something better than the bleak aspects of life. No matter how jittery we may feel at bad times, we are called to hope. Watch and then we are commanded to hope.

This hope is not a matter of ignoring the grim realities. Not pretending that every cloud has a silver lining. Eyes wide open and watch.

In truth, our eyes should be wider open than those of our hard-headed secular pals. It is our job to look honestly at life, to recognise evil and name it, yet also to see our coming Lord everywhere at work, even in the places of cruelty and chaos.  We are called to see a Lord who dares to redeem in the bleakest of circumstances. The cross remains the mark of his presence among his people.

Our God can bring growth out of decay – watch nature! Opportunities from a pandemic - watch!

This will be true for us if we have a firm belief in the future as belonging to the Creator and His Son. From the very early days, Christians have held to the belief that Jesus will come again. Arriving with a final return when he will bring to a close everything he commenced at Bethlehem.

Christ is the destination of history.

Not chaos, terrorism, war, greed, injustice, cruelty, neglect, or world-wide destruction. None of these negativities will rule! Christ alone is the end, the destiny of humanity. The future which will inexorably arrive with the glory of Christ who comes again.

To believe in the Christ who comes again is to live with an indomitable hope. Evil may be noisy, boastful, and blatantly busy everywhere, but it will not win the final day.

Hope is a command.  ‘Watch’ does not mean passive waiting. Not waiting wistfully like children peering out the window begging the rain to cease so that the family picnic can go ahead.

‘Watch’ means to be ready for him here and now as we confront the rough and tumble of life, to co-operate with him in his ministry among our equivalents of the “tax gatherers and sinners.”  ‘Watch’ also means seeing him at the loving climax of history, yet to be loved and served right now.

This we are commanded to do. Get that?  Start hoping! Hope is a command from our God. Hope is not related to one’s material prosperity, our outward success in life, or propensity for good health.

Hope is a response to the word of Jesus. It is a matter of the will. It involves commitment.  Hope is obedience.  Hope is living pro-actively, creatively, lovingly, self-sacrificially in spite of all the barriers we encounter, or the darkest clouds that loom on the horizon.  Hope is being committed to fundamental optimism in a world increasingly riven by distrust.

Watch! says Jesus. Be ready for me. I am the final word. Watch and join me in my mission of hope.

“Watch”, says Jesus. “Look ahead and see me coming to fulfil all things with love and joy.”  That gives an injection of Hope for Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.