Advent Sunday – Rev’d Christine Bailey
Advent Sunday 2015. Luke 21: 25-36
May I be the first to wish you a happy new year. For today is Advent Sunday, the first day of the church’s year. The church’s year starts not on the 1st January, or Christmas Day or Easter which you might think are the more obvious dates for a new year, but on the beginning of Advent – the 4th Sunday before Christmas which can fall on any date between 27th November and 3rd December. It’s when we count down to Christmas of course, as any child will tell you when they open the doors on their Advent calendars, a time of eager anticipation for children and for the church. But in the church’s calendar Advent has a double meaning. It’s a time to prepare for our Christmas season – not just one day but a season which lasts until Epiphany, the celebration of the visit of the 3 kings to Jesus which occurs on 6th January. As we prepare to look back to events of 2000 years ago, in Advent we also look forward to that time when Christ’s work will be completed and all creation will be reconciled to God.
Today’s gospel warns us to expect this time to come. Jesus tells us there will be signs in the sea, moon and stars, and the roaring of the sea and waves and great distress among the nations, people fainting from fear and foreboding. It’s a bleak picture of dark times, and the few verses before this reading are even worse – warnings of vengeance, and violence, even against pregnant women and babies, warnings of desolation and captivity. Are we supposed to look forward to this with eager anticipation?
Given the events of recent years it’s not surprising that some people think these times have come. The roaring of the sea and waves brought tragic loss of life and destruction in the tsunamis in south east Asia and Japan. There is much fear and foreboding of what is happening in the world now – there have always been wars between nations but now we have terrorist attacks, kidnappings, beheadings, bombings, people forced to flee the devastation of their homelands. But any study of history of any period, of any country will show you that such things have always happened. Modern weapons and technology have changed the nature of conflict and made us more aware of events thousands of miles away, but otherwise, we humans have always inflicted violence on each other.
The eager anticipation which we should have in Advent is for the end of all this. We yearn for deliverance from such evils in the world – we pray for this everyday “Deliver us from evil” we say in the Lord’s Prayer. And Jesus promises us that he will deliver us. When we are in the midst of dreadful events we are to raise our heads and turn to God. Jesus will be there in the midst of it all, standing alongside us.
Jesus reassures us that whatever may be happening in the world, God is still in control. It may seem that evil is unstoppable, that it will spread and overwhelm us all but the ultimate victory belongs to Jesus. It is God’s kingdom that will spread throughout all the world, his power and glory that will envelope us all. Sometimes the path to good outcomes is hard and painful. Like labour pains before a birth, or the suffering that cancer patients may have to endure when receiving chemotherapy that will rid them of their cancer. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of a baby 2000 years ago, we should remember that by his death and resurrection Jesus set in motion a new birth, the birth of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The labour pains may be hard and long but a safe delivery is assured. They are a sign that our redemption is drawing near. Our deliverance is on its way.
Jesus gave an example of a fig tree – when you see the first leaves appear, you know that summer is coming. Just as the seasons and fruits come in their turn, our deliverance from evil will come when the time is right. We don’t know when that will be, only God the Father knows, but Jesus tells us we will see it for ourselves. “This generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” That includes us, we will not pass away but will live eternally to see the completion of Jesus’s work on earth.
How are we to deal with the waiting, endure the evil things happening in the world? Jesus said, “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” You have been warned by Jesus of what is to come and that God has plans to deal with it. You don’t need to be among those fainting from fear and foreboding because you have his assurance that you will be delivered from the evil of the world, so raise your heads and look for signs of God at work in the world.
Someone told me the other day a little verse which her mother used to say, “Two men looking through prison bars, one sees mud, the other sees stars.” If you go about downcast and doom-laden, you’ll only see the mud and dirt of the world, but if you raise your head and look to the stars then you may see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. That day when he comes has been called doomsday, the day of judgement, something to be feared not welcomed. But Jesus didn’t tell us to fear that day, he told us to raise up our heads. Picture yourself on that day, not like a naughty schoolchild hanging his head in shame and shuffling his feet as he stands before the headmaster, waiting to hear what his punishment will be. But standing before Jesus, your merciful judge and redeemer, your head raised up as you look into the face of the one who has already suffered the punishment for all your wrongdoing.
I started by wishing you a happy new year. Now I’d like to ask you to make a new year’s resolution. As you go forward into a new year with God, don’t be overwhelmed by the evil you see around you. Resolve to raise your head up and look to Jesus.