Happy New Year!
Today we begin another cycle of prayer and worship – flavoured this time by the words of the evangelist Mark.
Today we being once again to look forward – to the celebration of God breaking into our world as the babe in Bethlehem and to that final resolution and remaking of all things in accordance with God’s will, which we know as the Second Coming.
We look forward – and so do our neighbours outside the church,
For once we seem to be looking in the same direction as everyone strains to see what lies ahead…but what are we expecting? What are we waiting for?
For our children, it’s pretty straightforward.
The first window of countless Advent calendars will be opened on Thursday, and so the Christmas countdown begins…
Not far ahead for the children lie presents… celebrations in school and at home, nativity plays and carol concerts, coloured lights and starlit magic.
For their parents, though, there is a chill in the anticipations…
Will there be jobs by January? Can Christmas be managed when there is so much less money around? Dare we look forward at all?
It's hard to be hopeful when the news is full to overflowing with tales of greed and misery, death and disaster.
But this is Advent Sunday, and the first candle on our Advent wreath represents hope for all God’s people.
So let’s try and lift our eyes from the headlines, to think about why we are here this morning.
Perhaps it's just habit, but I'd hope that there's something more going on.
After all, despite the pain of a broken world, we DO Have something to look forward to.
Advent is a time when we look again at how our lives fit into the big picture of God's relationship with God's people, past and future. We are drawn, in a heightened way, into what it really means for God to come to us and be present with us…with us here in Selsley and Cainscross…in this year of economic anxiety, natural disaster & political upheaval which is, nonetheless, the Year of Our Lord.
God with us…not removed from our reality but immersed in it…sharing everything that we lament, all the pain which we struggle with.
Isaiah cries out in desperation for a dramatic intervention
O that God would rend the heavens and come down….and I guess that is the sort of cry that many would identify with.
We want to be reassured that someone is still in control, that things are not as chaotic as they seem…God seemed to be active in the past – and we want more of the same.
In the good times, of course, we feel no need to call upon God.
We’re in control of our incomes, our lives, our politics.
We feel safe, self-sufficient…why would we want to bother ourselves with a God who asks so much of us?
But at the moment, the world is full of frightened people, people who can see the darkness stretching ahead of them and are desperate for any potential source of light.
O that God would rend the heavens and come down
God rending the heavens….coming to us through brokenness…
The brokenness of our lives, and our world
The brokenness of the bread at the Eucharist
That is our route to God.
And, of course, it is one we’d choose to avoid if we could
Nobody wants to experience brokenness…
But remember, we are looking forward, aren’t we?
Advent is good news, right?
God is coming…God is with us…
But we need to remember that God with us has neve been just an easy option…The experience that Mark sketches for us in this "little apocalypse" may help us understand what’s going on around us now.
The church in which he wrote was dealing with the fall of Jerusalem, the end of the world as they knew it…and they were expecting Christ’s return in a matter of moments. But as they waited, things weren’t easy.
Perhaps each generation, in one way or another, faces what it sees as “the last days”, times when the landscape of their lives is radically altered, when valued certainties are swept away.
Here in the church, we bewail the way our neighbours and our children are no longer part of the worshipping family...We long to recreate past times, when things seemed more stable, more certain – but live in a post-modern world where everything is provisional, where truths are seen as relative.
Despite this, we are not called to nostalgia but to invited to look forward.
Look forward, not back.
No, we don't know what lies ahead for us...nor when Christ will come, but I don't think that matters. One way and another, all things will come to and end. We don't know when that end will be – for each of us as individuals, or for this beautiful, broken planet that we call home, but we do know that we can’t carry on as we are forever.
We don't need to know the timetable.
Jesus makes it clear that attempts to work out when the end might come are simply a wasted effort. Much better to use the time now…for what matters is to be awake, alert, ready.
When I was ordained a friend gave me a mug inscribed
“Jesus is coming...look busy!”
It was meant as a joke – and I greeted it with a smile – but it's also a reminder.
While we wait for Christ's coming, there's so much to do to , because we are called to be signs of the kingdom, good news ourselves, agents of hope amid the augurs of destruction.
Our waiting is not to be passive.
Time is a gift to be used in God's service – and these four weeks of Advent there as gift too – not for shopping, stressing, planning and buying but for waiting, expecting, hoping.
We know that there is much that needs to change in our world – there is injustice to be fought, greed to be challenged, cruelty to denounce and that is part of our Advent work as well.
We stand here on Advent Sunday and cry, with all God's people down the centuries,
“Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus”
We stand in the darkness, but we know that the light will soon be here.
And so, truly, we are looking forward.
Forward to new life that will overcome the pain of death!
Forward to a change in the way that each of us lives our lives.
Forward to the coming of the One who makes all things new.
Yes, Jesus is coming – and of course it’s in no way to be taken lightly – but surely, SURELY, that inspires joy and not panic.
This is JESUS.
The one who ate with outcasts and sinners, who touched untouchables and healed the broken
The one who meets us as we are and transforms us through his love and grace.
So don't panic. Panic spoils your concentration just as much as sleep does.
You need to focus, to be ready to respond to another person, to meet them with love.
Don't panic when someone tells you about suffering in the present or suffering to come: keep watch, and respond with love.
Stay awake, keep looking forward and respond with love.
There will be earthquakes and wars and famines, recessions and riots, as well as more personal catastrophes of betrayal, but there is nothing that can derail this train,
Jesus is here, and Jesus is coming.
Come, Lord, come.