I can’t quite believe I haven’t posted anything since June! Going to do better – I think, my intention is that at least. Anyway – it is a new year so time to start again. I have always maintained that a sermon is most needed not on Sunday but on a Wednesday afternoon about this time.
Advent 1 – Year A
Happy New Year!
No – I mean it! Today is New Year’s Day on the church calendar. Forget about January 1st – December 1st is where it is at! Now is the time for some new resolutions – although the dietary ones might be hard to keep on the cusp of the eating, drinking and general merriment that comes with the Advent and Christmas seasons.
At the beginning of this new church year – we (I think) have a lot to look forward to! In this season of Advent, we remember again the coming of Jesus in human form as we repeat stories of that first Christmas.
We also look ahead to His coming the second time – that time known to God but not us. We wait in hope and expectation for God’s arrival when the new heaven and the new earth come to pass. We are told repeatedly to make sure we recognize him when he comes. The season of Advent helps us to do that. We can use the readings this morning as a guide and reminder for this new year.
The first thing to do is wake up! It is time to get out of bed. I am not sure what kind of morning person (or not) you are. I generally hit the snooze button a few times before I get out from under the duvet. But once I’m up – I’m up. There is no going back. I am better in the mornings, more productive.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, is reminding his brothers and sisters that they know what time it is – it is the moment to wake up from sleep! He is not talking about physical sleep – as lovely as that is. Paul is talking about waking up from a spiritual sleep.
Many Christians are spiritually asleep. What does this mean? To not be paying attention to the work of God in the world around us, not interested, blasé. Maybe life at the minute is boring. Prayer life is dull or non-existent, no reading/feeding on the word of God – not interested, bored. I think you can come to church and yet still be asleep. We need to admit that we are asleep and stop pretending that Christianity will never require anything that is hard or costly of us.
It does feel as though there are lots of reasons to stay spiritually asleep – election, Brexit, state of the environment, the world, the church and many more personal ones.
‘No!’ says Paul ‘the night is far gone, and the day is near.’
Advent is a time for a spiritual awakening. It is a chance to wake up to the spiritual realities facing us. We need to wake up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth and what that means for us. We also need to look ahead to the return of Jesus and what we will have to account for.
Have we, as Paul declares, lay aside the works of darkness and lived honourably? Put the quarrelling and jealousy down? Paul also mention revelling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness – might not be big issues here. But I bet quarrelling and jealousy are more obvious! Make no provision for it says Paul.
Wake up to the realities of who and how we are.
After we wake up, we need to get dressed. Again, from Romans, put on the armour of light and live honourably as in the day.
Many people live in the cover of darkness – metaphorically and physically in some cases. Why? So that no one can see what they are doing! It is easier to hide in the dark and not be seen.
I know this from spending some night shifts with Thames Valley Police in the last few months. They are busier at night-time – as soon as the sun goes down. What’s more – Monday & Tuesday nights can be the busiest of the week!
But we can hide in the dark too – dark thoughts, words, beliefs about God or ourselves. This is no way to live my friends!
To live in the light, according to Paul, is to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
How do we do that? Follow him, become more like him. The name is on the tin, Christian, means little Christ. Jesus loved first and foremost. You, me, everyone in the whole wide world as mind-bending as it is to understand that.
Jesus loved, he cared, he helped, he was generous with people, he encouraged them, forgave, taught, corrected them and so much more. We don’t have to do it all. Start with love and see where it takes you. Live in the light!
The Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. We may live in dark times, but the light of Christ will show us the way.
Thirdly and finally, after waking up and getting dressed, keep watch. We need to prepare for Jesus’ return. This means taking the promises of God seriously. Where are our priorities towards God right now? Is he 2nd place behind the distractions of the Christmas season or other self-interests?
Matthew reminds his Jewish audience of the story before the Great Flood in Genesis and the story of Noah. Life was ticking over – eating, drinking, get married – party! But then the flood came and swept them all away. Noah was the one righteous person that God could find.
Luke has a similar account to Matthew, but Luke tells of the signs that are coming – in the sun, moon, in the stars and on earth. There will be distress among the nations and confusion in the seas and the waves. In Matthew’s account, it just happens the Son of Man will come back. No warning, no signs – highlighting the unexpectedness of the return.
Keep awake, says Matthew for you do not know what day your Lord is coming. In his teaching, Jesus is comparing himself to a robber, a thief in the night. I wonder how this squares with you and your view of Jesus. The baby we remember at Christmas, the Jesus who loves and heals and the one hanging on the cross at Easter describes himself as a thief!
Think about a thief prowling outside your house, stealthy and silent. The front door broken through, broken glass, your prize possessions disappearing maybe never to be recovered. We are given a picture of Jesus as an invader, intruder, a disrupter.
During Advent we are called to make preparations, make room for the long-anticipated Christ. Is there space for him, for the new life that is coming?
Maybe we actually need to be robbed of some things? Maybe some of the things that we won’t willingly give up need to be taken from us? Jealousy? Quarrelling? Debauchery? Unforgiveness? Hardness of heart? Apathy? Spiritual sleepiness?
The seasons are going to change, and we need to be ready to change with them. Not only that, we need to watch for the signs of the coming of Jesus.
We need to wake up, get dressed and pay attention to the world around us, pay attention to what God might be saying to us. This is part of spiritual awakening – get serious about it. This is not a time for shallowness and false cheer, the gooiness of the season that threatens to invade.
Spend time in prayer if you don’t, more time if you do, read the devotional, the Bible – again start or do it more. What are you clinging on to that needs to go?
In Advent, we are waiting for God’s arrival, to celebrate the first one and to anticipate the second. We need to recognize him when he comes. Advent begins in the dark, it is not a season for the faint of heart.
It is time to wake up! Walk in the light!
Happy New Year!