Advent 1: Hope, Relief and Waiting

Michelanglo’s The Last Judgment (1536-41)

28/11/21
Advent 1 – Year C

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36



Happy New Year!

No – I mean it! Today is New Year’s Day on the church calendar. Forget about January 1st – November 28th is where it is!

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 preparation for God’s arrival to make sure we recognize him when he comes. In preparation for that we can pray that this Advent is a season of hope, relief and watching.

Hope. Who doesn’t need a little bit of hope today? Hope is like a light shining in a dark place. The Bible has a lot to say about hope:

At this point in his life, Jeremiah has been put into jail by his own King for being right. The enemies of Jerusalem are attacking the city, as Jeremiah said they would. Jerusalem is still standing but it will soon fall into the hands of Babylon.
Sitting in prison, Jeremiah is suddenly filled with hope. Jeremiah knows that restoration will come after the exile – this is what he is talking about when he says, ‘the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.’

If the people wait, watch, endure and try to see the hand of God at work, they will be preparing themselves and the people for the time when ‘Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety.’ This would have been a mystery to the people listening! This is hundreds of years before Jesus arrived. This is still a mystery to people today; people in our families and friend groups who are not interested or do not know about what it is to be saved.

Jeremiah gives us an incredible example of human faithfulness that will not renounce God, come what may. Jeremiah brings good news too: whatever happens, God is God and God is for us. Even Jeremiah, who was the darkest of the prophets, has moments when he can see beyond the immediate destruction of his people to a time when they will again know that God has not abandoned them. He (Jesus) will execute justice and righteousness.

Secondly – Relief.

Just think for a moment about the last time you felt relief from a situation. That overwhelming sense of ‘this is over!’ or ‘well that wasn’t so bad’ or ‘thank God that passed me by’ Advent brings relief – the weary world rejoices!

Paul has been worried about the Thessalonians to whom he is writing. Paul got so worked up about it that he sent Timothy to visit them and he has come back with good news. The letter to the Thessalonians is an expression of Paul’s relief and joy for these new Christians. ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?’ (verse 1 asks)

Paul’s prayer is that they will use their time to prepare for their final meeting with God. There is no time to waste, every minute is vital according to Paul. He wants the Thessalonians to grow and abound in love for each other, to have their hearts strengthened in holiness so to be blameless before God at the coming of Jesus.

This is a big part of the Advent journey; are we ready for the great return? If we are ready then we will know relief when he comes back. However , we should not be too comfortable while people around us do not know the Good News.

There is a verse in this reading that really stuck out to me – Paul wants to see the Thessalonians face to face and ‘restore whatever is lacking in your faith.’ What is lacking in your faith this Advent season?

Thirdly and finally – 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 our distractions and self-interests?

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. This passage is different from the rest of Luke. Luke tells the wonderful stories of the shepherds and sheep, the stable and the manger; it is Luke who tells the story of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah.

Luke now gives us this rather frightening story of the Son of Man coming in on a cloud with power and great glory. 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. This is not an easy task! We need to pay attention to the world around us, pay attention to what God might be saying to us.

The fig tree is the key to all three of today’s readings. Just as we know how to watch for the signs that mark the changing of the seasons, so we have to train to be people who can recognize the signs of the coming redemption.

Jeremiah and Luke talk about seeing the signs in times of turmoil and Paul is speaking into a situation of growth and joy while trying to keep a note of urgency. We too need to wait with intelligence, noting the signs, paying attention in situations of joy and relief and in turmoil too.

In Robyn Wrigley-Carr’s Advent book for this year, Music of Eternity, we are reminded that God is at work and draws us into His coming action. God is the prime mover, the initiator who is always present on the scene before we arrive. We need not worry or work under our own steam. By spending time with God, he will reveal what He is doing in our lives and the wider world. It is then that we can begin to recognize him.

In Advent, we are waiting for God’s arrival and we need to recognize him when he comes. We wait in hope, we wait for relief and we wait and watch for God – both now and in the not yet.

Happy New Year!

Trust of the Saints

This past Sunday was technically the 2nd Sunday of this year’s Stewardship campaign and I was to preach on that. However, in the last few weeks 2 long-time members of the parish have died. Reg and Ralph were two of the loveliest, funniest and godly men I have met. Both of their wives were in church yesterday and while I initially wrote this with Ralph in mind, I was able to easily make room for Reg as it speaks of him as well.

Trust of the Saints

Jeremiah 17:5-10
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

I didn’t feel that I could not not talk about Ralph and Reg today. While I, like you, are very sad about this, I have found myself to be very grateful to have even known Ralph and Reg, to have been ministered to by them and to have confidence that they are now in the presence of God – whatever that looks like.

How do we make sense of the things that happen to us or to those that we love? I suspect that a few of us might be trying to work this through in these days. I think that it really comes down to trust. We can all see in Ralph and Reg, lives of faithfulness to God but also a life of trust. Trust also happens to be the golden thread that runs through our readings this morning.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God’s message was that he wanted his people to trust him alone. No other gods, idols or even humans could replace him. So determined is God to have their trust – he is prepared to curse those who trust in ‘mere mortals and make human strength their only strength.’ Over time the Jewish people had gradually come to trust in other things, in themselves, in novel religious rituals, in wealth – basically anything but God and they are paying a terrible price.

People like these live ‘like a shrub in the desert.’ There is no water, nothing to feed them. They won’t see relief when it comes. Think about for a moment when you are hungry or thirsty to the point of distraction? Can you think clearly? Living like this means a life of constant worry, anxiety and inability to focus on anything other than survival.
Jeremiah uses water as the image of God. God is as essential to life as water is, and to choose to live without him is as dumb as it would be to choose to live without water. Instead of being cursed, those ‘who trust in the Lord are blessed, like trees planted by water, sending out roots by the stream.’ These people are constantly being fed and watered by the stream that is God. They don’t have to fear and be anxious when things get difficult; they bear fruit always.

It would be silly to suggest that Ralph or Reg were never fearful or anxious. We all do – of course! But they knew where their roots where. By the stream, planted by the water that is God. Can we check our root system today? Have near or far from water are they?

Secondly, we need to trust in the resurrection. This is essential to the Christian faith – we can’t avoid it or downplay it. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, is rather stunned by those who say there is no resurrection of the dead. If Jesus was not resurrected, Paul says, then our faith is futile, and we are still in our sins. Those who have died in Christ have perished. That means they no longer exist anywhere – they have come to nothing. Do we really dare want to believe that? This is a very black and white matter of faith.

The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that offers us redemption and is the same power that made us in the first place. This is power that we can trust in! This is the Good News of the Gospel – Jesus has been resurrected from the dead with the power to redeem and restore us. This is what the rest of the world needs to know – it is what the church should stand for, be about, why we give our time, talents and money. It is where we should put our trust. This is where Ralph and Reg put their trust.

Thirdly, the message of the Gospel is where we need to put our trust. Sometimes it is a hard message but first and foremost it is about love. The love between God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit – all equal parts. This is the love that we are invited into, that we were created for.

Luke, like Jeremiah, has a message of both woe and blessing. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular.

Debie Thomas: ‘As Luke tells the story, Jesus has just spent the night alone on a mountainside, praying before he chooses his twelve Apostles. As morning dawns, he and the newly called Twelve descend from the mountain to find a vast crowd waiting for them. The multitudes have come from everywhere, seeking help, and Jesus — in his element, with power literally pouring off of his garments — heals them all. Then, standing “on a level place” with the crowd, he tells his would-be disciples what discipleship actually looks like. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Woe to you who are rich, full, happy, and popular. Yup, that’s the fabulous Good News of the Kingdom of God. A world turned upside down. An economy of blessing that sounds ludicrous. A reordering of priority and privilege that the Church will find awkward and even offensive for centuries to come.’

Again this is about trust. What is our trust in? Being rich, full and popular? These are good if used in the right way, not to be taken lightly or misused for our own personal gain. Woe to you if this is what your trust is in. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad, and expendable. Why are they blessed? God’s favour falls on those who have nothing to fall back on – no pension, no credit line, no NHS, no social care, no credit card. Jesus is standing with people who are hungry to benefit from the power that streams from him, and he announces through his healings and his words that God cares for the poor, the hungry and the suffering.

The power of God is a power that is used to comfort and renew. It is the power of the cross and resurrection. It is the power that has raised Ralph and Reg and will one day raise us too.

Where then is our trust today? Maybe in light of what has happened it has been shaken – but that doesn’t mean that God’s power is less. Ever so fortunately, God’s power and love is not conditional or contingent on how we might be feeling in a particular moment. There is no better alternative to his power. Until we are powerless ourselves; we cannot truly understand his power. Find your roots again today and stay close to the waters where fear and anxiety are taken away. Our dear friends Ralph and Reg have been strengthened and healed by the power of the resurrection. There is no fear in that but only trust.