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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Sally Sanderson's sermon


3rd December 2006

Sally Sanderson

ADVENT SUNDAY

The board outside my bank says, “I want, must have.” One of my mother’s favourite sayings was ‘if it’s worth having, it’s worth waiting for.’ But we are tending to live in an age that considers everything is for now and not for the future. We cannot even wait until December to put up our decorations, or see Father Christmas climb up the walls of John Lewis in the Harlequin. I know that for my household when I was young, putting up the decorations was always the job for Christmas Eve. It is not only Christmas we cannot wait for, we are bombarded with offers of loans from the banks and credit cards so that we can have whatever we want now and not have to wait for it, and we are not encouraged to think about the future when we have to return the loan.

Today we have come to Advent Sunday, the first day of the Church’s year. It is a day when we do think about the future. And we think about the future from two viewpoints, and they are both about the coming of Jesus Christ to this world. We all know about the birth of Jesus. I hope you try to keep the authentic Christmas story real in your children’s and your grandchildren’s minds as they are bombarded with the tinsel and gaudiness of commercialism. We rejoice in that Christmas message and it is good to do so, and our faith would not be true if Jesus hadn’t lived on earth as one of us. But the message of Advent is also to remind us that Jesus promised to return to the earth – at some time – we don’t know when. The disciples thought that it would be in their lifetime, and so did the early Christians and I suppose the rest of Christianity after them, because the message that we have read in Luke reminds us that we must be prepared for the Lord to come here again.

For in our gospel reading Jesus was speaking about the future. He lived amongst people who were unhappy as they were living under the rule of the Romans. The Israelites were looking for a leader that would lead them out of their oppression; someone with might and power – a king just as we were celebrating last week, but this king did not wield a sword. He wanted to lead people out of their selfish ways that displeased God, and like the prophets before him he started talking about the consequences of not obeying God. He talked about the judgement of God as producing turmoil among the nations, and he describes this turmoil in vivid, cosmic images: signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, the roaring of the sea and the waves.’

But for the true, faithful people of God there would be a hopeful prospect in the midst of all the confusion and fear. The son of Man, Jesus himself, representing them all, would be vindicated, coming through his suffering to receive ‘dominion and glory and kingship’ as is promised in the book of Daniel. On Advent Sunday, as at other times, mindful of the dreadful upheavals in our world, Christians look for the coming again of the once crucified, now exalted, Jesus to receive the open and final consummation of his kingly rule, and we must be prepared for that day whenever it comes.

For Christians Advent marks the beginning of a new year – it is a season that prompts us to carefully watch and wait for the signs of God’s presence and intention. We are reminded that the people of Israel longed for a Messiah and we share in that longing as we anticipate the completion of God’s work of creation. Yet totally bound up with any longing that we have for a better future, it is an understanding of fulfilment in the present. The promise of Jesus and the anticipation of his arrival cannot be separated from our knowledge and experience of Jesus already fully with us in this world. All that we long for already is. The fulfilment of the Advent promise is in God’s control and is outside our human understanding of time.

The portion of text for our gospel is difficult reading. It is a passage that we like to just skip over, because we don’t like the thought of how difficult the time might be when Jesus returns. And of course it speaks of hardship rather than the calm and peace and love that we associate with Jesus. It also brings us up short on how we lead our Christian lives. Are we ready to meet our Lord when he comes again? We put it to the back of our minds that it might be soon that he makes his second appearance in this world. It might be tomorrow. Are we ready?

St Matthew’s gospel reminds us that the hour of the Son of Man’s coming is unknown – even Jesus and the angels do not know. So, who are we to arrogantly ‘read the signs of the times’ with a certainty that is all about human perspectives and not God’s wisdom? We must assume that we always keep watchful and obedient to Jesus teaching. We must be constant in prayer to maintain our relationship with God. We must look upwards to God in hope. Those who have not had their eyes on a future full of the possibility of hope and change will continue to look down and miss the scope of God’s love. If you live a ‘present only’ existence where you can see no possibility of change, then you will not be motivated to work for change. God wants us to work at upholding his kingdom here on earth until Jesus comes again.

Christians make a dual response to the world’s troubles. They keep alive in their own hearts a firm hope in God’s future, and because of this, at the same time they join in the sacred project of making the world a better place, knowing that in the end God will right all wrongs and renew the creation from top to bottom in judgment and mercy. If Jesus came to Watford this afternoon, what would he find? Would he feel welcome in our town? Would he feel at home in our church? Would he feel part of the family in our home?

Advent hope is not something to wait for, neither is it a dress rehearsal for Christmas day. Advent hope is a present reality – it is a way of seeing and a motivation for doing. It is allowing God to use us to make a difference in this world so that the kingdom is here for people. We must be ready, active in his service, making a difference to people’s lives and to the world about us sot that God’s kingdom here on earth is ready to receive its Lord. It was graduation time in hell. The devil was testing his young helpers to see if they were well qualified to be sent out into the world to tempt people to his evil ways. The first said, “Oh I went up to someone and whispered in his ear to go and steal another man’s car, to drive into town and then rob a bank.” The devil turned to him and said “No good, it’s been done before.” The second helper came up to him and said “I went up to a teenager and showed her where she could get drugs for the best kick she had ever had.” “No good,” said the devil “it’s been done loads of times before.” The third said “I saw a Christian reading his bible and I said to him ‘don’t worry man, you’ve got plenty of time’.” “Well done,” said the devil “that’s the one that will get them.”

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Comments about this site or problems? Contact Webmaster (Colin Richards) at webmaster@stmatthewsoxhey.org.uk Last updated 03/12/06 17:30 Author: Sally Sanderson