October 28, 2021

Advent: fear and foreboding…or hope and promise?

A Sermon Preached by Ms Leslie Spatt

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

A Sermon Preached by Leslie Spatt

Sunday 28th November 2021: Advent Sunday

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

Well…Here we are again – at the start of another Advent season, preparing and waiting for the Incarnation, the essence and reflection of God who will appear in the world to show us the way back to wholeness, healing and a right relationship with God and each other. Last year at around the same time we were preparing, waiting and hoping for something like a normal Advent and Christmas – whatever that might be – and our hopes and plans were destroyed by fear and panic over yet more manifestations of a disease which has had us in its clutches for almost 2 years.

Will this Advent and Christmas be any different, we ask ourselves, with the tussle between vaccinations and variants? Media hype, and words like ‘might’, ‘could’, ‘possibly’ and ‘theoretically’ are being liberally scattered about by the press, social media and the representatives of various authorities. Where might God be in all this? We could wonder if God has dumped all this on us as a message to change our ways or else. But that isn’t a sort of God I choose to worship. That belief might imply that God is only around to provide punishment.

The real questions might be ‘what, if anything, have we discovered about ourselves and learned in the past months’ along with ‘what does the future hold.’ The first could have many answers, the second is probably completely unknown. Advent, in the churchy liturgical sense, is a time of looking forwards, not backwards; but of course we need to hold both past and future together; just as the Hebrew prophets and the Gospels did.

There’s both promises and warnings this morning: Jeremiah promises justice and righteousness to come in the land of Judah, to be brought about by a descendant of the House of David. The Gospel has Jesus – that descendant of David, the one who will save them –  reminding his listeners about how to recognise when the kingdom is near. Luke warns about signs and distress – but we have to remember that when Luke was probably being put together, the Jewish revolt against Rome was happening. Confusion, death and destruction were all too real. Who was going to save the people? They will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, Jesus says; but we have to be able to read the signs and know what they mean.

The signs may indeed be bad, but salvation is the eventual outcome. The Kingdom of God, says Jesus many times in the Gospels, is indeed very near – around us and within us, but we have to be open to discovering it.  What are our signs of the times?

It’s interesting to have a good look around and see what signs we can find now – and what needs to happen before the incoming Kingdom of God can arrive. Distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves, for example; where neither the sea and waves are able to be regulated or tamed by human beings. The forces which control both of them are beyond our powers to influence, and both the sea and the waves can be dangerous, capable of destroying things in their paths. I wonder if we can read this sign for our times as something to do with the destructive nature of the climate change which we, as humans, have brought about; and will continue to do so unless we make radical changes to significantly reduce its effects. The power of sea and waves could be symbolic signs of all the other damage which is increasingly affecting the world: melting ice, rising sea levels, increasingly bad regular storms and floods, alterations in weather patterns which result in water deprivation and, in turn, food production. People who are starving will move to where they can get enough to eat. There’s wars to eliminate competitors for scarce resources or those of differing beliefs. The nations are indeed confused – and alarmed, agitated and will do whatever it takes to make sure they survive. The Gospel warning of the roaring of the sea and waves is a warning to us about how we’ve mistreated God’s creation. Our self-centred attitudes are just as destructive to our world as the Romans were to the world of those early Christians. We need to mend our ways.

We could also look for more subtle signs pointing to the incoming Kingdom. Things like wholeness, healing and a right relationship with God and each other. The 2 great commandments – love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself have been shown clearly in the way everyone did their best to keep worship and spiritual care going when we were locked out of church, then allowed to return and connect up again bit by bit. We never really lost the sense of being a worshipping community, loving God through all sorts of ways to sustain that worship. There’s not a lot of evidence on a global scale that anyone is loving their neighbour as themselves; but think about how our various local communities have grown and reached out to join together with others over the past 20 months or so. How the connected-ness of humanity might be reflected in miniature just in SW11. Expressions of community care for actual neighbours by shopping and befriending and trying to make sure nobody was left out – and for unknown neighbours through food bank support or volunteers giving time, services and goods. It’s taken an international crisis for us to begin to find signs of this Kingdom stuff, coming into being as we come closer to what Jesus teaches us about unselfish love, God, and God’s wishes for everything created. Signs that we need to recognise and develop, to help flourish, to spread that wholeness and healing and God-relationship as far as possible. It isn’t that we need to convert everyone to Christianity. It’s that we want to live out our Jesus-given example that everyone has equal worth in God’s world and a place in God’s kingdom.

Jeremiah promises the world a leader, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety, Translated into more inclusive terms, nations will be saved and all communities will live in safety.  The righteous branch of the House of David will arrive, come among the people, and lead everyone back to the Lord. The Gospel warns us that this won’t be an easy road back. The signs of the day of the coming of the Lord will warn us that we have to be on guard so that our hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life. Or be tempted to give up because it’s all getting too much to cope with. We may live with fear and foreboding now, but Advent is both faith and promise that all things and all manner of things shall be well. Or at least better, with our hope in the coming of the Lord and the vision of the Kingdom Jesus shows us, despite all the misery and mess we’ve gone through and can see around us. Faith and hope go together.

The Kingdom of God will not arrive tomorrow – or next week, next year or even within our lifetimes. But the signs are there, and the promise of Advent which is fulfilled by the Incarnation. Because we believe God is faithful and keeps promises, that’s enough to overcome fear and foreboding and sustain us.  God will be with us, that’s what Em-man-u-el means. We have the warnings, the signs, the hope and the faith. Let’s prepare, watch and wait in expectation.

Leslie Spatt 2021

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