03 December 2023

And so the year starts again, and as usual, we begin with the end – the vision of God’s reign consummated in Christ. To be fair, though, Mark’s Gospel does not give us a vision of some future second coming of Christ so much as it gives us a vision of the events that the early church had to navigate as they witnessed the might of Rome crush their nation. But, whether we speak of a vision of God’s reign in the midst of the turmoil of the past, or a vision of God’s reign coming in the midst of the turmoil of the future, the essential message remains the same – God is always coming to us, and the world’s turmoil does not stop us from knowing and experience God’s reign right here and now. It is the hope we have that God is at work in our world that gives the security, the grace and the strength to live faithfully as followers of Christ and to make our contributions to the world’s transformation – and it is this hope that Advent Sunday offers us.

May our worship this week, and throughout the Advent season, fill us with hope in God’s subversive, ever-present reign.

Isaiah 64:1-9: A prayer for God to come and display God’s might as in the past. Also, a confession that, while God welcomes those who do good, God’s people have not done good, and have failed to confess. Finally a plea for God’s forgiveness.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19: A plea for God to reveal God’s glory and come to God’s people to turn them back to God, to make God’s face smile on God’s people, and to save them.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9: God has given us every spiritual gift, and will sustain us and strengthen us, as we await the return of Christ.

Mark 13:24-37: Jesus speaks about the signs of his coming – darkened sun and moon and fallen stars – and encourages his followers to watch the signs and be alert. Then he tells a story about a man who goes on a long trip, leaving his servants with work to do, and telling the gatekeeper to keep watch for his return. In the same way we are to keep watch for we don’t know when the Master will return.

As the new Church Year begins and we enter the Advent season once again, the Lectionary offers us a challenge to reflect carefully on our lives and our response to God’s presence and activity in our lives and our world. Both Isaiah and the Psalm for this week offer a plea for God to come to rescue and restore God’s people, with repentance as a strong element of this plea. The recognition here is that the people have landed in the trouble they are in because of turning away from God, and now they long to be turned back and healed. In the New Testament this theme is developed and connected with the coming of Christ to a troubled world. The passage from Mark’s Gospel – which certainly relates to the war which arose from the Jewish uprising of 66AD – gives an apocalyptic picture of a world in turmoil to which Christ comes, and from which God’s people are rescued. This rescue is not so much an escape from the struggle as it is an experience of God’s presence and protection in the midst of it – although the image of harvest is often interpreted (unhelpfully, I believe) in “evacuation” terms. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, God’s blessing and sustaining presence are celebrated as the things that sustain us as we await the hope we have in the coming of Christ’s consummated reign. This Advent season starts, then, with a reminder of our hope in Christ, and the assurance of God’s presence in our lives, even as we are encouraged to be alert and repentant in order to ensure that we do not miss God when God comes to us.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: Repentance, alertness and God’s coming are particularly relevant themes in the world as it stands today. There is a growing sense that our systems – economic, political, military, international, educational and medical – must change. So many movements of recent years have called for a global repentance – an acknowledgement of how the systems we have built have brought harm and suffering on most of the people in our world, and a commitment to change. There is also a constant cry for us to be more conscious as human beings – conscious of our place in the interconnected world, conscious of the consequences of our actions, conscious of others and how their needs intersect with our own. There is also a growing call for a greater spiritual consciousness – an greater awareness of the call of God to serve and love one another, and to honour the way God has come to others who are different from us. Finally, there is the growing sense of the need for healthy, life-bringing spirituality – a healthy awareness of God’s grace and compassion, and of God’s saving presence which is always coming to us – in our world. This Advent Sunday is an amazing opportunity for us to take stock of our faith, our lives, our compliance with broken systems, and our work for justice and change, and commit to being agents of God’s coming – God’s reign – where we are. And underlying all of this challenge is the hope we have in Christ – that God is working in our world with purpose, and that we are participants in bringing the reign of Christ into reality in our world. May we have the grace and the humility to do this important re-evaluative work.

LOCAL APPLICATION: It is extremely sad that the Christian view of Christ’s coming has come to be seen as something that is filled with terror, destruction and a God who uses the violent and dominating methods of human dictators to accomplish God’s ends. While popular publications and movies may glorify this way of seeing God’s reign, it is certainly not what Christ had in mind, and it doesn’t help us to experience or reflect God’s grace in our communities either. This year Advent calls us to think differently about the coming of Christ – as a gracious, restorative event that is always happening, and which gives us a cause for hope, not fear. Yes, there is the need for us to change – to repent – but all growth and healing requires this. The joyous challenge for our daily living in our neighbourhoods, families and churches, is to use the gifts God has given us to help others to see Christ as coming to them to restore and heal, and to be willing to watch for the signs of God’s coming in our own lives and in our communities, in order to co-operate with what God is doing. This challenge is the opposite of waiting passively for a conquering God to come and sweep us off to a different world somewhere. It is an active participation in God’s saving, peace-making, restoring work. It’s about staying alert to the signs of God’s presence everywhere, and jumping in, eagerly and graciously, to share in it. It is about believing that a new world is possible, and holding on the hope that God is at work to bring this new world into being. And, it is about being prepared to examine our own hearts and make changes where we find things that oppose God’s reign. Perhaps if our Advent hope led us into this kind of just and gracious awareness and action, others would be more able to see the signs of Christ’s coming in and through us.

Your Coming
Forgetting God

Hymn Suggestions:
General Advent Hymns & Songs from Singing From The Lectionary
You Bring Peace
Joy To The World (Sojourn) (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for Advent and Christmas