First Sunday in Advent

I have been unwell these past two weeks and unable to raise much interest in blogging. I was back at church yesterday, but didn’t take the services; I left that to my colleague, Rev Dr David Rankin.

In the morning, we had a great time starting to build up a Jesse Tree with the children. David preached in the evening, and I asked him to make his sermon available:

1 Thessalonians 3. 9-13; Luke 21. 25-36

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

The first Sunday in the season of Advent – the first Sunday in the Church Year – begins the liturgical journey towards one of the two great feasts of that Church Year (the other being Easter Day), the Feast of the Nativity of the Child, the Coming of the Christ, the Sending of Christ, the Christ-mas.

Purple is the ancient royal colour and therefore a symbol of the sovereignty of Christ and is thereby connected to the final Sunday of the Church calendar (last week), the Feast of Christ the King. [There is a sense in which the Feast of Christ the King both prepares us for Advent and the coming of the King but also is the culmination of the year; the season of Advent at the beginning of the year anticipates the coming of the King, the Feast of Christ the King at the end recognises and celebrates his having come.] Purple is also associated with repentance from sin (which is why it is also the liturgical colour for the season of Lent leading to Easter). Advent is a season of spiritual preparation for the celebration of the birth and the sending of Christ (for Christmas – the Christ-mas – means the sending of the Christ) and looks forward to the future reign of Christ. Eschatological expectation – a waiting for the Last Days when Christ will return in glory and triumph with the gathered saints – rather than personal penitence (again associated primarily with Lent) is the central theme of the season. Advent is a preparation for rather than a celebration of Christmas but it begins the Christmas season.

Take a moment with me now: what does Advent (the Coming) mean for you? What does the first Advent mean for you? How does it inform, shape, determine your approach to discipleship? What does the second Advent (the Second Coming of Christ, of Christ Risen, Ascended, Glorified, with all the saints) mean for you? How does it shape your present living and your hopes for the future?

Verse 11 of the third chapter of the Apostle’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica in Greece reminds us that the Lord Jesus, with the Father, is the one who directs the discipleship of the faithful. Verse 12 reminds us that it is the Lord Jesus who causes us to grow in love for one another and for all humankind, in order – as in verse 13 – that he might establish in us hearts which will be found without fault in holiness before the Father at the [second coming] of the Lord himself with all the saints.

This reminds us that the second coming of the Lord Jesus at the end of time – and to which and for which we look with hope and anticipation – is inextricably linked to the first coming – the advent – of the Lord Jesus in the person of the infant child at Bethlehem.

Our Lord Jesus himself is reported in the Holy Gospel of Luke – in the 21st chapter, beginning at verse 25 – as reminding us that his coming again – the second coming or second advent – is something for which we need to anticipate and eagerly to look for. We need not make too much of the colourful apocalyptic language which is employed: with its talk of signs, of the distress of the nations, the roaring of the waves and of the sea, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is to come, the shaking of the powers of heaven. For this language – very much language of its time which is meant to underscore the huge significance of what is anticipated – is designed primarily to make an impact, to make us sit and take notice. [Its too literal taking or reading has opened up all sorts of unnecessary problems for the Church over time.] For we have somehow lost the sense, at times, of the promise of the coming again of our Lord and have been reluctant to take it up again too readily because of the concern that one can only take this seriously with the accompanying lurid images!

Nor do we necessarily expect the returning Lord to come in a cloud for this is merely figurative language to underscore the divine nature of that return [clouds are always intended to reflect something of the heavenly realm]; but that he will come in not in doubt. It is integral to the promise. For all the promises – summed up in the notion of redemption – is tied in with that expectation. How it will be, however, what shape or form it will take, is a matter for God alone and not for our expressive or colourful imaginations!

The image of the fig tree is merely that; it underscores to need to be prepared, to know that the coming of the Kingdom and of the King is always at hand. It is to know that it may be now, it may be tomorrow, it may be when this physical world – heaven and earth – have ceased to be. But it will be in the Lord’s time for his words, his promises, do not pass away. Be watchful is the word. I am reminded of the bumper sticker (though not thereby to make light of this critical matter):

Look busy, Jesus is coming!

The primary purpose of both the First and Second Comings of Christ – the First and Second Advents – is to draw us into the life and fellowship of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the purpose of the Incarnation – the taking up by God in the person of his Son of our flesh, of God’s entering in the person of his Son into our life and experience – the purpose of his teaching and time with us in the flesh, the purpose of his suffering, his passion and his death, the purpose of his being raised from death, the purpose of his appearing to the first disciples, the purpose of his Ascension to the Father, the purpose of his taking his rightful place by the right side of the Father – there to intercede for us, to act as advocate for us – it is the primary purpose of all these aspects of the life and witness of Christ to draw us into the life and fellowship of the Triune God. And our recognition and our celebration of this begins this day, this first Sunday of the Christian Year, the first Sunday of the Season of Advent, the time when we begin to prepare for the celebration of the Coming of the Christ-Child.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

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1 Comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

One response to “First Sunday in Advent

  1. Nick

    Thank you for helping me focus on Jesus wanting to be with me in a personal relationship; for His tremendous love for me and starting to understand that the language of the Second Coming is figurative and should not confuse and distress me.

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