Tag Archives: Advent

Strengthen the weak hands…

Isaiah 35.1–10


To spend time in Advent in the company of the prophets is to open ourselves up to the great and costly truth that the world is God’s and can be lived in peaceably and joyfully only by people who know who they are and whose they are. In that sense, we are all called to be prophets, in that we point to the bigger narrative of which we are a part; we point towards the action of God in Jesus Christ, and prepare ourselves to live in the world that God has made. — Jane Williams, The Art of Advent, Day 8


In some Advent traditions, today is Gaudete Sunday, Joyful Sunday. It comes from an old tradition of Advent as a time of repentance leading up to the celebration of Christmas. At one time, Advent was a time to think on the ‘Four Last Things’: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. For some, Advent is still a time of fasting, like Lent. 

So the Third Sunday of Advent became a little break from the focus on the Four Last Things, a time to focus on joy. One sign of that can be a pink candle, though ours is still purple. (One thing I’ve decided: God is less concerned with the colours we use that almost anything else. The colours are for our benefit, not for God’s.) 

Giving you this potted history helps to understand why the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent direct us to joy. Isaiah 35 begins,

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.

I wish that were the case right now in Australia. Instead, the land burns and is laid waste, and the powers that be do anything except address the issue. Perhaps true joy, deep joy, comes once hardship is faced and lives changed so that we can feel a worthwhile, lasting joy—along with peace and hope and love, the Advent themes that we are more familiar with. 

Perhaps there’s no joy until we face the pain of our land, which goes beyond those unprecedented fires. This pain includes the frontier wars that decimated the first peoples, who today are still not recognised as they should be. This pain is a result of greed, which means that water is not allocated properly. 

Pain runs deep in our country, and it will not be patched over. Until the roots of its pain are addressed, we shall not know true joy. 

Advent is about looking for Jesus as he comes to us; does he come to us in painful times? Is he ‘Emmanuel, God with us’ through those times? 

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The Foundation of the world (Advent 1B, 30 November 2014)

Isaiah 64.1–9
Mark 13.24–37


Today, we start a new Church Year, Year B in our three-year cycle. In Year B, most of the Gospel Readings come from the Gospel According to Mark. As usual, on the first Sunday of a new year we don’t start at the beginning of the story. We start at the End.

By ‘the End’, theologians may mean the ‘Last Things’, the Last Judgement and beyond. But really, more often they are talking about the ultimate things: the end as the ultimate purpose of the world God has made. That is, they are talking about the new world God is bringing into being, the kingdom of God.

When we look at the hope of a new world, the kingdom of God, and when we look at the present reality—Ebola, seemingly perpetual war in the Middle East, climate change, children in indefinite detention—it’s easy to say it’s all too hard, we don’t want to think about it, it’s got nothing to do with my life today. Let me just do my job, enjoy my family, get a nice house and veg in front of the TV. Let the government work it out.

But sometimes, it all gets too much for us. The world is in such a mess that we may cry out with Isaiah in frustration to God:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…!

But nothing happens. Our cries die in our throats. The heavens stay closed. God remains hidden. The world goes on as it always did. The rich still build bigger barns, the poor still sit on the ground outside the rich man’s gates.

So we shrug our shoulders, we go back to the little bit of life that we know, and try to forget about the rest. Continue reading


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If it’s December, it must be…Advent!—Advent 1, Year C (2 December 2012)

Jeremiah 33.14-16
Luke 21.25-36

Well, it’s December and what does that make you think of? Yes, Christmas. We can’t put off thinking about it any longer.

What do you think of first when you think of Christmas? For most of us, most of the time it’s not the coming of Jesus into the world. Oh yes, we think of that all right, but first we think of

  • buying presents
  • getting presents
  • getting the Christmas meal together
  • decorating the house
  • whose place will Christmas be at this year?
  • will Uncle Fred drink too much Christmas cheer again?
  • will Auntie Madge and Cousin Dot put aside their differences this year?
  • oh, and did I say buying pressies?

Christmas isn’t always a time of perfect bliss. Come to think of it, it’s more often a time of irritation. We tend to have this script inside us that Christmas has to be flawless; when it isn’t, some of us tend to play the blame game, whether we blame ourselves or someone else.

That’s why we really need Advent.

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First Sunday in Advent (Year A, 28 November 2010)

Hope in all things

Isaiah 2.1-5
Matthew 24.36-44

It’s Advent. I’ve already heard Christmas carols while shopping—just next door in Coles, of all places.

‘Advent’ simply means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. The Season of Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for the ‘arrival’ of Jesus. But it’s not just preparation and anticipation for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.

We are also directed by the Lectionary readings to prepare for and anticipate what the arrival of Jesus meant—that is, the coming of a King who would bring God’s justice and peace to the people.

So we’re also being reminded to get ready for the arrival of Jesus on that day when the prayer of Jesus (and our prayer) is finally realised—‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. We are reminded today to hope for a day when the future that God dreams of, the future of God’s shalom, of peace and wellbeing for all people, when that future is finally here. Do you, do I, trust that it will come?

The music we heard before the service is called Spem in Alium, which is Latin for Hope in all Things. It was written by Thomas Tallis around 1570 for Elizabeth I. I love it—I want it at my funeral. But do I still hope now, wile I’m still drawing breath, for that day when God’s justice will come?

What are you hoping for? It seems to me that we often limit ourselves to small hopes. Little, safe hopes that won’t rock our world too much if they come true, and won’t change our world that much if they don’t. As Christmas nears, we might hope for an iPad, a special DVD, or someone else to cook the turkey this time. We might hope for Uncle Joe not to snore all Christmas afternoon like he did last year.

These are manageable hopes, reasonable hopes, safe hopes. These are hopes that delight us if they happen, but if they don’t we’ll cope.

Christian hope is of a very different order. It is a big hope. It’s even bigger than the Barmy Army’s hope that England might retain the Ashes. Christian hope is our hope that God is good, that God comes good on his promises. It’s hope that the world isn’t here for no purpose, it’s hope that our lives have a purpose. And it’s hope that God will finally reveal that purpose, that the kingdom of God will be fully here. It’s already here—we catch glimpses of it when people are fed, clothed, or set free. Can we hope seriously ‘big’—can we hope that God’s kingdom will be fully here one day?

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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?

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I cheated, just for you

Yesterday I downloaded Advent08, an iPhone/iPod Touch app which provides daily devotions for Advent.

Not supposed to open it till Advent starts, which as you all know is 30 November this year.

But I thought I should look at the first day in advance, so I could decide whether it’s worth telling both my readers about.

Well, I think it’ll be worth it. It has enough substance to sustain, which is what I was looking for. Also a nice background. Could have done with a bit more proof reading, but hey, I know that can be a problem, so that’s no criticism.

And for $1.99, it works out at less than 7.7 cents per day!

Of course, if you still have to get your iPhone or iPod Touch, it’s a tad more expensive…

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From John the Baptist to Philip Pullman in <15 minutes!!?


Sermon for Advent 3


Isaiah 35.1-10

Strengthen the weak hands,

   and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

   ‘Be strong, do not fear! Isaiah 35.3-4a

These words could have been written for John the Baptist. Last week, we saw him confronting the very powerful religious authorities of his time. We see him today after he was arrested and thrown in jail, despondent and doubting. Soon, he will lose his head through the machinations of a spiteful queen and the weakness of a vain and prideful king.

Strengthen the weak hands… John needed strength. Jesus wasn’t doing quite what John wanted, so he sent messengers to ask if they’d got it right—was Jesus really ‘the one’, the one who was to come and set things right? It didn’t look right to John.

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