Homily. Advent Sunday, December 3rd 2017.
1 Corinthians 1:v1-9;
Main text – Mark 13:v24-end.
Happy New Year everyone!
This is the first Sunday in the Church year !
Advent begins the new church calendar year. We have spent much of the previous year focusing upon the Old Testament. In the coming church year, we will be concentrating in our preaching upon Mark and John’s Gospel.
As All Saints we seek to have as our core values, Up, In, Out. We commit ourselves individually as Christians and as a congregation, to living these values out and having a healthy blend, a correct balance.
In the coming months we will read, reflect and shape our lives upon the example and teachings and actions of Jesus. And we see these core values within his own life and priorities.
His UP of worship and prayer as shown for example in the intimate relationship we see throughout John’s Gospel, – Jesus who said, ‘I only do what I see the Father doing…’ (John 5:19-20). How, for example, Luke, notes the number of times he prays, after his baptism, when he chooses the twelve, during his transfiguration etc.
Of IN – how he formed a community – he called the twelve, Mark (chapter 3), reminds us, to be with him and that he would send them out with power and authority (vv14-15). To be with him – not simply to join him for a teaching seminar each day but to be with him, to share life with him. They walked together. They often ate other. They saw how he prayed. And as we hear in Holy Week, in the hours after the Last Supper, he invited James, John, Peter to be with him in Gethsemane. Not as a teaching point, but primarily as Jesus wanted human company as he faced this most difficult of times, and he was willing to be vulnerable. Life was shared.
But Jesus focus was also not just upon a deep community being formed or grown in numbers, he focused on how they were to be disciples, disciples who were then called to make more disciples. And this is one aspect to the church year, which we begin again. As we engage in each of the seasons – through the worship, the readings and themes – we are shaped as followers of Jesus. Advent – recalling the promised return of Christ; Christmas – celebrating the incarnation; Epiphany – Christ to be revealed to the world; Lent – considering our discipleship; Holy Week – the sufferings of Christ for us; Easter – celebrating the resurrection; Easter Season – what it means to be a Christian community; Pentecost – the promised Holy Spirit…Trinity Season, we let Scripture shape us as we dig deeper into specific books, gospels or letters. As the church calendar moves into new seasons, it helps mould us further as disciples.
And Jesus had an outward focus – OUT. He came into God’s beloved world where he served others via healing, and other acts of compassion, and he proclaimed the gospel the good news of which he had come. So as we study Mark and John we see how he models these values and lives and teaches them which shows us in our own individual lives as well as a congregation how to be a people of Up, In, Out.
But as we focus upon Jesus, we will see how Jesus modelled, embodied, taught and demonstrated the kingdom – he came and proclaimed it, he taught about its different aspects – it was here, near, to come in the future. And as we explore Jesus own teaching, we learn about the good news of God’s reign and what that meant and means, we learn about the rule of God, the kingdom. We learn about what it means to be part of God’s kingdom. How we are called to be agents of that kingdom. When we pray – thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven – what that is meaning, what we are praying for …
As this address is brief, we consider Jesus words in Mark 13. He discusses Advent – not his first coming, but his second, when he – the Son of Man – returns. The first section of the chapter, deals with the destruction of Jerusalem, what will happen to the disciples and what their support and focus and priority is to be. They are to remain faithful, despite severe persecution, the Spirit will give them the words to say, and in all this, the gospel must go to all the nations before the end will come.
Then Jesus says:
”But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”’
Occurrences in the universe. Words quoted from Isaiah 13 & 34 which discuss the Day of the Lord. In the thinking of the New Testament believers, that Day of the Lord has become the Day of the Lord Jesus. The descriptions, feels like a Hollywood disaster movie – amazing how many movies are inspired by biblical references – but that is for another sermon! The cosmic tumult – this shaking of the universe – it is not the universe coming apart. Where these verses come from in Isaiah, the Day of the Lord is about judgement on a fallen world, afflicted by the sins of humanity – but those signs point to hope, for as Isaiah reminds us later (chapter 65), out of the ruins of judgment come a new world, a new heaven and earth. So the shaking includes a sign of hope of what the Lord will do.
The cosmic turbulence. Is it a sign or a consequence of the Son of Man coming? It is possible to see it – first the cosmic signs, then the son of man comes. But it does not say that – cosmic events are described and then it says, ”at that time.” It can be the cosmos in terror and confusion at the arrival of the Lord of Hosts as he steps into our world, to act in judgment and salvation. Creation and cosmos goes into confusion because he appears, not as a sign that he will appear. And when we look at that way, we see a number of OT verses coming to mind –
Judges 5 – the earth trembles the mountains quaked at the presence of the Lord God.
Ps 77 – the waters saw God and trembled, Psalm 114 the sea looked and fled and the mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.
Amos 1, at the voice of the Lord, the pastures wither.
Hab 3, the mountains shattered, earth is shook, hills sank low, moon stood still.
So the cosmic turbulence. Not a sign of what is to come. But a result of the power and glory of the event, of the One who comes…
A day of judgment and salvation. The elect are gathered. Such an encouraging hope. The elect – those who have faithfully responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Someone said: ”The gospel begins with the One who is faithful to the very end and is raised up by God. It will close with the gathering of the many elect who remain faithful to the end.” (David Garland in his commentary on Mark)
Wherever they and we are, wherever we are scattered, however we have been treated – well or persecuted – however we are seen by others, family or society, the Lord God will gather them and us at the end.
Theologian John Calvin said beautifully:
“For, though the Church be now tormented by the evil of humanity, or even broken by the violence of storms, and miserably torn in pieces, so as to have no stability in the world, yet we ought always to cherish confident hope, because it will not be by human means, but it will be by heavenly power, which will be far superior to every obstacle, that the Lord will gather his Church”.
Cosmic shaking. The Day of the Lord has come. Out of judgement comes a new world.
Cosmic shaking, because of the One who has come, the Lord of hosts in all his power and glory.
When he comes he will gather his elect.
When, we do not know, but it is sure, he will come.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.