Advent Sunday 2015
St Mary’s Hadlow
Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36
May I speak this morning in the name of God + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As the regulars here will know, it has been a couple of weeks since I have been in the pulpit as we had the presentation from the Tanzanian expedition two Sundays ago and last week we had the talk from Mission Aviation Fellowship.
Whilst it was absolutely fabulous to hear both of those talks, and doubtless brilliant for you to have a break from me, it is interesting that I have found myself frustrated at not being able to preach during that time. It is almost as if I was called to do it or something!
I was particularly frustrated last week at not being able to preach during Christ the King. For many people I suspect that Christ the King is not hugely significant and just marks one of the weeks that have to be got through before we get on with the main business of Advent and Christmas.
But for me, and especially in the years since being ordained, Christ the King has become increasingly important and, in a very real way, it completes the whole – it is the last page in the novel, it is the denouement of the play, it is the twinkle in the eye of a portrait – it helps us make sense of all that has gone before and brings completion to our story and our faith.
At Christmas we shall celebrate God being born amongst us as a baby and that is a beautiful and wonderful occasion and, for some people that can be a gateway into a deeper faith but for many people, perhaps most people in our society today, they never get further into faith than the thought of a baby laying in a manger. Jesus as a baby.
For those that do get further than Christmas we spend much of the year thinking about the life and teachings of Jesus and many people can accept that Jesus was a good teacher but, again, never get any further into faith than that. Jesus as a good man.
At Easter we remember the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and many people think that these represent the completion of the Christian story. Some will say that everything was completed by Jesus crucified and some that everything was completed by Jesus resurrected.
But that is still not what the bible says, not what our creed says and not what my faith has taught me. There is more. After the resurrection we had the Ascension of Jesus to sit at the right hand of God the Father and the Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost to create the church and to be and to share the body of Christ here on earth.
But even the Spirit-filled Church is not the end of the story. Our faith teaches us very clearly that Jesus will come again as King of Kings and judge of all. And the East Window of our own church illustrates this beautifully – Jesus with the crown and orb of Kingship.
But I suspect that many people are terribly embarrassed about this element of our faith and doubtless there are lots of reasons why we don’t talk about the return of Jesus in glory very much. This may be partly because of the various cults who have decided when the date of Jesus’ return is going to be, and they make predictions and perhaps go and hide in the hills until the day has comes and gone and they may emerge rather sheepishly. Doubtless that is not very Anglican behaviour.
Or maybe it is because that we like to imagine Jesus as a non-judgemental, rebellious, easy-going kind of guy, with special healing powers. Therefore the concepts of both his Kingship and his judgement are too uncomfortable – they don’t sit with our preconceptions about Jesus, and we therefore simply ignore them.
Or perhaps we don’t like thinking about the Kingdom of God because, actually, we are really quite comfortable in the United Kingdom, thank you very much. And I do sometimes wonder whether that is a peculiarly English problem – when Henry VIII as head of state also become head of the Church did we so align ourselves with the powers and authorities of this world that it became almost treasonous to talk about the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Kings and Queens?
Or are we simply afraid of the whole idea of being judged, actually being held to account for our conduct and it is therefore much easier to coo over a cute baby than it is to face a King and a judge?
Whatever our reasons for not talking about this aspect of our faith very much within modern Anglicanism nevertheless we cannot pretend that this is simply a side issue for the really keen or the slightly suspect; it actually sits at the heart of our faith and has always done so.
What does the creed say?
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
What does the liturgy say:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
What does the bible say?
Many things – but today it says:
“Then they will see the ‘Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.’
and a few verses later:
“Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”
For, although I have missed the festival of Christ the King, it will be clear from today’s readings that the theme of Christ’s return has not gone away. Although we are now into Advent, and therefore starting to prepare for the coming of Jesus as a baby, we are also still awaiting the Advent of the returning Lord Jesus, King of Kings.
And this season of Advent, like Lent, is intended as a season of penitential preparation. But it is not simply preparation for the feast of Christmas it is also intended as preparation to stand before the Son of Man at the time of judgement. Not words you hear too often from a Church of England pulpit.
But I strongly believe that as the world seems to get darker and more dangerous abroad, and as Christianity comes under increasing attack at home, that God wants his disciples to go deeper into their faith. To get beyond a Christmas card sentimentality level of faith, to get beyond Jesus as a good man kind of faith and to see that there is even more to faith than crucifixion and resurrection. God wants us to prepare ourselves moment by moment to be able to stand in the presence of the Son of Man and to acknowledge him as our King. I believe that God wants us to be truly transformed by our faith so that each one of us can become shining beacons of light in the darkness and so that no matter what happens in the world we will not lose heart but rather we shall have the confidence to raise up our heads because our redemption is near.
So, at this time of Advent we look forward both to remembering and celebrating the past events of the Nativity but we also look forward to the future event of Jesus’ return in triumph. The coming of Jesus as King and Judge is the wonderful and awesome culmination of our faith and when he comes peace and justice will cover the face of the earth as the waters cover the face of the sea and the world is surely in need of both peace and justice.
Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.