Year C, Advent 1

 

Luke 21:25-36...                                                                      (Sermon 1: “Looking to the Future.”)

                                                                                                                                                                        (Sermon 2: “Doomsday Blues.”)

1  Thess 3: 9-13...

Jeremiah 33: 14-16...

Psalm 25:1-10

 

PREPARATION

 

The spectacular mercies of the Advent Christ be with you all.

And also with you.

 

That we may be glad whenever the Lord Jesus comes to us;

May Christ’s own goodness be consolidated in our hearts.

 

That we may honour God together with our sisters and brothers of every race;

May the Lord increase our love for each other and all humanity.

 

            OR –

 

Advent is here;

In the revolving seasons of the church calendar, today a new year dawns.

Let us begin this new year by greeting one another in the name of the coming Christ.

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

And also with you.

 

SENTENCES

 

O God, we trust in you alone,

let me never be put to shame.

Let none who wait for you be ashamed,

let us be ashamed of nothing except our sin

You lead the humble in the way of goodness,

and you, loving God, teach the meek your ways.

 

PRAYER

 

God our holy Friend, you have pledged to complete the love-ministry which Christ Jesus began, making all things young again. Enable us during this Advent season to get ready for the celebration of the coming Lord Jesus, that he may find us watching eagerly, serving gladly, and loving wholeheartedly. To the glory of your name

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Because most of us are slow learners, lukewarm believers, yet loquacious excuse-makers, let us pause, take stock, and confess our sins. Let us pray.

 

Because we have sometimes busied ourselves religiously,

as if the success of God’s kingdom depended solely on us:

            Lord have mercy.

            Lord have mercy.

 

Because we sometimes opt out, and with a perverse piety

leave everything up to God and the holy angels:

            Christ have mercy.

            Christ have mercy.

 

Because your mercy is over all your works, and your grace is greater

than our pride, foolishness and weakness:

            Lord have mercy.

            Lord have mercy.

 

Have pity, loving God, on our little lives and our errant ways. Forgive our sins which are many and diverse, correct the distorted view we have of ourselves and the world, lead us from discouragement to hope, and restore within us a passion to seek your will and do it. Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

ABSOLUTION

 

My Friends, stand up straight, lift up your downcast eyes, your redemption is at hand. In Christ Jesus our sins are forgiven and the final victory is assured.

Thanks be to God.

 

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all people,

that we may be free from shame and holy at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

           

Trusting God

 

Dear God,

            sometimes we get afraid

            of darkness or bad dreams,

            of thunder and lightning,

            of accidents or cruel people,

 

Please keep us safe -

like a baby kangaroo

in its mother’s pouch.

            Amen!

 

CHILDREN’S SONG: THE COMING CHRIST

                        Tune “Around the mulberry bush”

 

The prophets told of a coming Christ,

a coming Christ, a coming Christ.

The prophets told of a coming Christ

            with a wonderful love preparing.

 

He came and comes in each new day,

each new day, each new day.

He came and comes in each new day,

            with a love that’s wonderfully daring.

 

He calls to us in the poor and lost,

the poor and lost, the poor and lost.

He calls to us in the poor and lost,

            with a love that’s wonderfully sharing.

 

At the world’s end he will be there,

he will be there, he will be there.

At the world’s end he will be there’

            with a love that’s wonderfully caring.

                                                                                    Ó B D Prewer 1990

 

 

PSALM 25: 1-10

 

Lord Jesus, to you my spirit surges in joy,

            on you I stake my life.

Don’t let me ever be ashamed,

            or discouraged by a critic’s scorn.

No one who follows you is disgraced,

            only those who turn back.

 

Show me, Lord Jesus, the disciple’s path;

            teach me the right directions.

Saviour lead me and coach me;

            each day I’ll trust your healing love.

Continue your tireless compassion

            displayed throughout the ages.

 

Don’t recall the impetuous faults of youth;

            remember me now in your saving grace.

You alone are unconditionally good and reliable

            and show the lost the way back home.

You guide unpretentious folk in goodness;

            you teach the humble your path.

 

Untiring kindness and fidelity are your ways

            for those who want to maintain their faith and vows.

                                                                                                                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

POEM: HE IS NEAR

 

Look around and see

the season has come

for the greening of every tree.

They wave their hands

and shout their joy

from many lands.

The Lord comes not for fear

but for celebration;

rejoice, for He is near!

 

This same Jesus rose up high

in the ascension cloud,

beyond where people die,

comes again to full-fill

every healing word;

hold your heads up still!

whenever there is consternation;

don’t be afraid on that day

for your full liberation

is already on the way.

                                                                                                            ©  B.D. Prewer 1990

 

COLLECT

 

Most wonderful God, keep us alert to all your works around us, that at his coming the Lord Jesus will neither find us apathetic nor so frenetically busy that we have no time to smell the roses or to have chat with some lonely neighbour. Amen.

 

SERMON 1: LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE

 

Luke 21:28

 

Now when these things begin to happen, stand tall, lift up your heads, because your liberation is drawing close.

 

Do you ever wonder about the future shape of homo sapiens?

            What will a human being in the year 2,500 AD be like?

                        Or in 5,500 AD?

 

I’m not talking about physical appearances;

            not asking whether people might develop into three metre giants,

                        or maybe small-legged, squat creatures with bulbous egg-heads.

 

I’m asking about character, personal qualities, attitudes and values.

            How will they see each other and deal with each other?

                        How will they relate to God?

 

GOOD NEWS

 

The first Sunday in Advent is widely observed as a day when the church thinks about the final coming of Christ Jesus. Some call it the “second coming.” A misnomer. I prefer to use the words “final coming”

 

From the early days of the church, Christians believed that the same Jesus whom they had come to deeply know and love, would come again at the end of the world to consummate all

his works of grace.

At first, like St Luke in today’s Gospel reading, they expected the end to happen in their generation. Slowly they had to adjust to the fact that God was not in such a hurry. Yet they never wavered from the belief that at the end, one day, Jesus would come again in the cloud (shekinah) of God’s glory. It was a theme repeated with sparkling eyes. Good news. The Gospel.

 

But now? Too frequently we hear this message of the Final Coming preached as a message of doom; employed as an assault weapon. It has been used to terrorise people into conversion. That is a travesty! An obscenity!

 

The Final Coming of Christ Jesus is first a message of hope and joy. It is always gospel, great news, something to get excited about. Something to stake all of one’s happiness on.

 

It is the greatest possible news that Jesus is the most enduring reality in the world; that he shapes and determines and consummates the final future. The final Word is Jesus, the person of sublime grace and truth. Now, that is really something to shout about!

 

Luke declares that whenever the negative forces throw their weight around, when wars and suffering are everywhere, when horrendous natural disasters happen, when evil flaunts itself, we should not be afraid:

            Stand tall, lift up you heads, for your liberation is drawing close.

 

LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE

 

Over the last 100 years, there have been many attempts to look into the future. Much of this has taken the form of science fiction. It has indeed become a part of the mythology of our era.

 

At its best, science fiction is created by brilliant minds, with a sophisticated scientific training behind them. I like reading SciFi. But I would be the first to admit that the credo behind much science fiction is ultimately pathetic.

 

In it you will find the same old human story of evil projected into space and into the future. The same old litany of injustice, tyranny, slavery, cunning, lust, violence, pride, greed, fear, hatred, going on and on and on......world without end.

 

In some SciFi, even after our planet earth has been deserted or destroyed, the same sordid human activities spawn on, further and further into space. An endless regurgitation of human (and other-than-human) ignorance and evil.

 

To be sure, in much of it the heroes finally win. But they only win by using superior cunning, power and technology. Force wins, survival of the fittest. All that is rotten and evil in humanity lives on. In spite of its enthralling cleverness, much science fiction can be a most gloomy mythology.

 

At the base line, there we usually find a dismal view of the future. Therefore, as a myth science fiction fosters  anxiety. It leaves us to remain slaves of fears, being suspicious of others, and having little trust in humility, mercy, gentleness, forgiveness, compassion and peace.

 

THE CHRISTIAN CONTRAST

 

In contrast, the Christian Gospel of the Final Coming of Christ is good news.

            The ultimate future is in his hands.

                        The end is Jesus shaped, Jesus coloured, Jesus textured.

                                    Agape love rules everything and everyone at the end.

 

To live with him and for him is not only a noble way of life,

            it provides an immovable foundation,

                        it was, is and will be, a sure winner!

 

Here and now we can be people of that assured future.

            Profoundly yet simply, we can be people of hope;

                        people who embrace a piece of the Jesus-future and embody it day by day.

 

Jesus is not, and never will be, outdated.

            He was, and still is,  a man before his time.

                        Christians are called also to be people before their time.

 

In the eyes of critics who are committed to the stale old world and its selfish obsessions,

            those who follow Jesus are freaks and the church is the fellowship of losers.

            (Blessed are the meek? And the poor, the merciful, the hungry, the pure?)

                        But what glorious freakishness!

                                    We are before our time.

 

We are a people who know the end of the story,

            the way things will irrevocably end up,

                        and we start living that story now!

 

Therefore into the sour face of all the negativity and anxiety that mouths-off around us,

                        we speak the Advent Gospel:

                                    Christ Jesus, “this same Jesus,

                                                 comes again in glory.

 

 Stand tall. Lift up your heads. Your liberation is drawing close.

 

 

SERMON 2:  DOOMSDAY BLUES?

 

Luke 21:33

 

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Luke 21:33

 

To believe in Christ Jesus, is to believe

            in a gracious Purpose that is ever at work.

It is to trust

            in a redeeming ‘X Factor’ that is unconditional, irrevocable.

 

The Bethlehem event was not a beautiful but lonely flash of light in a dark night, but the Light that is the only permanent reality.

            Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Luke 21:33

 

In the present world political climate, we need to hear this Advent message.

                                                                                                                                                                                                -------------------------

Doomsday blues seem to be afflicting many of our fellow citizens since September 11th in the USA, and since October 12th in Bali. There is a mood of doomsday gloom, and at times thoughts and deeds of desperation. Many commentators claim that in the wake of those terrorist atrocities the world will never again feel a safe place. With that I emotionally agree.

 

Yet I must hasten to interject (even into my own thoughts) that this is very much a crisis for the Western world. It is those communities and nations which have long enjoyed an extended “arm chair ride” (sometimes on the backs of the poor and the exploited and the abused) who are now anxious and pessimistic.

 

But for people like the Palestinians, or the poor millions of Latin America, or the indigenous people of Australia, or the racial and religious minorities in Indonesia, or the people of Tibet, nothing has changed. Their sense of security and well being was blown away long ago.

 

It is the Western world that now has the jitters. And we in Terra Australis (although located in the region of Asia)  are a cultural and political part, of the anxious, new current of Western insecurity.

 

THE SECOND COMING?

 

Here is a strong Word to the anxious and the shaken: Christ will come again.

 

For many centuries, Christians have on the first Sunday of Advent celebrated faith in the coming again of Jesus Christ. This coming of Christ is a joy to be celebrated.

 

This is frequently referred to as the Second Coming. I prefer to employ the phrase “Final Coming.” Christ first came dramatically in the holy incarnation. By his Spirit Christ unobtrusively comes again and again to every generation, to initiate and foster the work of liberation and healing. Finally he will come to consummate all things. That ultimate consummation is the theme of this Sunday.

 

If you don’t believe in the Final Coming of Christ, then I suggest that you don’t really believe in the first coming of this True Child of God. They are inseparable as lightening and thunder. The parousia and the incarnation go together. If they are not inseparably linked in our faith, our Christmas activities are in danger of. becoming a sentimental excursion into fantasy; like pixies in the garden, an omniscient Santa Claus, or yowies* in our deep forests or bunyips* in our billabongs.

            * [Australian mythology:  yowies were huge apemen, and bunyips were amphibious monsters of our inland waterways and lakes.]

 

Unless we see Christ as the Alpha and Omega, the One who will certainly come again, then Advent and Christmas can be a brief sentimental diversion; time out from the hard suffering and desperation of this world. It may offer a bit of temporary escapism. But mere tinselled sentiment will not provide a liberation for anxious souls who fear they are living in doomsday times.

 

NEW TESTAMENT OPTIMISM

 

In New Testament times many people suffered from the doomsday blues.

In preparing for this Advent, it struck me again how the imagery of troubled times (as written by the 21st chapter of St Luke in the Gospel for today) reads like a commentary on bad times in every century since.

 

Jesus drew from the widespread mood and apocalyptic language of his time.

His words echo other writings of that era. Wars, terrorism, revolts, persecution, famines, earthquakes, betrayal by spies, break up of family life, meteors and comets, religious extremism, and injustices. What is more, Many people in each century really thought they were living on the edge of doomsday, the very end of the world. If we read St Paul, certainly in his early letters he was expecting, in the near future,  the final collapse of the old world order.

 

Yet those early Christians, like St Paul, were not pessimistic.

They did not have the jitters. They had a confidence about them which contrasted with the doomsday blues of those around them. They lived with hope. This hope was grounded in God and the work of God’s only true Son, Jesus. This God was greater than all their fears and was never outwitted by any evil or calamity. Jesus was and would be God’s final word.

 

They believed that Christ would come again to fulfil

the reconciliation of heaven and earth. They believed that what Christ was on about  (his agape-love, expressed in what he taught, how he lived and died) would have the ultimate say. They might have to live through calamity terror,  or suffering, but such evils were not the end of the story. Jesus is the end.  Jesus is the irrevocable end.

 

Never did those first Christians pretend that bad things could not happen

to the world or to the church, but that Jesus and his love ultimately rules this universe. Like Luke they repeated the words of Jesus with quiet confidence: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 

THE WORD TO US

 

There are always some people on “the lunatic fringe” of Christianity

who exploit the Final Coming of Christ as a message of fear.  Please, dear family of God, don’t let them be the only voice! The New Testament preaches the Final Coming a message of love and joy! This is God’s word to us. Hope, love and joy. Not doomsday but doxology!

 

I repeat: Not doomsday but doxology!

 

In the midst of our doomsday blues the Advent message is one of hope.

Anxiety, despondency, or even despair are not meant to be the Christian condition. Not one of the hope-full words of Christ has been cancelled by recent events. Christ Jesus, with all his amazing grace, will come again to us, even among the carnage and rubble of events like the September 11in  New York and  the Bali bombings. 

 

Three weeks after the Bali bombing carnage, 

some of the bodies were still not identified. One, a woman, had finally been identified and the remains returned home for her interment. Her son, speaking at the funeral of his mother, pleaded with the congregation to forgive those who had killed her. That, he said, he was certainly what his Christian mother wanted. In that profoundly moving interview, I saw Christ come again in glory.

 

Then, finally, at last, at so me future ultimate end,

when God says the time is right, hrist will come again in finality, fulfilling all that he began.

 

You can bank your life on it!

 

 

AFFIRMATION: STAND TALL

 

When the nations go to war while good men stay silent,

do not become weary and cease to care,

for your liberation is near.

 

When cyclones ravage and insurance companies renege,

do not rant wildly and vainly swear,

for your salvation is near.

 

When recession hits hard and the poorest people suffer,

do not forsake compassion and prayer,

for your rescue is near.

 

When casinos prosper while the church seems to shrink,

do not propagate gloom and despair,

for God’s kingdom is near.

 

When the fig and all the trees of the forest are in leaf,

stand tall and deeply breathe the springtime air,

for the Lord is very near.

                                                                                                            ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

            OR -

 

A CREED FOR TROUBLED TIMES

 

When nation rises against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, the end is not violence, for there is a God of resilient, redeeming love, and the Brighter Purpose is at work in the shadows, and the darkness cannot smother it.

Lord we believe, strengthen our timid faith.

 

When there are earthquakes, famines and pestilences and collisions among the stars, the end is not chaos, God the Creator of the heavens and the earth has not forsaken us, and the harmony will again break out and gather to hasten towards consummation.

Lord we believe, strengthen our timid faith.

 

When believers are arrested and abused, dragged before kings and governors, the end is not injustice, the Holy Spirit is always with you in all your trials and travail, and words will be given to confound your adversaries and shake the gates of hell.

Lord we believe, strengthen our timid faith.

 

When parents, brothers, sisters, relatives or friends, betray you even unto death, the end it not alienation: the crucified Christ will reconcile all things seen an unseen, and the glorious finale is much nearer than when you first believed.

Lord we believe, strengthen our timid faith.

 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

 

            For most of us, time goes too swiftly.

            Let us pray today for those for whom time goes far too slowly.

 

For displaced people who have been living for many years in refugee camps yet still see no hope of repatriation.

 

For political and religious prisoners who pray for justice for themselves and for the well being of loved ones on the outside.

 

For the diseased and the maimed who long for a future which is no longer dictated by limitation or pain.

 

For declining churches that seem too obsessed with wanting a return to past glories to be able to step freely into Christ’s new future.

 

For the newly bereaved who fear their anguish will never cease, and even wonder whether they are losing their minds.

 

For friends and loved ones who, for various reasons, seem unable to plan for tomorrow without anxiety and trepidation.

 

You, Holy Friend, are forever our healing, liberation, peace and joy. May all your people open their minds and hearts to your time of salvation, and receive the grace which is made perfect in human weakness. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

 

SENDING OUT

 

There is a world out there that is oversupplied with theories and technology,

but drastically undersupplied with hope.

You however, like Christ, are tomorrow’s people, those who know the future is pregnant with promise and hope.

 

This same Jesus comes again with glory, to judge the living and the dead.

 

Go and live out your hope graciously and courageously.

 

This same Jesus comes again with glory, to judge the living and the dead.

 

The grace of Christ Jesus who is the same today, yesterday and forever,

will lead you to the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,

and then take you on to those tasks and joys

which will prepare you for the greater glory which is to come.

Amen!