Monday, November 28, 2011

confusing times



May my words be in the Name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit – Amen.

It perhaps goes without saying that we live in confusing times … let's see if I can add to the confusion!

If I were to say 'happy new year' to you all today, would you know why? Any hands up? The answer is that it is today, the first Sunday in Advent, that Church Year begins … the Church has it's own calendar which runs alongside the secular calendar … a bit like the tax year which used to run from April to April … not that I ever wished people happy new year in April when I was in the Tax Office ... somehow I don't think they would have apprciated it! In any case, today is the first day of the Church year …

Some more confusion … we are now in the season of Advent … the word Advent comes from the Latin adventus and means coming … and we call it that because this is the time of the Church year in which we remember the coming of the Christ child into the world all those years ago and we prepare to celebrate again his birth … in the secular world this is a time of parties and merriment … but in the Church this season is a penitential one … you may have noticed the violet stoles and other liturgical hangings in the church … violet is the penitential colour of the church …

why penitential in the build up to something so joyful? Several reasons, I think: the first is that it is precisely because it is the ultimate joy that God should be made man for us that we prepare to commemorate that day by extra spiritual disciplines – traditionally prayer, fasting, & alms-giving – to help us focus on just how special and joyful Christmas is; the second is that it is impossible to separate from the incarnation the fact of the crucifixion and the suffering and death that were to come for this same Christ child … we can not celebrate Christmas properly without realising that the shadow of the Cross hangs over it at all times …

and adventus translates the Greek word parousia, which also means coming but is used by Christians usually to mean Christ's second coming … in Advent we are not only commemorating his first coming, but preparing ourselves for his second ...

And if all that didn't make your head spin, there is plenty to confuse us all in the secular world … economic crisis after economic crisis … savage budgets to pay back the billions that were borrowed as a result of the mistakes of bankers and developers and economists and governments … and so many numbers & money & programmes that the ordinary person in the street or the pew can not hope to understand them … if indeed anyone on the planet understands them, even if they pretend to!

Interestingly, our Gospel reading today relates to a time of spiritual and secular confusion … St Mark's Gospel was written not long after the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans … which included the destruction of the Temple, which is talked about in the chapter from which our reading is taken … and also, persecution of Christians were beginning to take place in the Empire … also, the Gospel was written not long after Nero's persecution …

so that's the secular confusion … the spiritual confusion is that in the early Church, as you are probably aware, they originally thought that Christ's second coming would come quite soon after his ascension … and as time passed they realised that this wasn't happening …

so spiritually, a time of confusion … remember, the early Church didn't have the Gospels written down … they were relying on the memories of those who had been there and possibly some written collections of Jesus saying and teachings to guide them … this is why the Gospels were written … to put the Good News in Good Order and to preserve it in a form that could be passed down from generation to generation … but the time not long before the Gospels were written down was a time of tension … of time of uncertainty … a time of wondering: is he coming? When is he coming? How should we live while we wait and wonder?

People who are worried and confused want hope … and the danger is of course that they will be taken in by false hope … that they will grab to and cling to anything that gives them some comfort … just remember what happened when our own financial crisis began to break … all the things that banks and governments tried to do to reassure people … their message of hope turned out to be a false one … and those who tried to reassure us turned out to be false prophets indeed … exactly the same thing happened in those times … false prophets appeared … others claimed to be the Messiah …

and those who had known Jesus remembered the warning he had given … and remembered what he had said about his message; heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away … they realised that he had entrusted his words to them … and those words needed to be passed on by them … and so they wrote them down so that Jesus' words of reassurance and hope would be passed down … guarded and guaranteed as the words of the Saviour by his church …

Life is just as confusing today as it was then … and why shouldn't it be? We are still living in the time when we must live as if Jesus will not return in out lifetimes … even as we live as if he might return before this service ends … and the words that comforted them, comfort us, because they are the eternal words of our Saviour … who came into this world as a child … that he might bring truth and light and life to all …

and so I again wish you happy new year … and wish you joy as you enter into this season of spiritual preparation as we approach the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child … and pray that the contemplation of that blessed event will help strengthen you in the face of all spiritual worries … and help you overcome all concerns faced as a result of the confusions of the secular world, Amen.
Sermon notes: 27 October 2011 (1st of Advent)

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