Sermon: Advent Sunday
28 November 2021 – Archdeacon Mark Long
Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, and Luke 21:25-36; NRSV
Welcome to Advent Sunday, always a multifaceted celebration at St Andrew’s: today we welcome in our new Liturgical year, which will be felt most perhaps in a shift from a focus on Mark’s Gospel to that of Luke; we begin our four week journey of expectation and hope towards the coming of Christ, which we will celebrate at Christmas; and we celebrate our patron Saint, St Andrew, with a seemly more mundane focus on our financial commitments to the life of the Parish in the coming year.
We meet in a particular context today, for me most clearly marked by the advent of a new COVID-19 variant that again has our world running scared while our scientists race to discern its potential impact on our health while governments around the world secure their borders once more and we await possible additional curbs to our own freedoms in South Africa. Our growing complacency over the past few months towards the virus, along with our hopes for a return to greater freedom of association and what we mostly still define as ‘normal’, is suddenly under threat once again. I recognise in my own personal response to this a heightened emotional and physical reactivity that says ‘I can’t anymore’, yet an awareness on the edge of that response which says, ‘In God I can and I will.’ I am deeply thankful in times like this for the gift of faith and a sustaining relationship with God, and for all those who have helped nurture this gift within me over the years.
As we acknowledge a difficult context that will hold varied experiences for us all, we need to be asking , ‘Where is God in all of this?’ As I have said before, this is not to suggest we have lost God in all of this, or that God is missing in action, but it is rather a question of awareness, a question designed to wake us up to what God is asking of us in this moment. For Elijah, having faced down the prophets of Baal, in Elijah’s exhaustion God was not in the fire and thunder, not in the noise, but in the silence; and it took Elijah some time to awaken to this awareness. We have today’s Scripture readings that may prove helpful, or there may be other more mundane aspects of our lives, of our relationships, which God needs us to explore in asking this question.
In the Jeremiah reading this morning we are reminded that God has made promises that contain hope, that the Advent journey is about embracing these promises and celebrating their outcome, specifically that in Jesus there is justice and righteousness, in Jesus there is salvation and safety. We are reminded these outcomes exist and are a reality, and that we as people of God are called to look them out, hold them up, and implement them in our lives and communities. Like Elijah, we may find that a tough ask, but we will be sustained and fed by angels in the desert of our experience, and we will hear the voice of God again in the occasional silences of our lives calling us back into the fray.
In today’s Gospel reading we are reminded that the events that seemingly overwhelm us, even terrify us, are just signs … they are not to be feared. They point to something greater, the imminence of God in our world. Jesus reminds his disciples that as daunting as the signs of the times can be, we have the ability to interpret them, the ability to awaken to what God is doing, and the strength and resilience to be party to the implementation of God’s reign in our lives and our world, and in the enormity of Creation itself. Jesus uses the simplest of examples: when we see a tree budding new leaves we all know Summer is coming; the coming of God into our world is no more difficult to see and the signs no more difficult to interpret than this. However, we do need to be awake and that is often our obstacle. To ask the question, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ is our wake up call, and Luke’s Gospel will affirm over and over again in the next few weeks of our Advent journey that we have the resources within our relationship with God, within ourselves, to respond.
There are three words, highlighted for me during a Bible Study interaction at our Diocesan Synod this last week: hope, authenticity, and generosity. These words speak to me of what it is to be Church, to be God’s people, in our time. They are a call to counter-cultural living, and they are definitive of what it is to be a person of faith, and what it is to be a community of faith; and they are words easily applied to the life and ministry of Jesus. People in the Gospels are drawn to Jesus precisely because they saw these principles of relationship alive in him. I am drawn to Jesus because these principles visible in his life and ministry inspire me, stretch me, and keep me coming back for more; keep me wanting more of Jesus, of God, in my life; they keep me connected, keep me inspired, keep me serving.
Expectation and hope are key aspects of the Advent journey we embark on again today. However, expectation and hope – hope especially – only come alive when they are lived with authenticity and generosity; and these are practised in the mundane aspects of daily life and commitment. Some of you may be guessing where I am going with this … and you may be right! As we also celebrate being St Andrew’s today, and the 126th anniversary of becoming a Parish in our own right, how are we as a Christian community demonstrating our hope, our authenticity, our generosity? I am suggesting that this may be in taking a few minutes to fill in the online financial commitment form for 2022, which in all honesty really does seem rather mundane, but it is a starting point: it speaks to our authentic desire to see this Church thrive despite the challenges of the times, and our generosity in helping Parish Council base a budget on specific financial commitments for next year helps put in place a foundation from which we can be about the work of God in our community and beyond, and to go about it with hope, and to do so authentically, and to be generous in ways far beyond just money. I am not in anyway wanting to say we are not hopeful, authentic and generous, because our history is testimony that we are all of this and more. However, we are in unprecedented times and our stability as a community is in ensuring we do the small things well in order that we can do the big things with confidence. We have seen some big dips in giving over the past two years, and I appreciate that Covid-19 has made life for many of us a whole lot more difficult, and remain deeply thankful for the generosity and faithfulness of many at St Andrew’s that has enabled ministry to continue confidently despite a pandemic that has ravaged our National economy and left many people’s lives devastated in its wake.
And so holding all the above, I do wish us all a blessed Advent journey here at St Andrew’s as we embrace again the Christian hope of the Coming of Christ. In closing I leave you with a quote by Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), who summarised the theology of the Advent season as the three comings of Christ, past, present, and future. He says, “In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and our consolation.” My sincere prayer for us all is that we we find rest and consolation in the weeks ahead.
I close with a prayer of blessing for our financial commitments and our St Andrew’s day collect. Let us pray,