Dear Listeners and Readers,
Hope you enjoy this entry into the Advent Season?
Sermon No 73
A Familiar Story: ‘The Adventus’
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 2nd December 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Jeremiah 33:14-16, Ps 25: 1-9, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-end and Luke 21:25-26
May I speak, and may you hear in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well here we are again! A whole year has passed away and we are now officially entering into our Advent Season. It seems to get quicker and quicker the older I get? Do you get the same feeling?
So, it is good to be back with you to celebrate together, this day that we call in our liturgical calendar, Advent Sunday, which marks the beginning of our preparation for Christmas.
For the last three Sundays I have been attending St Augustine’s Church at Belvedere as part of my Licensed Lay Ministry (LLM) course, looking at what they call, ‘Congregational; Studies’, And I must say I have enjoyed the exploration of a slightly different theology.
It is nice to go somewhere new to encounter fresh experiences and a different kind of service. And I would encourage you to do the same from time to time, but just don’t do it all together, otherwise Fr Paul and myself will be talking to ourselves! I’m even hoping for an invite back to preach, as the visiting preacher is always rewarded with a bottle from the Vicar’s vestry for his trouble!
But although I enjoyed the placement, it is good to return to the familiarity of one’s home church. It’s a bit like when you go on holiday, after a couple of weeks away most people are ready to come home however nice the location. So, hold that thought for I will come back to that shortly.
As you may know, for those that have listened to me before, I do have an interest in the prophetic Word of God and so it seems quite natural for me to return to that once again today, especially considering our gospel reading?
But let’s begin by looking at this thing called Advent, for over the centuries it has meant different things. The word itself comes from the Latin word ‘adventus’ meaning ‘coming’ and so currently for most western Christians it is seen as a time of preparation in the church as we await the arrival of Jesus on Christmas Day.
However, in the fourth and fifth centuries out in Spain and Western Europe (which was known as Gaul,) although it was also a season of preparation back then, it was for new Christians, as they readied themselves for baptism during the feast of Epiphany, where God’s incarnation and the visit of the Magi were celebrated.
But by the time of the sixth century, Advent, particularly for the Roman Christians had shifted their thoughts to the second coming of Christ and the time of Judgement.
And it was only in the middle ages, that the focus once more turned back towards the first coming of Christ, which of course we now call Christmas, or Christ’s Mass.
So, we have two things to consider really during Advent, if we are to consider it in it’s whole, we have both the coming of Christ as He was when He came into the world as a child in the town of Bethlehem and then the second coming of Christ when He will return once more for the final time in Glory.
Our gospel reading today focuses on the latter and provides us with a vivid picture of what is to be expected as a pre-cursor to that time. And makes it quite clear what we should expect during those end times when Jesus descends to earth once more in a cloud.
So how would we prepare for such an event. Well the Church of Thessalonica is a good example to consider, as it modelled itself on being constantly vigilant and watchful in readiness for the ‘Son of Man’ to return (1 Thessalonians 1:10) and this vigilance is a constant theme running through the entire letter of Paul.
So yes, our preparation should be about getting ready and being vigilant for our Lord’s return.
For it is said, that Jesus will return on just a normal day, just like any other, when everyone will be going about their business. It will be like it was in the days of Noah, the preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), who as he built his ark in preparation for the great flood, life continued as normal, with the people of the world deaf to his message.
So, Advent is about preparation for the last days, but also it’s still about looking at how the world prepared for his first coming as a child in Bethlehem.
But ironically, during this season when Jesus should be at the forefront of our minds, it is easy to lose that sense of preparedness. Life becomes busy. There are the decorations to put up, the school nativity to see, endless trips to Bluewater and Bexleyheath, picking up the internet shopping to pick up from the neighbours, obligatory family to visit, Christmas parties and so on and so on.
And as a result, we lose that ability to prepare, because we are so busy with worrying that we will not be ready in time for that Christmas morning, when in just a matter of a few hours, if you are lucky, it will be all over.
So, we need to be mindful of these distractions for they will ‘choke’ the Word of God as it says in Mark 4 (Mark 4: 18-19) and we will not be ready for that arrival.
For this anticipation of Christ’s return is vital for us as Christians, as it stimulates us towards holiness, and further to that, by being holy, it compels us to warn the lost and motivates us to put into practice the Great Commission. ‘to make disciples of all nations,’ (Matthew 28:19)
In these days when Christianity and the Church are under constant attack, we must be really careful that the Word of God is not choked by the worries of the world, especially at this time of year when there is so much anxiety and distraction.
And it can be tempting to avoid some doctrines of Christianity that might be challenging and difficult. The doctrine of the second coming for example, is for some people one such aspect.
Likewise, we need to be careful that we don’t simply become a place of fellowship and entertainment without hearing the Word of God. Very easy to do during the festive season when all our focus is generally on making ourselves, and others happy.
Recently we here at St Paulinus have been searching prayerfully together to seek out our new vision for the future, and we have agreed that as a church family we want to express:- compassion, openness, tolerance, growth and love, but without Jesus at the centre of who we are, regardless of those wonderful attributes, we cannot be a church true to the message of Jesus.
This week we celebrated the feast of St Andrew, and on St Andrews Eve on Thursday several members of our congregation sat in prayer in the church and ended the day with the evening office.
A good start to Advent I would suggest?
Now although we are not Roman Catholics, there is a prayer called the St Andrews Prayer said by the catholic church that is all about preparation and it goes like this: –
“Hail and Blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O My God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of our saviour Jesus Christ and of His Blessed Mother. Amen”
Now a good catholic will say that prayer 15 times a day for 25 days. Quite a challenge! I’m sure you’d agree, but it is a prayer that by repetition becomes a familiar prayer. And it is that same familiarity of Christmas that comes every year that is so comforting, just as that returning to St Paulinus for me was comforting. Or returning home from holiday. Familiarity can be a good thing.
So, what would it be like without Christmas then? Have you ever considered a world without Christmas? In the CS Lewis classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you will recall that Christmas never came to Narnia while the White Witch was in power.
It was only when Aslan the Lion began to move, that Father Christmas returned once again to the land of Narnia. In the story, Father Christmas became a harbinger, a forerunner of Aslan’s return.
This allegorical story of Jesus points out that with Him we have our seasons right. We don’t have an endless winter, but normal time is resumed. The story also links to the last days that we heard in our gospel reading, in that as we prepare for Jesus’ coming, we know that like the White Witch, Satan’s hold on the earth is weakening and coming to an end too.
And if you are interested in the works of CS Lewis and his Narnia stories? I would recommend you to read a book called the Narnia Code by Michael Ward, who by coincidence was educated at St Andrews University! In the book Ward goes much deeper into the allegorical meanings of the whole series. I have a copy if anyone would like to look at it after then service ?
But going back to this ‘adventus’ or comings of Jesus I must draw your attention to a third understanding of Jesus’ coming which arose out of the twelfth century, so in addition to the two comings of Jesus already mentioned: – Jesus ‘In the flesh as a child, Jesus, ‘In Glory, at the end of time’ there was this third, and it was of having Jesus, ‘In our hearts daily’
(Journey into the Heart of God: Living in the Liturgical Year by H Phillip, 2013, Oxford University Press)
And it is this third aspect that I really want us to focus on today and for the remainder of our Advent. For by having Jesus in our hearts daily we will avoid, or at least limit the distractions of daily life. By having Him in our hearts we will become familiar with Him and begin to grow. And by having Him in our hearts we will be better placed to be sign posts to others to guide home into the arms of Jesus.
So whatever way you want to prepare, do it regularly, become familiar. And get busy with God’s Word. Make use of all the rich variety of services that St Paulinus offer over these next few weeks. Read a daily devotional or do the daily offices on the train to work. However you choose to do it, let the Word of God come into your hearts.
Today, we lit our first Advent candle of hope representing God’s prophets. And it is good that we remember that Advent is a period of preparation for all these aspects of revelation. So, let us today and for the next four weeks, delight in the familiarity of Christmas and not let the distractions of life prevent us from preparing ourselves to be ready to meet Jesus very soon.