Lord you come into our lives, often when we least expect your Advent. Prepare our hearts and minds for your arrival into our world in a more real and vital way, so that we are ready to respond. Help us to always be expectant and eager for your coming in our lives and ready to respond in faith. Amen.
Ive been preparing for Christmas - in the garden as a matter of fact! I had the idea - a very clever idea, it seemed at the time that I could propagate some bromeliads, put them in nice pots as presents. Now I wont test your botanical acumen, but if you know what a bromeliad is, just nod knowingly to yourself while I explain that they are a colourful flowering pineapple with no fruit and with rows of spikes on each leaf, sort of sharks teeth of the gardening world!
Now I knew all of this of course - but I didnt have much time.
I had the pots and the potting mix, I just had to divide the plants.
I incurred a bit of a scratching! - the next day my wrists were red and itching. I knew about what was coming, but I had not prepared! The point of Advent is to not be like "Ian in the garden" with the most important things of life!
Now to address our readings. I would have to say that most of the people I meet around here are not overly concerned with calamity. I've met my fair share of doomsayers, people who see the end coming because of some war or earth quake or drought, but most were nervous folk or part of some fringe group who try to play on people's fears, we've all heard the way out predictions. Today's gospel is one of their favourites.
This reading from Luke is about the big picture, the big signs of Christ's coming again.
"There will be signs in the sun moon and stars, nature will be shaken, then you will see the son of man coming in a cloud with great power and glory. When these things begin to take place stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near."
This is one of those texts that makes me tremble as a preacher. It's an awesome picture, vivid and poetic. I don't dare explain it or tell stories about it's application. Rather than do something to these words perhaps we should let them do something to us.
The passage is rich with the poetic language of "apocalypse", that much misunderstood and badly represented form of writing about the revelation of God, about the ultimate things, the expected coming of God's reign.
Just a few words of explanation then,
Apocalypse was written in times of great stress and upheaval, it focuses on the ultimate justice and victory of God who is coming to save.
This apocalyptic sort of language is something Jesus used when he wanted to shake the foundations of outdated systems, when he saw the need to challenge and change, when he wants to upset a few pews to wake people up. Because ultimately the gospel Jesus brings, is radical, powerful and will effect everything and everyone !
Jesus talks of the whole cosmos being shaken, the established order being turned on it's head.
"Pray", he says, "that you will either be able to escape or stand before him when he comes."
This is not the stuff of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, it's not the sort of message we often hear to help us have a nice day, or to make the faith seem like good rational psychology. If Christianity were that tame it would have died out soon after Jesus. No, this is much more serious stuff and it makes most of us, we who are comfortably off in wealthy Western countries; it makes us decidedly uncomfortable.
We benefit from the way things are, we have a stake in the world staying as it is, thank you. Change isn't something we favour, especially if it's radical change. But those who are on the bottom of the heap, the poor and opprssed of the world , those who suffer the pain of living in this overstressed materialistic age, these who have nothing to gain from things staying as they are tremble with delight when they really hear the Bible talking about what , by God's grace, might be.
Jesus has come and is with us and will come, the three are true at the same time. But we need to keep our expectation, our watchfulness a sense of God's promise and a readiness to respond.
So what is our response to Jesus coming, then, now and in the future?
What do we do other than write Christmas cards, bur gifts and decorate our homes?
How dramatic is the consequence of Jesus coming in our lives?
The great gift that God gives to us all in Jesus is also a challenge to us - what do we give to God and to others on God's behalf?
"Christ is coming", look at the signs in all the shops, what does it really mean, is it? "ho, hum, yet another year almost over."
Christ is coming, what does it make us think? "we're thinking about putting flashing lights in the garden this year,
Perhaps we can prepare by being honest about our need for Christ to come into our lives, that we have a need and an emptiness that only Christ can fill, that we need hope, healing and the wholeness his salvation brings. That we need the community of his kingdom to be a sign of hope to us while we are still on the way, a way which is sometimes harder than we can bear.
At the beginning of Advent, this season of looking forward to Christmas we remember the bold proclamation, Christ is coming, coming to make a big difference ! Coming to shake things up and set everything right. Coming unexpectedly, the hope of the hopeless, the healer of the incurable, the redeemer of the world! This is the gospel in stark bold and roaring truth. God is coming, be on the lookout, TAKE HEED. Respond !!
Mostly, we get by on a lot less than the fullness of redemption promised here, but sometimes, I think we need to hear this message, loud and clear and uncompromised.
The message of Advent, of the coming of the branch of David, promised so long ago, the message is one of hope, hope that demands a response, that finally all will be shaken up and set right.
May this hope be something that we all grow to look forward to, and respond to, may we prepare, be on the lookout, this Advent and always.
Let the flame of Advent burn in us all. Amen.