Saturday, 6 December 2008

Sunday's sermon

Another frantic week: many funerals I'm afraid.

Anyway here is the finished article, based on
Isaiah 40: 1-11
Mark 1: 1-8

‘Preparing the Way’
It’s coming to that time of year when the newspapers and magazines will be full of ‘key events of 2009’ – what they think will happen next year. I’m a sucker for these. I always read them and realise it’s because I would love to know what’s going to happen. But of course we can’t really know.
Apparently Thomas Watson, who was Managing Director of IBM – which made millions from the sale of computers in the 1990s is quoted as saying in 1958 that he thought there was a world need for only 5 computers. I find it strangely reassuring that even a person whose company has capitalised so much from the great computer age couldn’t at first see what was coming.

It seems that the whole church is facing a time of change right now: there is a lot of talk about ‘new ways of being church’, ‘emerging church’, even ‘liquid church’. We might wonder – what is the church coming to? But we can’t predict that future either.

Well, that’s not quite true – I don’t know exactly what the church will look like in 30 years’ time, anymore than those who built this building could have envisaged what our lives would be like.

I don’t know exactly what the church is coming to – but Advent gives us some strong pointers.

Advent literally means ‘the coming to’.
So traditionally we have treated it as the time of coming towards Christmas, a time of countdown or preparation. We open calendars, light candles, read or pray… we prepare on the outside & on the inside.

We also take time to remember and carefully recollect God coming to the earth in the birth of Jesus Christ. We find ways to satisfy our need to refresh ourselves, to make ourselves ready to hear the message of the angels again.

And this is also a time to listen to what the Bible has to tell us about what the world is coming to, about the coming of Christ to us, now.

The prophet Isaiah is giving words of comfort to the people of God at a time when all the important leaders of the land of Judah have been taken from its capital, Jerusalem, into exile in Babylon. He tells them not to worry, because God is coming to them. And the way through the desert for God is also the way of return for God’s people – they are promised that once again they will inhabit the Promised Land and that God will care for them there.
Isaiah promises a time when God’s people and their close relationship to God will be restored “Here is the Lord God, he is coming to rule”.

For the exiles in Babylon, or the ones who were left behind, who are asking ‘what is the world coming to?’ Isaiah promises ‘God will come & sort it out’.

We could pause here to ask the question ‘did Isaiah’s promise come true?’. The answer would have to be – yes and no! – the people returned to Jerusalem, the land of Israel was reunited but there wasn’t the lasting peace which Isaiah promised and the people longed for. There were continued political and military struggles over the land of Israel and of course by the time of Jesus the land was occupied again, this time by the Roman Empire.

In the time of Jesus, people could very well have been asking again ‘what is the world coming to?’.
Mark’s gospel draws a link between the story in Isaiah of a voice which cries out that God is coming and the work of John the Baptist.
John comes baptising and telling people to turn from sin, but primarily he comes to tell people of the coming of Jesus Christ.
For people looking for a sign of what is to come, Mark offers John the Baptist, as the fore-runner of the Lord himself.

Mark paints John as the one who was expected to come to tell people of the coming of the end of time – he comes out of the desert, he looks like the prophet Elijah, and he announces that the Lord is coming.

And when he does arrive, Jesus proclaims “the time has arrived, the kingdom of God is upon you” (v15). There would be people who would let out an immense sigh of relief at John’s message.
‘We have waited and waited for God to come and end the suffering of the people of Israel, the endless fighting and losing and being occupied and being exiled – at last, God will come and will rule and there will be peace and justice and healing’.

And so Jesus comes: but not cutting a swathe through the Roman forces, as some would have liked to see him do; and not bringing the end of time and the day of reckoning for all wrong-doers. Yet Jesus comes, and announces that the kingdom is now here.

Where the sick are healed – the kingdom is here; where the hungry are fed – the kingdom is here; where injustice is challenged – the kingdom is here; where people learn to live fully human lives, loving God and their neighbour –the kingdom is here.

So what is the world coming to? It is coming to a realisation that this is God’s kingdom – a realisation that begins with the coming of Jesus Christ and a realisation that continues where the will of God is done today in the church and in the world. Yet of course the kingdom has not yet come fully and perfectly.

And this is where the church comes in – this is what the church is coming to – we are to be the community of those who recognise that we already have one foot in the kingdom of God, that we belong to God & that God has come to us.
We are here to make the kingdom come where we remember he is with us and walk in his way & by the strength of his Spirit.

As we eat and drink today we celebrate the kingdom of god – we remember God-with-us in Jesus Christ – and we offer ourselves to be used as citizens of God’s kingdom, those who proclaim ‘prepare the way for the lord’.

And as God meets us here his presence helps to prepare our hearts and minds for the good news of the infinite love of God, come to live with us to save us.
To God’s praise & glory. Amen.

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