As it happens I did most of my thinking about this sermon away from the computer - so here are the notes more or less 'fully formed'
Mark 13; 1-8; Hebrews 10, 11-14, 19-25
After today there are just 5 more Sundays until Christmas. If you’re anything like me that thought makes you panic slightly: each year there seems to be more things to think about – cards, presents, food & drink, and Carol services galore.
And those are just the material preparations that need to be done – there is also the need to be spiritually ready for the coming of Jesus Christ – the rule of all things and prince of peace.
It might seem when we look around at the world that we will never be ready for Jesus – the world seems, in so many ways, to be in a mess.
News of the financial crisis, the state of the banks, and growing unemployment all fill the bulletins.
We might be struggling with personal worries about our health, or about family, or about work.
And sometimes it just seems the world is going to the dogs: just yesterday on the BBC news website the top 3 stories were:
Woman killer flees on escorted visit to shop
Four boys killed as car hits wall
and 100 mph winds batter the South of England.
Against all this, how can we possibly claim that all will be well, that Jesus is coming, and that God is in charge?
The gospel reading shows us Jesus warning the people of his time that they needed to put their trust in God, whatever happened around them.
One of the disciples, walking with Jesus near the temple in Jerusalem says ‘‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”.
The temple was a source of great pride to the Jewish people in Jesus’ time.
The building of it had begun about 50 years before, and it grew to cover 20 acres, with courtyards, stairs & colonnaded walkways, with marble pillars 10 metres high. For the people of Jesus’ time this was a sign that God was with them, his chosen people, and that they would be secure and safe.
But Jesus warns his followers not to trust in the temple as certainty of God’s presence.
He says ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’
And Jesus is to be proved right, as the temple was almost completely destroyed by the Roman Army in AD 70 – leaving only the wall we know as the Western or Wailing wall left.
Jesus warns that there will be wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines, but whatever happens, God is in charge, and all will be well.
Jesus describes all the trials and difficulties of life as being like birth pangs of God’s kingdom – signs that God is present and in charge in this world, but not fully, yet – things are not yet exactly as God’s will would have them be.
In Advent (starting in just 2 weeks’ time!) we celebrate the coming of the king and the coming of the kingdom, but this rule of God does not arrive instantaneously, but gradually and even painfully. In Jesus we see a glimpse of the kingdom to come, but we know, given the state of the world, that this is not yet fully God’s place.
In the meantime, Jesus’ message is not to panic or despair. Don’t be fooled into thinking that when we see the magnificence of something like the temple it is a sure sign of God with us. God’s presence is more earthy and real than this – and sometimes surprises us.
Even when all seems hopeless, when everything crashes around our ears, God has a plan and in God’s time, God’s kingdom will come.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ – his coming to us, dying and rising for us – is the start of his plan.
It begins with the message from the Angels ot the Shepherds ‘Do not be afraid’, it continues with trye birth-pangs, and a birth, a life and a death and a living forever.
And so the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says:
‘let us approach God with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful’.
Like the shepherds, we should not be afraid, but look for signs of God’s kingdom of love, joy, justice & peace.
In the coming of Christ
In Advent 2009
and in God’s promise for the future.
In Jesus’ name.