Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Advent Sunday - it's real love.

I'm deeply indebted to David Lose of "Working Preacher" for his comparison of Mark's passion account with Jesus' parable - I would hate anyone to think such a brilliant idea is my own!

Isaiah 64: 1-9; Mark 13: 24-37

I’m going to begin by showing the 2014 John Lewis Christmas advert, or if that isn’t possible, reminding people of it.

Once again this Christmas we hear the gospel according to john Lewis.
“Give someone the Christmas they’ve been dreaming of”.

Monty the penguin gets what he really wants for Christmas – real love.
But is Monty the penguin himself real? It depends how you look at him – in the eyes of the little boy who is his friend, of course he is real. And the love the boy has for him is real, and the new penguin for Christmas – she’s real too.
“It’s real love” croons the background music.  And if that isn’t the real meaning of Christmas, I don’t know what is.

But you won’t find real love at a John Lewis store near you, this Christmas.

So where should we look?

Let’s try Isaiah, shall we. The prophet say to God :
“Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence.”
Plenty of awe – but not a lot of love, it seems.
Isaiah in any case concludes
“you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.”

Isaiah is warning the people that their sin has caused God to hide – but that they can look forward to a time when God, the God of great and mighty deeds, will be revealed to them.

So maybe Mark’s gospel has something to say about God revealed in love in the face of Jesus Christ.

We heard Jesus speaking to his disciples just before his arrest, suffering and death. In the very next chapter Jesus will be seized in the garden of Gethsemane and taken to the High Priest.
Jesus warns his followers to keep awake and to be ready to discern the signs of the coming of the Son of Man.

Jesus first gives an apocalyptic vision of the end of time – the darkening of the sun & moon, stars falling from the sky..and the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory to gather the elect.
Scary stuff – not much sign of real love here – although we might gain a little comfort from thinking that at the end of time Jesus, who was with God the Father at the creation of all things,  will gather all things back to himself.
But I’m just guessing that isn’t the Christmas most of us have been dreaming of.

So let’s look at the second part of what Mark records Jesus saying
“About that hour or day no one knows…Keep alert, for you do not know when that time will come.”

Then Jesus tells a sort of parable
“it is like a man going on a journey…you do now know when he will return ‘in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn’.

No-one knows when Jesus will return, when God will be fully revealed, when real love will be really visible to this world.

But it may be that Mark gives us some clues about what we should be looking for.
It is possible that Mark believes that the advent of Jesus that has already been witnessed can give us some clues as to what we should be looking for in any subsequent coming of Christ.

Jesus says to look for the coming of the master in the evening, at midnight, or at cockcrow, or dawn.

Mark then divides his story of the passion of Jesus, in the very next part of his gospel account, into those very same time periods:
Firstly he tells of the Last Supper, beginning, “When it was evening he came with the twelve…” (14:17).
Next come Jesus’ prayer and betrayal: “And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy” (14:40) because it was the middle of the night.
Then Mark tells us about Jesus’ trial, ending with Peter’s denies Jesus for the third time just as the cock crowed ” (14:71-72a).
And finally  Jesus is delivered to Pilate for trial “As soon as it was morning”(15:1).

Do you see the coming of God in this places? Do you see the coming of God’s love in Christ, giving himself up to death? Do you see how this Advent we should be looking for Jesus Christ in all the suffering and sacrifice and grim vulnerability of this world?
It’s real love.

This Advent, I pray we will all see the face of Christ and know the coming of Christ and the flow of the love of God, in the vulnerable and helpless and lowest of this world.
And I pray too that when we feel vulnerable and helpless and low we will know God’s love in Christ in each person who reaches out to us.

That’s the Christmas I’ve been dreaming of. 
And here it is - wrapped in bread and wine.

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