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Sermon for 3 December


Isaiah 6:1-9, Mark 13:24-end

I really hope that what I’m about to tell you won’t come as a terrible shock. I hope you’re not going to find it too upsetting. And if you do, if I have misjudged and what I say next leaves you shaken, then I apologise in advance. Ok…you ready…

Jesus wasn’t actually born on 25 December! He wasn’t actually born on Christmas Day! In fact, we don’t know what the date was in Bethlehem when he arrived in the stable and the history of the Universe shifted. 

I tell you this because I had a conversation with someone this week, someone who was clearly trying to undermine my faith by pointing out that Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas Day - as if that was a key foundation of Christianity. He knew that the church made up the whole ‘Christmas Day’ on 25 December thing and in fact, probably nicked the date from the pagans. This, he thought, was the killer blow which would bring my faith crashing down.

We don’t know the day that Jesus was born, the bible doesn’t seem that bothered, and it doesn’t take a great historian to figure out that ‘December’ wasn’t even a month back in 0 AD. And it really doesn’t matter. Clearly he was born, and clearly that matters a very great deal, but which day it happened on matters not one bit.

We think of time as something linear, something defined by the date at the top of the page - 3 December 2017. But we know that time is much more complex and multi layered than that. Science tells us that time is relative, not fixed and the bible tells us that there is such a thing as sacred time; God’s time. 

And to help us understand that, the church has given a pattern for the year which overlays and underpins calendar time with God’s sacred time; Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost - these seasons are a way for us to inhabit sacred time while getting on with living in calendar time. 

And you can always tell when there’s a shift in God’s time is taking place - when something important is happening in sacred time, because we are given readings like the ones we just heard. Readings that are full of powerful language about the future which are what theologians call - ‘apocalyptic’.

Apocalyptic is a word associated with disaster and the end of the world as we know it. So, we often get apocalyptic warnings in the news about the state of the economy, or climate change. And we get films about the apocalypse - the complete destruction of the world by the latest form of imminent disaster. 

And there’s lots of apocalyptic stuff in the bible. Think of the book of Revelation - literally called the Apocalypse of St John the Divine; it’s full of hair raising images of the end of the world - fire, churning seas, clouds being rent in two, people being judged. It is disturbing, challenging and frightening stuff.

And the book of Isaiah, which we just heard from, has some apocalyptic parts. And today, Jesus gets in on the act as well - in fact by quoting from Isaiah. As our gospel begins, he’s standing outside the Temple, which he has just told us will be torn down, stone from stone, before telling his audience that the sun will be darkened, as the stars fall from heaven and a great moment of disaster and glory comes upon the earth.

And it makes us a uncomfortable. What happened to gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Why is he predicting the end of the world?

But apocalypse isn’t really about the end of the world - it isn’t really about the end of anything. When people in the bible start using this kind of language, they’re talking about sacred time. They’re telling us about God’s perspective, and they’re talking about now. They’re saying…..STOP. Stop right where you are and notice that sacred time and calendar time are crashing into each other; notice what’s really going on here so you can decide what you’re going to do next. And in fact the word apocalypse literally means an un-veiling or a revealing. This kind of language is unveiling God’s perspective on things. 

That’s what Jesus is doing. He is using apocalyptic language to say STOP. Notice what’s really going on, so you can change the things that need to be changed before they lead you to disaster. and so you can change the things that need to change to welcome God’s good future.

They invite you to stop, to figure stuff out and to choose.

And Advent is a chance for us to do that. To stop and to figure stuff out and to choose.

And there are three things to do during Advent that can help us. Three things that apocalyptic writings tell us to do; Get real, get rid and get ready.

Get real.

Advent is a time for us to notice what’s really going on. It’s like checking your house before an important guest arrives to stay. It’s a time to look in the corners and under the beds. To notice that area that really hasn’t been cleaned for a while and which needs some work. To pull the furniture out and to pay particular attention to the places where we’ve shoved the mess and the muck over the last year. 

In Advent, we are given the opportunity to get real about the parts of our lives that need a good clean, and the parts where we’ve hidden stuff, the places where the dirt and the mess live, and which really need some attention. 

We’re in God’s time now, and in God’s time, we’re invited to get real.

Secondly, we’re invited to get rid.

Because if you’re getting real, you’re going to have to Get Rid of some stuff as well. That might mean getting rid of some real stuff - giving things away, rather than getting caught up in the craziness of shopping and buying. It might mean getting rid of a habit or a way of thinking that’s holding you down, holding back your life and relationship with God. Just as importantly it means getting rid of some our preconceived ideas about God and what he ought to be like for us. 

Isaiah was a great prophet. A man who saw into the heart of God’s dream for His world and who did his bit to bring it about. He knew that God wanted more and he longed for Him to get stuck in. "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down so that the mountains would quake at your presence - as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil” he cries out. Come in power Lord and sort out this messed up world. Come and show people who you are and what you’re like. And do it now! 

And what happens? What is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s great cry? A baby. And there’s no heaven-tearing, and the mountains stand just as still as they ever did, and if there is any water boiling, it’s just so some shepherds can have a cup of tea. God isn’t going to do what we want him to do, or what we expect him to do. He’s going to do what he needs to do. That was true then, and it’s true now. So if you think you know what God should be doing at the moment - in the world, or in your family, or your life - just be aware, that he might not share your plans. This is Advent, and we need to Get Rid of our plans for God, so that his plans for us can unfold and shape our lives.

Get real, get rid and get ready.

The trouble with Christmas is that it falls on the 25 December every year. We spend Advent getting ready for Jesus so that, on that one special day of the year, he can turn up and do his thing. After all, the crib is ready, we’ve practiced Once in Royal David’s City and we’ve lit 4 Advent candles. Christmas is here so now it’s time for Jesus to enter, stage left. Right?

But says Mark’s gospel, ‘you do not know when the Master of the house will come’. So keep awake, keep alert, Get Ready. He might not be there for you on Christmas Day. He might be planning something different for you this year. 

Maybe he’s going to turn up in the middle of something really painful that’s going on at the moment.  Maybe he’ll arrive as you sit and breathe, and suddenly hear God speaking to you in the silence. Maybe it’ll be as you’re walking down the street with your mind on the plumbing or the shopping or when you’re wondering whether you should have cream or brandy butter with your mince pie. So keep awake, keep alert, Get Ready.

God’s time and calendar time are working together. Advent is here. God is on the move.

So get real. Get rid. Get ready. 


Going Deeper

  1. Read Daniel 7 or Mark 13. Why do you think the bible uses such vivid and challenging imagery in the 'apocalyptic' sections? 
  2. How do you feel about Jesus using language like that?
  3. What do you need to get real about this Advent?
  4. What do you need to get rid of this Advent?
  5. What do you need to do to get ready for Jesus to do what he needs to do in your life?
  6. What do you need to pray for this Advent?
Posted: 05/12/2017 at 15:34
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