This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of Kaniva and Serviceton for Advent Sunday, 2nd December 2018.
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; Luke 21:25-36
Today is Advent Sunday, therefore the wreath. Today we enter a new Christian year as far as the three-year cycle of the Lectionary goes, so, Happy New Year, it is now “The Year of Luke” in case you’re interested. With the change of season I am wearing purple rather than my usual green, (have you noticed), and today we focus our thinking on the coming of Jesus. Advent is not only four weeks for preparation for Christmas and our remembrance of the Word becoming Flesh, of God coming to Earth and dwelling amongst us, (the literal phrase is “tabernacled” which basically means that God comes and pitches God’s own tent in our camp); Advent is also when we think about the return of Christ and the fulfilment of all promises made by God.
In our reading from the Hebrew tradition this morning God says that the days are coming when righteousness shall come to the earth as a fulfilment of God’s promise to David. This righteousness shall bring national and domestic security we read in Jeremiah 33:14-16. To the original hearers of this message, so Jeremiah himself and the people we spoke to, this meant that God was promising to restore the Davidic monarchy with a king so just and righteous that his personal name would be surpassed by his reputation. For people who were living in exile this was an amazing promise, because not only would they return from Babylon and Persia to Judea and Jerusalem, but the kingship would be restored through the previous royal family, and the king in the fulfilment would be beyond magnificent in his reign. This is like the king we heard about last week, a new David for whom the whole nation will shout abundant thanks and praise to God in gratitude. For Christians reading this passage we get echoes of Christ, of Jesus who will be king beyond all other kings in righteousness and justice. This is an Advent promise.
And like the king of last week, what we read in Psalm 25 might be the personal prayer of a (new) leader asking God for guidance and wisdom in his reign; and as all great prayers for wisdom in leadership begin this prayer begins in worship. In my experience as a leader in this community, alongside experience gained in other communities where I have watched leaders and been a leader, I know that I cannot lead anyone unless I am willing to lead myself and to be lead by God. I cannot lead you as a congregation if I am not under God’s authority and listening for God’s wise counsel. How can I lead you where I have never been? I cannot. And how can I lead you where I am unwilling to go? Of course I don’t mean the future, I have never been to the future so I can’t lead you there from personal experience; I mean discipleship. I am no great disciple; I do not think of myself like the scribes of three weeks ago, I am no saint in any but the most grace-filled definition of the word. But I am a devoted, prayerful, Bible-literate, Christ-centred disciple of God and that is what I want to lead you in. Where God takes this congregation as a body of devoted disciples is God’s business, and that of the leaders listening to and responding to God’s word. My job as your pastor, (and specifically in this role right now as the preaching-elder), is to build you into that body of devoted believers and listeners to God’s word. I cannot do that unless I am first a disciple and a listener. So it is with the great and future king of Jeremiah 33, if I am to lead these people says the candidate for leadership in Psalm 25:1, then I must start with my own character. This is a good man, I like this man, he has his priorities straight. Of course nothing in this Psalm says that it’s a king who is praying only that it is a person seeking guidance and deliverance. We are told David wrote it, so he’s a man rather than a woman, and he is king at some point in his life; but this is an anybody prayer in that anybody can pray it with confidence that God will answer it. Listen to me LORD, whoever I am, and keep me close to you. Teach me about you, teach me your path, teach me your truth, and lead me in those two things. Forgive me and be gracious when I fall, and remembering your mercy lift me up when I need it. How great you are God, how wonderful you are in generosity to wait for us and slow down to teach us along the way. How worthy of praise you are God, you are loving and faithful and good. There are some more Advent promises, perhaps a little bit hidden, but still there. This is how one man three thousand years ago found God to be like; if David is to be believed and God is everlastingly loving and faithful then these things are true of God today. This is what God is like, and you are welcomed into God’s family if you want to take hold of this friend and saviour as Lord.
Our reading from the gospels this morning points us at Luke 21:25-36 where Jesus is teaching the disciples on the Wednesday of his last week. This event takes place just after Jesus has commented upon the poor widow and her two pennies which we heard about a few weeks back, and some comments from the crowd about how awesome the temple complex is. Jesus’ response is this passage which speaks about the coming of The Son of Man and the need to watch and be fruitful in the meantime. And just listen to what he is saying in Luke 21:25-33, the event of the Coming of the Son does not sound pleasant, but you need to get ready because it’s about to happen. As Christians reading the Bible in 2018 we know that these events did not take place around Nazareth and Beit Lehem when Jesus was born; yes there was a star but there were no great portents and we are not told that the sea went berserk, so we assume that it didn’t. What seems to be happening is that Jesus is speaking of a time in Jerusalem’s future and Kaniva & Serviceton’s, when the Son of Man comes a second time, coming in all his Godly power and great glory as Luke 21:27 reads. Perhaps of greater concern to us as Christians reading the Bible in 2018 is that these events did not take place around Jerusalem when Jesus died or in the forty years or so after; indeed they haven’t happened like that at all. In Luke 21:32 Jesus indicates that these events were about to happen, and that a forty-year deadline was probably generous: so what happened such that what was supposed to happen did not happen? Well, nothing happened, but that’s not the point.
So, what is the point? Well the point is what comes next in Jesus’ words, be on your guard as we read in Luke 21:34, and be alert we read in Luke 21:36. Don’t worry about when it didn’t happen, be ready for when it does. And how do we be ready? [Congregation interaction time, how do we be ready?] Discipleship. [Weren’t you listening before?] Yes, discipleship; we get on with acting with righteousness and justice and love with the guidance, grace and equipping of the one who promises to be steadfast and faithful, and who more than three thousand years of Jewish history has proven to be true. That Jesus may not have been speaking about “this generation” as the actual people alive on that day but referring to an attitude of complacency among religious people which has continued through to this day, is not the point. That the fully-human Jesus speaking in 30AD may have got God’s timing wrong in his mind is not the point. That the writers of the gospels working in the 60s-80s AD may have got the God’s timing wrong and wrote into Jesus’ mouth words that Jesus never said, words that would have rung true in Jeremiah’s day and connect better with the then five-centuries-old encouraging story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish exiles and the situation of Jerusalem in the 70s than the situation in the 30s, words that would be an encouragement for Christians in the present situation in Rome or Asia living with Nero and Diocletian and an amphitheatre full of gladiators and lions, is not the point.
Phew! No, the point is that God is faithful, the promise is sure, the Son of Man shall return, and Christians and Jews need to get busy in the meantime proclaiming the Kingdom of God through lives of faith-filled compassion, love-filled justice, and hope-filled confidence. That is the point because that is what Advent is all about.