Sermon for 1st Sunday of Advent (Advent Sunday) – Year B (2)

“Wake up and stay awake.
Keep alert, always on the look-out.
Get ready for you don’t know
when it’s going to happen”

How often do we remind ourselves that, for God’s people, Advent is a season of waiting, longing and preparation and then realise how hard it can be to hang on to that spiritual meaning of the season?

All around us are the trappings of Christmas and different sorts of waiting, longing and preparation. It’ll be noisy and busy and stressful out there today and it will go on like that until after the New Year. The only day that will be commercially quiet will be Christmas Day itself, the day at the heart of all this activity and busy-ness.

But even Christmas Day will have its own activities, busy-ness and stress so that even then true messages of Advent and Christmas may be drowned out. So let’s focus on those messages today.

“Wake up and stay awake.
Keep alert, always on the look-out.
Get ready for you don’t know
when it’s going to happen”

What is going to happen? Do we actually know in our hearts and souls what or who it is we are waiting for; longing for; preparing for?

Let’s clear our minds for a while this morning and take time to reflect on the words so beautifully stitched on our glorious Advent banner:

“The Word becomes flesh
and dwells with us”

Ever since that banner was made I see it in my mind’s eye whenever I think, read, reflect or write about Advent. It so wonderfully shows how tiny and vulnerable human life is in its earliest days, weeks and months. It shows the vulnerability that God is willing to share with us for our sake.

And in Advent I also always have in mind words from the so well known carol, “O little town of Bethlehem”

“The hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary”.

We’re waiting to celebrate the night Mary gives birth to her son, Jesus, who will be Christ the King. And it is for Christ the King’s return that we are to wait and prepare ourselves for at all times.

So, it is in this tiny, vulnerable baby and the man he will be that the hopes and fears of all our years will be met. And this is what the prophet Isaiah has said of him:

“a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counsellor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.”

Years later Jesus, using the same prophet Isaiah’s words will say of himself:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

These are descriptions of what, or rather who, we are waiting, longing and preparing for especially during Advent.

And all this waiting, longing and preparing is underpinned by hope and the promises of God to his people.

In one sense that hope and promise is fulfilled as Jesus is born. He is the promised Christ who will save his people. And there is no possibility that he will fail. “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” proclaims Isaiah.

But in another sense that hope and promise have yet to be fully realised. God’s Kingdom is not yet established in our world today.

And this is where we come in. We don’t know when or how Christ the King will return. But Jesus says that doesn’t matter – our job is to be ready, doing what God has called us to do, being part of anything that helps to establish the kingdom of God both in our own lives and in the lives of others.

We might say that, like Jesus, we are anointed
to bring good news to the poor;
sent to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind;
sent to let the oppressed go free
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

And Jesus, in whom the Word becomes flesh shows us what a life looks like when it’s lived true to this calling and anointing.  In him we see Love in action and the difference that makes to people’s lives when they encounter it.

What he does we are called to do, with his help through the Holy Spirit. Our waiting, longing and preparing is about doing what the longed-for Christ would do to bring about the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth.

When we think of all the sordid corruption, deceit, greed and self-interest that all too often seem to go with positions of human power and authority surely we do long for the rule of a wise and insightful Counsellor; the rule of a God with the power and might to put an end to injustice and oppression but who is also loving and will protect and provide for his children; the rule of a Prince of Peace who will bring about reconciliation and peace between peoples and nations divided between and within themselves.

And in the face of all the damage and ugliness inflicted by men and women on each other and our world down the centuries, surely we also long for a world in which
hatred is replaced with love
harm by forgiveness
despair by hope
darkness by light and
sadness by joy
and where, in our own battered hearts and minds, we find love, forgiveness, understanding, consolation and new eternal life.

Let us pray:

Loving God, our everlasting Father,

We pray that the hopes and fears of all our years will be met at last in the Christ child, Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem.

We pray that, by your grace and through your Holy Spirit, we may all prepare ourselves for Christ’s return by seeking to live as Jesus did, proclaiming the coming of your kingdom in all that we think, say and do.

We pray that as we work for the coming of your kingdom you will strengthen us to the end so that we may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For you are a faithful and merciful God; and by you we are called into the fellowship of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, the Word made flesh.  Amen.