28th November 2021, first Sunday of Advent
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Today is the first day in Advent and the first day in the church’s year when we embark once more on the journey of expectation that brings us to the mystery of the incarnation and a season of revelations about the amazing nature of God; the journey of repentance and new beginnings that brings us to the mystery of both death and life, and a season of growing in faith as we come to realise the breadth, length and depth of God’s kin-dom of love.
The reading from Jeremiah sets us off with the notion of expectation: a certain expectation that God’s promises will be fulfilled. Jeremiah points to the coming of someone who will stand up for justice and righteousness in the world, and specifically that that righteousness will be the righteousness – the right way of living, the right way in which to inhabit this earth – of God. How can we go wrong if we use God as the measure or pattern of what is right?
In the epistle Paul is writing to the fledgling community at Thessalonica. A community of people whose love for God and devotion to serving and following God in Jesus Christ is such that it bubbles over with joy. Simply through knowing them, Paul is filled with joy. It sounds like an infectious joy!
I wonder how often we get say to someone in church, ‘Your faith, your love of the Lord, fills me with joy!’?
Where does that joy spring from? What nurtures it? Love, says Paul, love for one another and ‘for all’ – is this ‘all’ the all of creation: plants and animals, ecosystems and microcosms? A love that is reciprocated one to another. A love that builds up strength and holiness ready for the coming of Jesus.
That love is the way of God, the way to overcome adversity, the way to ride out threats of embarrassment and humiliation. Love, says the psalmist, is what God teaches us; it is the way of righteousness.
The passage from Luke’s gospel reminds us that times of threat and uncertainty are nothing new, and that they can lead to fear and confusion when people cannot make sense of what is a happening. Don’t be frightened, says Jesus, rather stand up and understand that redemption is at hand, that the power and glory – the way of life and joy – of Jesus will prevail.
Then Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree: learn to read the signs. Learn to understand what these signs, these events are telling you. Study how they should inform the way you live. Is that not what we should be doing faced as we are now with droughts and storms, wild fires and floods; with a growing greed among some that impoverishes and destroys the lives of others; with increasing global temperatures because we can not curb of production of carbon dioxide; with a blinkered view of the world that does not see that excessive consumption cannot be maintained from a world of finite resources?
If we can read the signs and understand what they say about the right and wrong ways of living, and adapt the way we live – and the way we love – then we will not be caught out! Be on your guard, says Jesus. Do not allow your worries to weigh you down. Don’t try and hide from your fears by simply consuming more and more – that is the way of drunkenness and dissipation. Rather be alert. Be prayerful. Seek the strength that comes from God – strength that comes through love.
This week our daughter has been protesting outside one of the Amazon fulfilment warehouses. Amazon does in many ways stand for what is wrong in the world. It makes huge profits at the expense of its workers and subcontractors – and without paying its fare share of taxes. It promotes the concept that the more you buy the happier you will be. It disregards any awareness that the world’s resources are finite – and returned and unwanted items are thrown away unused! It encourages long supply chains and severs connections between producer and consumer so that the latter can buy oblivious to any damage that is being caused to the environment on their behalf. And with its huge size and financial clout, it seeks to remove all other sources of commerce. Here in East Sheen, where we have no lack of food shops, it has introduced its own form of fresh food store with the idea that we cannot/ should not have to spend time pausing to pay for what we buy!
We personally as a household choose now to boycott Amazon: we choose not to buy through their markets – we choose not to contribute to Amazon’s profits; we choose not to be sucked into their online shopping malls that offer anything and everything at the mere click of a button.
We choose to be ‘Amazon Free for the wellbeing of the world’.