First Sunday of Advent 

26th November 2022

Reflection (readings follow on below)

Is Advent just a precursor for Christmas or is it a season with its own focus and purpose?

Advent Sunday marks the beginning of the Church’s year. Whilst with the secular New Year one focuses on new beginnings, fresh starts, transformative resolutions, the traditional themes for Advent are death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Another view of Advent is to see it as a time to ‘Prepare  the way of the Lord’ with a focus on both the nativity of Jesus and his second coming. Other themes that Christians observe are hope, peace, joy, and love. 

Maybe Advent is both a time to make a fresh start – to repent and realign our daily lives with God – and a time of hope for the coming of Jesus through whom we once again receive the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. And in just under a year’s time we will again celebrate the feast of  – and our allegiance to – Christ the King. 

Kingdoms centre round a castle or palace or capital city from which the rule of the kingdom extends. It is the place from where justice is meted out. It is the place of learning and fashion that shapes the culture of the kingdom. The passage from Isaiah talks of the mountain as the Lord’s house – the pinnacle from which God’s presence is spread abroad. This mountain has become the highest point – now everyone and every nation can see where God dwells and feel the influence of God’s rule. This renewed prominence draws the people to God in their desire to learn God’s ways which encompass peace and justice and reconciliation. 

Jesus in his ministry drew people to himself as he preached the good news of the coming rule of the kingdom of God. His message was radical and transformative, calling on people to renew and reform their lives, following in the ways of God. Jesus also spoke about a day of judgement, a day of denouement when the success or failure of our lives will be tested. This day does not sound pleasant; it sounds as if it will come with pain and tears and suffering. Jesus likens it to the time of Noah and the flood. There was life after that catastrophic flood, a new beginning. There have been other times too when humanity as a whole or in various areas of the world, has faced similar cataclysmic situations – war, floods, hurricanes, financial collapse, pandemics – which have become a time of reckoning and from which life has re-emerged, often wisely, and hopefully with a renewed understanding of the right ways of Godly living. These times of reckoning will continue to occur as we continue to wrestle with our human inclination to trust in greed and self interest. So maybe each season of Advent should be seen as a challenge to face up to our unwholesome inclination, and a time to refocus on the right ways of living in harmony with God and God’s creation.

The passage from Isaiah has words of hope that God will arbitrate between peoples and nations to establish justice, such that the weapons of war can be reformed as tools of peace and prosperity. In our time our greatest threat comes from the use of fossil fuels and the release of excessive quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere causing global warming and climate change on a catastrophic scale. If we do not curtail this decisively and speedily, we know we face a near future in which vast numbers of plants, animals and people will suffer and die. It will be a a doomsday of our own making. The weapons that enable this crisis, are our patterns of consumption and our patterns of investment. We need to transform these to create sustainable and equitable patterns of consumption and to invest in renewable and sustainable technologies. 

Advent is a season to reflect upon and amend the relationship we have with creation, with technology, with society, and with all that shapes our daily live. We need to focus on those ways which will establish a way of live that reflects God’s will, and to share that so that it is a world wide transformation. 

We should not wait for the climax to be reached before we reform our lives in line with God’s way. Now is the time to be ready. Now is the time to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’!

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;

all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,

‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;

that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

Psalm 122

1 I was glad when they said to me, *
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

2 Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;

4 To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the Lord.

5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
“May they prosper who love you.

7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.

8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.

9 Because of the house of the Lord our God, *
I will seek to do you good.”

Romans 13:11-14

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Third Sunday before Advent

6th November 2022

Reflection (readings below)

Job has been sorely afflicted and his friends bring him little comfort. Job is sure that what he is suffering is not because he has sinned. His suffering is, he feels, undeserved yet real.  His friends fail to hear what he is saying  and continue to tell him to simply repent and all will be well.

Despite the hardships and trauma, Job is confident of two things – so confident that if he could he would write them in lead with an iron pen! He is certain that God is ultimately in charge of his life  and, that God will redeem him.  (It is useful to note that redemption – salvation – does not of itself preclude suffering in our lives.)

The Psalmist expresses similar feelings, a conviction that he will be shown loving mercy by God and that his life will have a purpose. The Psalmist confidence comes from his (or her) relationship with God, through prayer and through following God’s law.

Both the passage from Job and the passage from the letter to the Thessalonians envisages an end time when God’s salvation will be made manifest. The understanding of both the resurrection of the dead and of a day of judgement – often linked to the creation of a new world – was a growing belief in Judaism in the era following the return from exile in Babylon, and then in Christianity. It wasn’t a homogeneous belief and, as we see in today’s gospel, there were powerful groups who did not belief in resurrection (and therefore not in an end judgement day either). Scepticism and uncertainty continued amongst Christians too, who were uncertain how or what resurrection and judgement would look like. Early on many Christians thought that Jesus’s return in judgement would happen during their life time and that they would pass straight from this life to the next as enjoyed by the risen Jesus. As time passed, and as those of their communities died without experiencing a resurrection visible to their companions, people were reviewing what they believed, trying to work out a better understanding of judgement and resurrection. So it is that the writer of the letter tries to reassure the congregation in Thessalonica. They are reminded that they are loved by God, that they are – already – the first fruits of salvation, and that they have been sanctified – sealed – by the Holy Spirit and are a living demonstration of the glory of Christ Jesus. 

In our current era, many people suffer for no good reason other than that they are victims of a climate crisis that is not of their making. Many others are fraught with anxiety and uncertainty about what the climate crisis portends, how it may affect them and how they should be responding. Some feel the need to take radical action, others to shy away completely from the thought of what might lie ahead. The message from Job would be to stay engaged with God – to pray, to argue, to remain faithful. The message from the Thessalonians would be to sift the stories we hear so as to discern what is truthful, and to continue as committed followers of Christ, remembering that we have Jesus as our guide and exemplar, and the Spirit as our staying power and that both the ‘Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loves us, …. [will] comfort our hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.’

Today’s gospel reading shows Jesus caught up in just such a dispute between those who believed in the resurrection and those who did not. It is one of a series of debates in the temple precincts where those who oppose Jesus are trying to pick holes in his teaching. Jesus’s answer is succinct: ‘God is the God not of the dead but of the living; for to him all … are alive’. What we humans understand as death is not as God understands it. In each of the gospels the writers record for us the good news that Jesus brought. The good news that showed us how we should live in relation to one another and in relation to God. The good news of Jesus is radical. It challenges our conventional ideas. It challenges the institutionalised ideas of our social and business worlds. It challenges our priorities. It calls for an active and prayerful response.

In the face of the climate crisis and the urgent need for radical justice, the gospel is a timely challenge to us to review our lives and reapply to them the teachings of Jesus. In this the Kingdom season, the call is to work with Jesus in establishing the kingdom of God here on earth. 

Job 19:23-27a

Job said,

“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!

O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

The Psalm

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O Lord;
give heed to my cry; *
listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence; *
let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offence with my mouth as others do; *
I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; *
incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvellous loving-kindness, *
O Saviour of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; *
hide me under the shadow of your wings,

9 From the wicked who assault me, *
from my deadly enemies who surround me.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Luke 20:27-38

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”