Second Sunday of Advent 

4th December 2022

Reflection (the readings follow on below)

One of the themes of today’s readings is justice. What is justice? What do we mean when we talk about justice? Is it me getting what I want? Me being free to do what I want, when I want and how I want? Is it me being free to exercise ‘my rights’?

This is a lot about ‘me’ but what I what I want to do adversely affects someone else? What if my rights block someone else’s rights?

Might justice be concerned with what I have done wrong, where I have impinged in somebody else’s rights? Might justice be about me being penitent and offering restitution? 

The Psalmist tells us that justice goes hand in hand with righteousness. More explicitly, we’re told that to do justice is to defend the needy, to rescue the poor and the oppressed, to restore the fertility of the land and to enable peace to flourish. Nothing there about my rights!

Isaiah tells us that justice comes from the spirit of the Lord, that it encompasses the wisdom and understanding that comes from God – as well as the awe (often translated as fear) of God. The exercise of God’s justice doesn’t just rely on what one sees and hears, but on a deeper understanding of the situation. It is a justice that creates a world of peace, of mutual co-existence, of joy. It creates that renewed world order which in Advent we look forward to. 

And for which we prepare. John the Baptist’s cry that we should repent and prepare the way, is not an ideal call. Nor is it a call only to be heard in the past. It is the rallying call for us today, this year of 2022. 

We are called to look at the world around us with more than just ears and eyes. To look deeper, to seek to understand the deep issues that causes injustice to damage lives of both people and the natural world. We need to be aware of and able to stand up for those who are oppressed, who are poor, marginalised. Those who have inadequate access to the necessities of life, as well as inadequate access to opportunities of life. We need to be aware of the long and short term harm being caused to the natural environment as well as to the built environment in which we live and work. We need to be aware of where we are at fault, where we have been the cause of the injustices and we need to be willing to make reparations. 

We cannot stand back and ignore the plight of the people suffering starvation in East Africa after seasons of drought. We cannot stand back and ignore the plight of Pakistan where a third of its land has been flooded disrupting daily live on a vast scale. We cannot stand back whilst around we cause the 6th mass extinction of life on earth. We cannot stand back and ignore the plight of people in our own country who have insufficient resources to feed their families, to keep warm, to maintain a sense of dignity. 

Equally we cannot stand back and ignore the behaviour of those who oppress the poor with their commercial clout. We cannot ignore the behaviour of those who continue to invest in atmospheric polluting oil industries. We cannot ignore the behaviour of those who do not forgive the debts of the poorest nations. We cannot ignore those who behaviour persecutes people because of their race, colour, faith or gender. 

Rather we need to be active in repentance and justice, ensuring that our words and actions work to create the kingdom of heaven on earth. And we can. With God’s wisdom and understanding we can review what we buy – do our purchases help or hinder justice? We can review our lifestyle choices – do they help or hinder justice? We can review our opinions, the conversations we share with others – do they help or hinder justice? We can write to our local councillors, our MPs, business leaders, our bank and pension fund providers and ask what they are doing on our behalf to ensure justice. We can join ecological and justice organisations, sign petitions, join demonstrations. 

Our prayers and our study of scripture, our engagement with the natural world and with social affairs, will help us to learn and receive God’s wisdom and guidance. This is how we will ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance’.

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the
ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King’s Son;

2 That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;

3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.

4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.

6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.

7 In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.

18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, *
who alone does wondrous deeds!

19 And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen.

Romans 15:4-13

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;

and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptise you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Sunday Reflection

28th November 2021, first Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16

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.”

Psalm 25:1-9

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.

Luke 21:25-36

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.”

Reflection

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.

Postscript/ action

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’.