I preached this morning at a small family community church in our team who are so warm and friendly - a place where EVERYONE shares the peace with EVERYONE else!
The Readings were:
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Mark 13:24-37 24“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
• Two different ways of telling the same story
• Bible all about stories & reflecting on its own story – Mark’s use of Isaiah in Rabbinic tradition & Paul talking about Jesus
• Different stories of Christmas
o Fluffy o John Lewis o Sad o Scrooge
• Juggling Stories & finding Christ
We seem to be getting slightly different stories from Mark and from Paul in our readings this morning. Mark tells us that we won’t know the hour and that we must be alert:
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.He talks of the signs of the end times and a blustery day like today seems quite suited to his theme of
“the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”Paul tells us that we have been enriched with all knowledge through Christ and that we should wait eagerly.
“for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”This seems a little conflicting – the one rather fearful and wary the other confident and joyful. One of not knowing and one of being equipped. Yet people can have the same message with a very different story. Both are telling us to be waiting but they tell it with a different outlook. We can sometimes forget that the Bible is not only one big story but also a collection of stories and one which references itself. The Bible reflects upon itself in the way it tells the story and retells itself. In our Gospel reading we have a good example as Mark describes Jesus retelling words from Isaiah – reinterpreting the story for the present time. Reflecting the original meaning but also bringing that story into the present with its own meaning. He also retells this message not just through scripture but in a very short parable:
"It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch."
For many at this time of year there are different stories around about the approach of Christmas. Many of them are around in our shops or on our televisions There might be the fluffy fairy-dust filled Disney dream of a perfect white Christmas – that chocolate box image of the smiling perfect family gathered round a glowing fire with all the presents they desire. Or there might be more of an adventure or twist to the tale – some of you may have seen the John Lewis Christmas advert. We see a child frustratedly waiting for Christmas – counting down the days with grumpy anticipation . Yet when Christmas day dawns he rushes PAST the vast pile of presents at the foot of his bed and instead rushes to give his carefully chosen present to his parents. There are those for whom the approach of Christmas brings sorrow, desperation at the thought of not being able to afford it, sadness at missing family or at family disputes. A time not of joy but of stress and depression. There are also those unreformed scrooges who talk only of the waste of money on frivolities – excess food, extravagant gifts and blind consumerism for a meaningless commercialised winter festival. These four different ways of telling the story can give a very different message although they are about the same thing,.
Now I’m not sure any one of us has exactly those stories - I’m sure we each have our own distinct story of Christmas. How do we balance the stories of our faith, of the Christ child lost under the pile of tinsel, baubles and presents. We are conflicted with our right desires to express our love for families and friends through time together and gifts at this annual accustomed feast and our need to tell our Christian story of the greatest gift ever given – God’s gift of his son to the world as a poor, helpless baby. Of course we are waiting for Christmas, yet our readings both talk of waiting not for Christ’s first coming but his second. In our stories of Christmas, where does this return of Christ come?
Advent is our chance to remind ourselves of that coming of Christ not just at Bethlehem but also of his coming again. We may be caught up in all the distractions this season brings – card writing, present buying, gift wrapping, cake baking, mince-pie crafting, party going, carol singing, cracker pulling but the church calls us to live also outside this secular Christmas Wonderland story and to inhabit a story of expectation.
So, as you begin advent, I wonder what your story of Christmas is? How do you tell others the story of Christ’s coming through your life and through words? People may be asking a lot “Are you ready for Christmas?” but perhaps the more proper question for us is “Are you ready for Christ?