Sermon · Sunday Services

A series on the meaning of Christmas – Advent sermon 1

The Preachers of St Mary’s Anglican Church decided together to share our sermons on the blog, to share our message about the real meaning of Christmas. Today we share the first sermon, that was preached on 2 December 2018.

“There will be signs,” Jesus said.

When I was a child one of the signs I always looked forward to was my Advent calendar. Every year about this time my sister, brother and I were given a new Advent calendar. It was usually a beautiful picture that had a bunch of little numbered doors, one for each day of Advent. Each day we would open a little door on the calendar. Behind the door was a chocolate. Each door we opened was a sign Christmas was getting closer. We were counting down the days. That’s what Advent was about for us back then.

I liked Advent. I liked the way the house looked, the music my parents played, the bowls of snacks set out for guests. Advent was a time of expectation, anticipation, and excitement. Yes, it meant Jesus would be born in Bethlehem but it also meant grandparents, presents, and Santa Clause. I looked forward to the future one day at a time.

Then something happened. Somewhere along the way life got really real and Advent changed. Advent was no longer just the season before Christmas, a countdown. Instead it began to describe the reality of life and the world. The gospel texts about the destruction of the temple, war, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and betrayals as written in the previous verses (Luke 21:1-19) took on new and often very personal meanings.

Advent became a season of change, letting go, and looking to a future that was not yet clear or known. I’m not exactly sure when it began or how it happened but I know it did. All the signs were there.

  • It might have been the day my niece died, a world ended, and lives were lost, hers mine, our family. “There will be signs,” Jesus said.
  • It might have been reading the headlines and feeling like my prayers are unable to keep up with the pain and the needs of the world. “There will be signs,” Jesus said.
  • It might have been one too many pictures of another suicide bombing “There will be signs,” Jesus said.
  • It might have been waking up with the world each morning of the past week and wondering,
    • What’s next?
    • Where will it happen?
    • When will it take place?
    • “There will be signs,” Jesus said.

It might have been any one of these, all of them, or a thousand other things just like them. These are just a few of my Advent stories, stories about how my life has been changed and the world as I had known it ended.

What are your Advent stories? I’ll bet you have them. I’ll bet you could tell stories about the day your life was changed and your world ended. I’ll bet you have lived through seasons of change, letting go, and stepping into an uncertain future, maybe even a future you did not want.

I sometimes wish Advent was as simple and easy as opening a little door on the calendar, eating a piece of chocolate, and knowing that Christmas is one day closer. But it’s not. You and I both know the world is not that simple and life is not that easy. Maybe that’s why every year on this day, the First Sunday of Advent, we always hear a gospel text that seems to describe the end of the world and the signs that will accompany that ending.

This is not just a story about Jesus and his disciples. This is your story and my story. We experience it in our lives. We see it in our world. And today the Church declares it to be the good news of Christ.

“There will be signs,” Jesus said. More than ever our world needs to see the signs. The longer I live, the more I see and experience, the more I realize how necessary those signs are. I want to be reminded that the signs are there.

Every Advent story is accompanied by signs. Jesus says if we look we’ll see the signs everywhere; in the sun, the moon, the stars; in the distress among earth’s nations; and in the roaring of the sea and its waves. I can see them today in the pictures of refugees and in the world’s violence. I’ve no doubt you’ve seen the signs too, in your life and in the world. They’re everywhere and they are not hard to spot. They are, however, too easily and quickly misunderstood and misused.

“There will be signs” are words of hope and reassurance but far too often they are heard as words of warning and threat. And when they are, the signs are used to predict a future of impending doom and loss. They become indicators that the world will end and you better shape up or God is going to get you. Our misunderstanding of the signs pushes us further into the darkness and deeper into our fear. Our misuse of the signs blinds us to the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory.

“There will be signs” are not Jesus’ words of warning and threats. Jesus does not ask us to predict the future. He never says these are the signs that the end of the world has come.

Instead, he says that when we see the signs we are to stand up, raise our heads, and know that help is on the way; our redemption, our healing, our Savior have drawn near.

The signs are not a reason to hang our head in despair or shrink from life. That we can see the signs in our lives and world means that the circumstances we face and the events that happen contain and reveal the promise of Christ’s coming. The signs are our hope and reassurance that God has not abandoned us, that God notices us, that God cares, comes to, and participates in our life’s circumstances.

Jesus’ parable of the fig tree teaches us how to read the signs. The Advent signs are as ordinary and common as a fig tree sprouting leaves. We see the leaves and we know something is happening. Summer is already near. It’s a new season, with new life, new growth, new fruit. That is the promise and good news of the Advent signs. And yet that promise, that good news, is fulfilled not apart from but in and through the reality of our life’s circumstances and our world’s events, no matter how difficult or tragic they may be.

So, what if we looked on our lives and our world and we began to read and understand the signs in our Advent stories as sprouting leaves?

What would we see?

What would it mean?

It would mean that the kingdom of God is near. It would mean we are entering a new season. We would see new life and new growth. We would produce new fruit. We could open the doors of our life with new courage and confidence. We could look on the world with a new sense of compassion and hope. We would be strengthened to do the work God has given us to do.

Yes, the Advent seasons of our lives can be long, difficult, and painful. But we never face those seasons without the signs of hope and reassurance, signs that point to the one who is coming.

How to we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ? We can use today’s Psalm as an example of humble attitude before God. Jesus calls us to pray and Psalm 25 is a good example of a prayer that call us to penitence, a prayer asking for guidance and a prayer for protection, all very much needed in our day.

And in today’s text in Luke, we are called to live lives of vigilance, to live each day as if Jesus may return today.

What would you do differently if you knew Jesus would definitely return today?

Would you be kinder to the people you meet?

Would you be careful not to lose your temper?

Would you go out of your way to help a stranger?

Would you read your Bible more and pray more?

How would your life be different?

This text asks us to question how prepared we are for the return of Jesus, to take stock of our lives, really look at the areas that need work and think about how we could live differently. This text is a call to action, to be expectant, to be prepared.

“There will be signs,” Jesus said.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin
From The Rector's Desk

From The Rector’s Desk 22 December 2019

As we journey with the coming of Christ, into our lives and into our world, we are struck with a sense that it is merely us recognizing Christ in His world and in His creation, us. We are one with God by design and separated from Him only by our own blindness and inability to walk in His ways (Lameness). It is not surprising that so many of Jesus’ miracles were restoring sight and getting people walking. Recognition of Christ achieves these two things. So let us today reflect upon finding Christ within us.

We are trained to find Christ in the liturgy, in the Bible, the sermon and in others, but “Thy Kingdom come” means that we have to find Him within ourselves.

Take time to seek Christ within. Within your past? Where has Jesus been at work in your life, (known to you and never before acknowledged). What is Jesus doing in your life today? – How are you reflecting His image in your lifestyle, your attitudes, and your actions? And where is Christ in your future? – What are your hopes and dreams and how do they reflect Christ in you?

As we grapple with “Thy Kingdom com on earth as it is in heaven;” what are our expectations of both Heaven and earth? In a sense – our vision of heaven is our ideal of Christ, what we define God to be in all His perfection. Our idea of “Thy Kingdom on earth” is our ability to live out God’s values in the here and now, and our picture of hell, is “the world with it’s back turned on Christ our Saviour.”

Advent is the reminder that “the Kingdom of God is near,” that we are able to walk in His Truth and do His will, if we will only humble ourselves and seek first the Kingdom.

The Advent of Christ mus be a personal acknowledgement what God has done for us, we live in gratitude, when we recognize God’s hand in our present, we live in humility and when we trust God with our future, we live in Hope.

When our lives are filled with gratitude, we can understand and share mercy, when our lives are filled with humility, we can serve others and when our lives are filled with Hope, we can truly bring light into darkness.

This Advent, follow the stars that lead to Jesus the Christ. This Advent, listen to the voice of the (Angels) messengers of God, the poor, the marginalized, the voiceless. Listen to creation groan, listen to the cries of the discouraged and the lonely and the heartbroken and hear that God has (in the words of Richard Rohr) a bias for the poor. But God does not want us to pity others, He wants us to hear them! And then work for justice and reconciliation. God wants us to hear Him and to return to Him and live out His Kingdom values in the world.

This Advent:

May your wisdom and privilege (symbolized by the wise men) kneel at the feet of Jesus and offer Him your gift of your whole life! May your toil and labour (symbolized by the shepherds) kneel at the feet of Jesus and offer Him your service, may your weakness, and ignorance and compliance (symbolized by the animals), sit at the feet of Jesus, to be used by Him and, may your song and speech and your actions be messengers of God (symbolized by the Angels). Proclaiming in thought, word and deed, how great is our God and how wonderful His love for us.

May our God accept you into His story and there give you the life that He has promised. A blessed and purposeful and joyous life, lived in the Name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord is KING! He Reigns!

Yours in Christ

Fr. Andrew Manning