Saturday, 1 December 2012

Advent: a never-ending story

1 Thessalonians 3:9-end
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 

Luke 21: 25-36 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. 

A good story always begins with ‘Once upon a time’ and today the church’s story begins all over again with the first Sunday in Advent.

It is good to tell stories. Humans have done so down millennia to remind themselves of who they are, where they come from and where they’re going.

And the story of the church is the same.

Or perhaps we should say ‘the story of the kingdom’, because the origin, power and end point of the story is God and God’s everlasting kingdom, in which we have a part to play.

So let’s tell the story again.

Once there was a garden, planted east of Eden.

In it the Lord God placed a man and a woman as co-workers to till the soil and walk in fellowship with him and with one another. They were to enjoy all the fruits of the garden, except the fruit of the tree of good and evil. To enjoy the fruits of this tree was to choose to be god.

The heavenly host looked on in anticipation. Their purpose and meaning was to glorify and praise the King of Heaven for ever.

But they were sentient beings with the choice to praise, or not to praise.

Among them was one who wished for autonomy. In other words he wished to be his own god. He fell from heaven, bringing down a third of the host with him, like stars falling to earth.

He took the form of a serpent, the craftiest of beasts and came to the woman in the garden.

‘Did God really say…?’

And so the woman and the man chose to disobey. They said ‘we know better than the God who made us’.

As for the pattern of evil brought in by the serpent, God said ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head and you will bruise his heel.’

The sons and daughters of the first man and the first woman populated the earth.

They all had the same choice: the way of fellowship with God or the way of autonomy.

There was an increase of evil; a flood; a new beginning; the choosing of the nations and the special call of God’s people, through the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Leah and Rachel built up the House of Israel with twelve sons who became a nation.

But famine brought Jacob's sons to Egypt where they lived and multiplied; God’s people in an alien culture, until they were oppressed by Pharaoh.

God called Moses to lead them out to the Promised Land and to give them his holy laws under which to live, caring for the widow and the alien in their midst.

Judges gave way to Kings. King David was promised a faithful descendent who would rule over his people for ever.

But God’s people did not allow God to be King amongst them. Unfaithfulness led to oppression by foreign powers as they brought God’s judgment upon themselves time and time again.

But there was always the hope of something better to come; The hint of an everlasting kingdom.

There would be a leader who would call God’s people back to faithfulness; the Son of Man who leads his children like a shepherd leads the sheep.

But there would be judgment too: ‘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.

The Prophets were the ones to call the people back to faithfulness; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel; their words sometimes falling on deaf ears, sometimes on willing. Kings came and went, good and evil growing together until the harvest.

When evil predominated, God’s people went into Exile. ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.’ ‘How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!’

Daniel prayed. Nehemiah acted. Ezra taught the law. God was on the move once more. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt; the exiles returned. Prophets foretold the birth of a baby, born in the city of Bethlehem, where Ruth had brought her longed for son into the world.

‘Everything works together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose’.

‘Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name ‘Immanuel’’.

And yet that pattern of good and evil…. ‘Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child. And she gave birth to a son….who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.’

Jesus ‘went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden…Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place…(he) brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came with lanterns and torches and weapons…’

Why didn't you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns."

Zechariah told us this: ‘They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a first born son.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’

‘And I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.’

Finally the way was opened for us to be reconciled directly with our Maker. The kingdom was breaking in and continues to this day. The kingdom of God is inside you. The kingdom of God is here and yet still to come.

We have heard the story a thousand times. It is a story in progress. We each have a place in the story. How did you find your place?

Who first told you the story?

Are you living the story?

How will the story play out in this place where we live?

Who else will become part of the story through the witness of us as church?

This Advent Sunday we anticipate the end of the story – the foretelling of a kingdom brought in by judgement and mercy; ‘the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ’.

The story of our lives now, connects with the story of the kingdom.

This world is not our home: we look to a home that is to come.

Meanwhile we live with joy as children of the kingdom, proclaiming his death and resurrection every time we eat the bread and drink the cup, until he comes again.


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