Christ is coming again soon (Matthew 24:36-44). The earth is not never-ending, but has a fixed history. Today, on the first Sunday of Advent, we'll be unpacking what it means for our lives now, and hearing the good news that in Christ Jesus the end is also the beginning.
Prior to Jesus ascending into heaven, he assured his disciples that he would return. It has been 2,000 years and counting and we are still waiting. Jesus knew this would create problems for his disciples about what they should do as they waited. He told plenty of parables to help keep us focused on the call to use our gifts in expectation of his return. What we do with our time on earth does matter because we are called to engage in the mission of Jesus to our world.
Is it good to reach the end, or is it bad? It really depends on what is coming to an end. Most of us are happy to see the end of sickness, injury or pain, but we’re sad to see the end of something that has been a big part of our lives, like a special human relationship, as many of us experienced last week in our All Saints’ Day service.
When Jesus rose from the dead, he brought about the beginning of the end – and this was a good thing. It didn’t look good to start with; he suffered terribly on the cross and appeared to be defeated by his enemies. But Jesus, in fact, defeated his enemies – and ours – by dying for our sins and rising from the dead. This was the beginning of the end for sin, for the power of the devil, and for the reign of death. The beginning of the end looked bad, but it’s actually good.
In the same way, as we anticipate the end of this world and Christ’s triumphant return, there are things that seem scary and intimidating. It doesn’t sound all that good. But it is, because Jesus, the one who is coming, is good. Very good. The beginning of the end was good when he rose from the dead, so when the end comes in fullness it will be even better.
Let’s not face the end with fear or anxiety, but with joyful vigilance, so that we may stand firm by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today is All Saints Day, a day when we remember those who have died in the past year who shared our faith and hope in Jesus Christ. We remember all Christians who have gone before us, especially those who paid the ultimate price for their faith. The message today will reflect on Proverbs 10:7 - “The memory of the righteous is a blessing”. Who might you be conscious of before God today and want to thank him for?
In today’s Gospel Jesus promises : “Blessed are you who mourn now, for you will laugh” Luke 6:21 What brings tears to your eyes when you remember one of God’s saints? What brings you a smile, and laughter even? How does Jesus enable you to both laugh and cry, and in the end, to have the “last laugh” over all sadness including death?
Psalm 46 is the great Reformation Psalm, on which Luther based his popular hymn 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God'. It depicts God's ancient people, Israel under attack in their fortified city of Jerusalem, where they take refuge inside the city walls, where God himself is present in the holy temple to protect them.
Luther also spent time in a fortress (The 'Wartburg' in the mountains of Thuringia) hiding from his enemies who wanted to arrest and kill him, in 1521-1522. Inside the walls of that Fortress God was present too, as he worked in and through the heart and mind of Luther who spent his months in hiding translating the New Testament from Latin into the common language of his countrymen, German, making it accessible to everyone who could read the language. This translation was published in September, 1522, and is called the 'September Testament'. This year we have just had the 500th anniversary of this important event.
Just as the true fortress of Israel was not any stronghold built by human hands, but God himself and his presence with them, so Luther's true rock and refuge was not the Wartburg, but God's powerful word and its promises. So for us today, as we pray Psalm 46, we take refuge in God who is present with at every moment of threat and danger and in every trial, speaking his word of grace and promise to us.
There are 8,000 million of us! We share creation with 1,500 million cattle, 4 thousand rhinos, 70,000 million chickens, 3 thousand tigers, 200 million cats and 171 million dogs. And no Tasmanian tigers. Are there any rules on how we should get along? Do we need to think animal rights? Some say animals are a natural resource for us to use as we see fit. Only humans created in the image of God have rights. Others say only animals that we like have rights. Others say that we are all just animals.
Christians begin with God and the rainbow covenant God made not just with humans but with all animals. Jesus expressed this - born with animals, going into Jerusalem with a donkey companion, freeing sacrificial pigeons and treasuring sparrows. Animals don’t need our patronising love. They need respect and honouring for who they are. And we need to listen to the Gospel of God they share. Listen to our animal friends to learn about forgiveness and love and unconditional acceptance.
Jabez has one mention in the Bible - 1000 years before Jesus he prayed “Bless me, God, and give me much land. Be with me and keep me from anything evil that might cause me pain.” And God gave him what he prayed for. We still pray it. “Bless me Lord and give me property, security, comfort, status, and lots of new stuff. And God has blessed us materially more than any people in the history of the world. And now we are being forced to face the cost of the way we have claimed this blessing. Creation is paying and hurting for us. We are being forced to pray the second phrase “Protect me from anything evil that might cause me pain” Like floods and fires, pollution and extinctions. We all try to care for creation by recycling and composting. But the little I do makes no difference. I am trapped by the way I am caught up in the economy. It’s easy to end up despairing. Where does hope come from, and peace?
Our world is wonderful and amazing! Aussies love the great outdoors - gardening and bushwalking, fishing and camping. People will say nature is where I recognise the mystery and wonder of God, where I feel closest to God. This week we are beginning a 3-week Season of Creation reflecting on the mystery and wonder of God the Creator and the world he has entrusted to us.
This week’s emphasis thought comes from Psalm 104 “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works”. We would expect it to say, “May we rejoice in God’s works - appreciate creation, delight in it, use it”. There is truth in this - and there can be peril if I start thinking of creation as a great gift of God just for me and the whole world is there for me to use and enjoy. I think this has become the great sin of our world - to see nature as something to be used and exploited to the maximum. I can do whatever I want to do with trees and oil, rivers and oceans, fishes and koalas. Nature is mine and I am accountable to no one. But the Psalm says “May the Lord (not me) rejoice in his works". This is the starting point for how we celebrate creation!
Many of us would remember clearly our Confirmation Day. It was a significant step in our faith journey. I’m sure that not many of us felt up to the job. But the good news is that God’s promises to us are the starting point. He has given us grace, mercy and peace. His Holy Spirit lives in us, keeping us on track, fanning into flames his gifts, and enabling us to live in faith and love.