Sermon – Advent Sunday 2004

There is a series of books which are published over in America which is based on the gospel reading that we have had this morning.

They are available over hear ? perhaps someone has seen them. They are based on the premise that on one unexpected day, individuals will be picked up from the earth by a picky God who will take only those whose names are on a list ? the list of those who have ticked all the boxes on the salvation approval list. And the rest will be left behind ? hence the name of the series of books ? the Left Behind series. It is a series of novels about what happens after the rapture.

And certain kinds of churches and certain kinds of people lap them up ? a foretaste of a day of reckoning that is just around the corner.

People read these books as though they are fact ? I would read them, if I read them at all as a strange kind of science fiction. Religious science fiction, if you like.

Yet the gospel reading this morning makes me stop in my tracks and take stock. For these words are in the gospel ? ?one will be taken and one will be left?. How am I to interpret that kind of sentiment? Will partnerships, marriages, families and friendships be shattered on one terrible day by a God who has come to take his own ones back to heaven leaving all the rest behind?

Or, as I would like to suggest, do the relationships which bind us here on earth tell us something about the God who loves us?

?One shall be taken and one left behind.? What can it mean to me?

Well, I have some ideas, and I will come back to them in a minute. For a moment, let us pause at the start of this season and take stock.

For pausing and taking stock is just what Advent is all about. Stopping still and waiting expectantly for the Lord is the very stuff which Advent is made on.

This is the start of the Church year. A new year. The colours change. The violet and blue of Advent expectation fills the church. We know that something big is coming in four weeks time, yet the church offers us those four weeks as weeks of expectation. Weeks for waiting. Weeks for lighting lamps in the darkness of the year. Weeks pregnant with expectation.

And this week, in a moment or two we will light the candles on the Advent ring. And this year, with each candle, we will hear a story ? each week the story of a different child, courtesy of Christian Aid.

As we light the lights on the ring this year, remember why we have candles in church at all. For the early church kindled lamps not simply to cheer themselves up in the winter. The early Christians kindled lamps because their natural time of meeting was at night ? for they had neither the dignity or security of meeting in daylight. And lamps would be lit at night when they gathered and not extinguished until they celebrated the resurrection at dawn of the next day. Lamps would be kindled so that they could worship together, but also so that they could identify one another. We come here to a beautiful, secure church in the heart of a small community. Early Christians met by night and had to be careful who they let through the doors.

And these things still happen. I?ve been to a service in the Middle East where a lamp was held up to everyone entering and identities were checked before the congregation could gather. And that was not a part of the liturgy ? it was a matter of safety.

This week the Collect of the day included these words ? ?hasten the advent of that day when the sounds of war will be for ever stilled, the darkness of evil scattered, and all your children gathered into one.? Let us remember this year those places where children are scared of tomorrow, where people are hunted down from their homes. Let us remember the Christians in Iraq whose security is threatened more and more as these terrible days go on.

Let us pray and work for that day when the sounds of war will be forever stilled.

For that is the day of salvation. The day when Jesus Christ is restored, fully restored in this world is not a day where the petty righteous whoosh away heavenward. It is the day which Christians keep in the backs of their minds at all times. The day of the Lord when all wrongs are put right. The day when the hungry have food, the thirsty have water, the day when the sounds of war are stilled and will never begin again. On that day, we will know that Christ has come again. That is the day that we keep in mind in our prayers. That is the hope that we keep sacred in our hearts. That is the dream that all people of goodwill keep on dreaming day by day.

And that is the key to the gospel reading this morning. For these things are not really in the future. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day of the Lord.

We work side by side with all kinds of people. Is that dream of a better tomorrow alive in those around us. If two are in a field, have both realised the good news yet ? that God has planned nothing but love for the world. Where two women work together, do both dream the same dream of the peoples of the world set free from what harms them? Where men work alongside one another, does each heart beat with the same expectation ? the expectation that God?s day could yet dawn?

Jesus is not setting up a science fiction fantasy world. He is telling it how it is. For the truth is, not everyone has accepted that there is good news. Not everyone knows what it is like to be caught up into the heaven of God?s expectations for this world.

This advent, take stock. Sit and think. Sit with expectation in your heart. Hope with all the hope you can muster for a world where the sounds of war are stilled. This advent ? wait for God to come to you. This advent ? watch for God at work in the world. This advent ? pray in that kingdom and dream God?s dream anew.


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