First Sunday in Advent and celebration of Holy Communion

Service Date:
3 December, 2017

Worship was led by The Revd. Dr. David Stec who preached on the concept of ‘if God was here the world would be a better place.’ In the old testament there are examples of people feeling cut off from God and in our world, our country, our city, there are tensions, fear, inequality, cruelty and suffering. But God made a second covenant with His people and sent His Son to save and redeem the world. Jesus made it clear to his disciples that suffering and tribulation lay ahead but that the Son of Man would come again – but only God knew when. Therefore during Advent we need to be vigilant like the early church and, as we contemplate the state of the world, trust that God will come again and complete his work.

Hymns:

Rejoice and Sing 130  Behold the mountain of the Lord

Rejoice and Sing 552  The King of love my Shepherd is

Rejoice and Sing 447  I come with joy to meet my Lord

Rejoice and Sing 638  Thy kingdom come, O God

Sermon:

Readings

Isaiah chapter 64 verses 1 – 12

Psalm 80 verses 1 – 7 and 17 – 19

First letter to the Corinthians chapter 1 verses 3 – 9

Mark chapter 13 verses 24 – 37

“God is in his heaven and all is well with the world”.

This is a sentiment which has sometimes been expressed as a caricature of religious belief, particularly by those who do not have such a belief.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

All is not well with the world, and it never has been.

In recent years much blood has been shed in conflicts in the middle-east.

The war in Syria continues to cause immense suffering to those caught up in it, we continue to hear of bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the fighting in Yemen causes great hardship to many.

Terrorism has brought tragedy to folk in communities all over the world including this land; and only a week or so ago there was the atrocity carried out at the mosque in the Sinai.

Elsewhere in the world, the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh give some appalling accounts of the events which caused them to flee from their home in Burma.

In the world as a whole there is little trust between east and west, and the tension between North and South Korea could so easily lead to war with unimaginable consequences.

In our own society there is a great disparity in the distribution of wealth, with some enjoying an enormous income while others are reduced to using food banks, and all too many are homeless.

 

These are just some of the respects in which all is far from well in today’s world, and I am sure that you could list many more.

In every age there has been much wrong with the world.

This was certainly true of the time in which the writer of our OT lesson lived.

This passage is to be found in the third section of the Book of Isaiah.

The first section of Isaiah, consisting of chapters 1-39 is concerned with the ministry and message of the prophet Isaiah, who lived in Jerusalem during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah in the 8th century BC.

The second section, made up of chapters 40 to 55 are the work of a prophet who lived among the Judaean exiles in Babylon.

The third section, consisting of chapters 56 to 66 has its location in Jerusalem, and is made up of some diverse material, much of it belonging to the time after these exiles had returned from Babylon.

It is possible that our OT lesson belongs to the time immediately after they had returned to Jerusalem, and before they had rebuilt the city.

But it is more likely that it originated among the small company of those who had been left behind in Jerusalem during the exile.

They had lived through the catastrophe that had befallen the city in 587 BC, when the Babylonians conquered it, devastated it, and burnt down the temple.

These traumatic events were still a fresh memory for them.

Our OT lesson is part of a psalm of lamentation which begins at Isa 63:7 and continues to the end of chapter 64.

It is written in the style of the psalms of lamentation found in the Book of Psalms, and would not be out of place there.

This psalm opens with the community recounting God’s acts of redemption on behalf of his people in the past.

Then it moves on to an appeal to God for his help in their present pitiable condition.

The temple is in ruins, and the community prays:

“Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and glorious habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The yearning of your heart and your compassion? They are withheld from me.” (63:15).

“Your holy people took possession for a little while; but now our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary. We have long been like those whom you do not rule, like those not called by your name.” (63:18-19).

The community then goes on to confess its sin, and at the end of chapter 64 makes a final plea for God’s help.

The whole psalm is really a lamentation over the present state of affairs, and an appeal for the intervention of God.

Nowhere is this more passionately expressed than in the words, “O that you would rend the heavens and come down!”

In the distress of the people, it seemed that they were cut off from God.

It seemed that somehow God was remote from them, and not listening to their cries.

He was in his dwelling place in heaven, and it was as though there an impenetrable barrier between him and his people.

It seemed either that he was not aware of how desperate their predicament was, or that he had abandoned them to it.

The idea that God might rend the heavens and come down involves the ancient Hebrew belief that there was a firmament above the heavens.

This was a solid vault, above which was water, and above that was the dwelling place of God.

The prayer here is that God would rend this firmament and come down from his remote habitation to the aid of his people.

Such a concept may be quite alien to a modern scientific mind, but the figurative language used to express it can be powerful and meaningful to the people of every age.

Throughout the centuries there have been people who in a time of great distress and tribulation have felt a profound sense of isolation from God, because of what has befallen them.

They have felt that God was not there with them, but that if he was with them, somehow things would be very different.

And perhaps there have been times when in a moment of personal crisis, you have had the same feeling too.

It is important to remember that the prophets and psalmists who lamented over the present condition of their people could still look forward to the future with hope.

God’s first covenant with his people had been a failure, but he would make a new covenant.

He might abandon his people in the short term, but ultimately he would return to them with a new act of redemption, and fulfil his loving purposes for them.

Of course, what the thinkers of the OT looked forward to came to pass only with the advent of Christ.

In the end, God gave his own son for the redemption of the world.

Far from abandoning the world to wallow in its distress, he sent his son into the middle of that distress.

And the world was in such a sorry state that God’s son could redeem it only by sharing in its pain.

The fact that God gave his son to the world to suffer the indignity, cruelty and agony of the crucifixion, in order to redeem it, means that God is with us in the tribulations of our world.

The world in which we live is still in a far from perfect state, as I have already said.

But Christ has come, and because he has come we have hope.

The psalmist who wrote that lament in Isa 64 knew all about the importance of waiting for God to act, as he acknowledged in verse 4: “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.”

When Jesus taught his disciples in Jerusalem during the last week before his crucifixion, he left them under no illusions about the tribulations which lay ahead for them.

He spoke of the persecutions which the early church was to face in terms of the events at the end of time.

In Mark 13 Jesus made use of a kind of Jewish literature known as apocalypse, from the Greek word meaning “revelation”, to describe these events.

The culmination of these events is when a supernatural figure called the Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory to gather his elect from the ends of the earth.

The early church identified this Son of Man with Jesus, and as they faced great persecutions, they looked forward to the time when Jesus would come for a second time, to perfect God’s kingdom here on earth.

Jesus left his disciples with a message of the importance of watching and waiting: “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33).

At this season of Advent as we contemplate the state of the world, we share with the early church in their watching and waiting, and we also share with them in their hope that, through the coming of Christ, God’s work will be made complete.

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