Advent Sunday 2009

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Sermon Date: 
29 Nov 2009
Bible Base: 
1 Thessalonians 3: 9 to end; Luke 21: 25-36
Preacher: 
David Jeans

One of our favourite TV characters was created some years ago by Harry Enfield. It was a perfectly nice twelve year old boy who had his thirteenth birthday and suddenly turned into ....Kevin. It’s not fair! I hate you! (Actually a similar thing seemed to happen to our kitten when he got to one year old....Kiri suddenly became Kevin)
Actually there’s another change that seems to happen that is not so noticeable. It happens in later life and is well illustrated by some quotes I found this week[1].
We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit taverns and have no self control.
Yes it’s the grumpy old men/women syndrome. It’s always been around of course. That quote was an inscription on an Egyptian tomb from about 4000 BC!
Others in a similar vein:- When I was young we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint (Hesiod 8th century BC)
What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them? (Plato 4th century BC)
I suppose the characteristic question of the grumpy old men/women is ‘What is the world coming to?’
And yet, it seems to be a right question for every generation and particularly in this time of apparent climate change in which 1 in 1000 year events seem quite common; in this age of terrorism when innocent women and children are regarded as fair targets; in this age of cynicism in which people unashamedly lining their own pockets no longer surprise us.
And for us personally a real question that now faces us is ‘What future for our grandchildren?’ ‘What sort of world will they grow up in?’ ‘What can we hope for?’
In our Gospel reading Jesus was speaking to his disciples about true hope and false hope. He was trying to prepare them for a time of great upheaval. If you look at the start of this passage (v 5) you will see that he was speaking in response to talk about how wonderful the Temple was. They were putting their hope in the temple and all it stood for. But as we have been seeing in the last couple of weeks that was not the right place for their hope.
Their world was about to be shaken apart. Jesus himself would be arrested, falsely condemned and killed (and of course rise again, but they did not know that). Jesus would not establish Israel as number 1 nation. Rather, he would establish a kingdom for all peoples fulfilling the promises to Abraham. The nations who were oppressing them would become part of the people of God. But also Gentiles (ie Rome) will defeat Jerusalem and destroy the temple. A new and different age was beginning (the time of the Gentiles v 24). But this would end in the renewal of all things when Jesus returns.
Jesus was telling them not only that they were hoping in the wrong things, but also that their hope was too small. Too small because it was a hope just about themselves instead of a hope for the whole world.
What can we hope for? There are 2 hopes for the future which are not big enough hopes. The 19th century hope of ongoing progress is one of them. Today that hope has been dashed by 2 world wars, terrorism, pollution and climate change. The other hope which is not big enough is the hope that many think is the Christian hope. The idea that the gospel is simply about eternal life for individuals in heaven with God while the creation is destroyed when Jesus returns. I do not think that is what the Bible says. (Now I know in v 33 Jesus says ‘heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away’. But he is making a point about the permanence of his teaching – I don’t think he is saying that earth will actually pass away – anymore than I think he is saying that heaven will actually pass away.)
The biblical Christian hope is bigger than either of these. It is bigger than the first because it recognises that God will call an end to this age to bring in the age of eternity. The world will not get better and better without God’s final intervention.
And it is bigger than the second because it includes the redemption, renewal and transformation of the whole creation. That is what the Bible has been promising all along. The creation is very good. Humankind is called to look after it as we exercise our responsibility as those made in the image of God. When humans disobeyed God, God called Abraham and promised to bless all nations through him (not just Israel). That promise is fulfilled in Jesus (descended from Abraham), who sends us into the world to bring that blessing to others. (Post-communion prayer)
And the final promise is that Jesus will return to bring in the age of eternity as God makes all things new in the new heaven and the new earth. Read carefully Revelation 21 and 22. The heavenly city comes to earth! Jesus will not return to take us somewhere else. He will return permanently. God’s presence will fill his creation and transform it – which has always been God’s intention. He did not make a very good creation to throw it away! Eternal life will be in this renewed creation. The good things in it will not be lost.
 
Of course, Jesus will also return to judge the world. That is because there are things in the world that God does not want in the new creation. Indeed there are things in us that God does not want in the new creation (and nor do we).
Tom Wright:- ‘We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible ...God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy, and indeed the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance and oppression, the thought that there might be a coming day when the wicked are put firmly in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment’.[2]
So judgment is actually good news. And as those who are in Christ, as those who follow Christ, we do not fear judgment because our sin has already been judged on the cross.
So what can we hope for? In the end a new creation where there is no more mourning, crying or pain, where God will wipe away the tears from every eye and where God will live among his people. The biblical hope is that God comes to be with us in the new creation. Those who die in the faith of Christ go to be with God in heaven until that happens – but the life of eternity will be in this creation renewed and transformed. Heaven will come to earth!
So what difference does all this make to us here and now? Our New Testament reading was from 1 Thessalonians, the earliest of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Listen to verses 12 and 13
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with his holy ones.
Paul does not say ‘it does not matter how you live because Jesus is coming again and then you will all be changed into perfect people’. Paul wants the life of eternity – characterised by love – to start now. In Romans and Ephesians he urges us to live now as children of light, characterised by love, righteousness and truth. In 1 Corinthians he calls us to live lives of love because love lasts for ever.
Our hope is that God will finally intervene to bring about a new redeemed and transformed creation which will last for eternity. Our hope is that through the death of Christ we will have eternal life in that new creation. That hope can sustain us through difficult times. But it can also motivate us to work for that new creation.
One of the silliest comments I hear (usually from America) is that we don’t need to look after the creation because God is going to destroy it. That is not the biblical hope. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says after a long passage about the resurrection ‘Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ The good things that God does through us – for other people, in our own growth in Christlike character, in our care of God’s creation – will not be in vain. They will somehow be carried on into the new creation.
I’ll finish with something more from Tom Wright. (Surprised by Hope pp 219-220)
Every act of love, gratitude and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of od and the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings, and for that matter one’s fellow non-human creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed which spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honoured in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation which God will one day make.

[1] All from www.anxietyculture.com/antisocial.htm

[2] Tom Wright Surprised by Hope (SPCK 2007) p 150