(Note: DVD of the 9:45 service are available at Church Office free of charge. Please contact church office for more information)
Well, there are just 24 more days to Christmas! Are you starting to panic? Think about all that has to be done – Christmas presents to be purchased, cards to be sent, food to be bought, meals to be cooked!
Over the next three and a bit weeks, end of year events and Christmas parties are the order of the day for many of us. But what do we really make of this time leading up to Christmas?
During the sixth century a tradition developed where the four weeks before Christmas were set aside as a period to prepare for the Christmas event.
Called “Advent”, this period concentrated on the coming of Jesus. It was an opportunity to actually do two things – to look back into history to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – and to look forward to the future when this Jesus would fully appear as God’s new creation is realised – when Jesus Christ would return as God completes what God started when his Son walked this earth – when everything that God promised in terms of a new order of justice and peace will be fulfilled.
The ancient prophet, Isaiah, picked up on this idea, about eight hundred years before the birth of Christ. For Isaiah believed in celebrating the past. But he was also committed to thinking about the future. And in today’s reading Isaiah speaks about a future with God in terms of “the last days”.
In these “last days” people from every corner of the earth will gather together in peace and in the presence of God on Mount Zion.
Zion refers to a point and a place in history where God’s new creation of justice and peace will be fully revealed. And for the ancient Hebrew prophets this was to be city of Jerusalem.
Isaiah goes on. As the nations gather in these “last days”, God will arbitrate between them and the nations will make peace. Swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears will be forged into pruning hooks!
This is a most brilliant vision – and Isaiah’s words have made a real impact. Today they appear on a wall outside the United Nations building in New York.
These words helped drive those who opposed the totalitarian regime in East Germany, these words have inspired numerous international peace movements around the world and they have constantly motivated Christian leaders over the centuries in their struggle for justice and reform.
And we believe this event described by Isaiah, in the second chapter of his book, is now gathered up and made possible, not in a future single event taking place in Jerusalem, but in the coming of Jesus Christ.
In other words, we believe that the event Isaiah refers to on Mount Zion, points to a more glorious event when God acts to bring about the realisation of God’s new creation. This takes place, initially in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. And it reaches its full manifestation when Jesus Christ is fully revealed to us sometime in the future.
Now this is pretty “heady” stuff and you may wish to express a degree of caution here. For we have all been proselytized by ardent enthusiasts who proclaim the world is coming to an end and Jesus is coming back to whisk the faithful away, leaving most people to delights of the devil!
But the vision of Jesus Christ coming to us in his birth in Bethlehem followed by his future coming to us in the culmination of time – is central to what believe – and who we are as Christian people.
And Advent is the time when we think about this – when we reflect on these things. Advent is a serious time. It’s a time when look back at who Jesus was. It’s a time when we consider the things Jesus did and it’s a time when we reflect on the promises Jesus made.
Then we look forward, not with fear or reservation, but with hope and expectation, towards the future when everything Jesus was, when all that Jesus did and when the promises Jesus made – are fully realised. We look to a time when these things are made fully present to the whole creation in what Isaiah refers to as the “last days” – and in what the early Christians believed as the Second Coming of Christ.
And in concrete terms this means we are called to bear witness to a time when children will no longer be indiscriminately slaughtered as they are being in Syria today. It means there will be a time when young kids in Africa will no longer be orphaned because their parents die from AIDS.
It means there will be a time when people in our community will no longer feel isolated, lonely, alienated or depressed. It means there will a time when a wealthy, prosperous country like Australia will no longer fear the outside world or choose to lock up mothers and children because they arrive here without notice on rickety boats rather than on commercial flights.
Friends, Advent is a time of looking back and it’s a time of looking forward.
It’s a time during which we, with confidence, can affirm – that what God has done in Jesus
Christ in the past – is our blueprint for the future.
So the cry of joy as Mary announces the birth of Jesus, the peace and serenity of that wintry Bethlehem night when Jesus was born, the wonder and faithfulness of those shepherds who gathered around the manger, the magnificence of the angels as they proclaim God’s glory, and the wisdom and insight of those visitors from the East, are all precursors to what we now embrace. They are all forerunners to what we expect, to what we live, long for and hope for.
On this First Sunday of Advent, may we be a people who embrace – and who live out – this truth. For this is a time to look back and it’s a time to look forward. It’s a time to wonder and it’s a time to dream – as we anticipate, as we believe, and as we bear witness to the coming full realisation of God’s reign of justice and peace.
Daniel Berrigan is a Jesuit who has spoken well about these matters. In his testimony “The
Word Made Flesh” Daniel says:
It is not true that: creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
What is true is that: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that: we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
What is true is that: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that: violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
What is true is that: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that: we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
What is true is that: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.
It is not true that: we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
What is true is that: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that: our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
What is true is that: the hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ — the life of the world.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, may this Advent be a special time for you – as you look back and as you look forward. And as you prepare to receive the greatest gift of all!
To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen.