Sermon – 1st December 2019

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Advent Sunday – evening

Sunday 1st December 2019

Advent Sunday – evening
Isa. 52. 1-12,
Matt. 24. 15-28

Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs

Maureen Hoobs

There’s a well known country and western song by Kenny Rogers called the Gambler – Anyone know it?

And the chorus reminds me a bit of our second reading this Advent Sunday evening.

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…

The setting for our second reading this evening is Jesus warning his disciples of the judgment to fall on Jerusalem and her people in the future and the city’s ultimate destruction. And reference is made back to the book of Daniel – which was an extremely popular work in the first century. Jesus drew on it freely as did many of his contemporaries. It describes in a series of stories and dreams, how God’s kingdom will triumph over the kingdoms of the world. – Which I guess would have appealed to a people undergoing occupation and suppression by a foreign pagan power. Like many of the passages that we read during Advent, the message is one of hope – but a hope born of despair

Within the book of Daniel is a prediction of the eventual resurrection of all God’s people, but before that can happen, something blasphemous and sacrilegious will be placed in the Temple itself – a thought that must have been completely appalling to the contemporaries of Jesus! But this, it seems, will be part of the sequence of events through which God will redeem his true people, send his true Messiah, and bring his age old plan to completion.

And it wasn’t long before this very nearly happened. In AD40 Caligula was on the point of installing a huge statue of himself in the Temple in order deliberately to offend and provoke the Jews. But instead he was assassinated, and it was another 30 years before Roman legions surrounded the Temple and placed their blasphemous standards there – which was indeed the beginning of the end of Jerusalem for many centuries.

And it seems that Jesus’ advice to his followers when all this was kicking off, was not to stay and fight to defend their way of life, but to run for the hills and save what they could.

They were to run away because Jerusalem itself was under God’s judgment, and the pagan images in the Temple were a sure sign that judgment was about to fall. Jesus wanted to rescue as many of his followers as possible. It would be a time of great suffering and hardship, but through it all, God will remain faithful to the few. As we await and prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord, we keep faith that our God does indeed reign, despite sometimes the evidence to the contrary.

The terrible times of the first century were to be echoed many times since and many would argue we are going through another such period of turmoil – only this time it is the earth itself that seems to be turning against us for all the damage and desecration that we have – as a race – visited upon her.

And even today as we sit here in comparative comfort and great safety, some of our brother and sister Christians will be running away from evil regimes and will be tortured and killed for their faith.

We are entering the great time of preparation for the feast of the Incarnation. Many want to rush ahead to all the jolly times to come – without realising that you don’t get the most out of all the fun things if you have not prepared a bit before hand. And that sometimes means thinking about the mistakes we have made; the things we have got wrong and why our hearts and minds may not yet be ready to welcome the Christ child in when he comes. We could all do with a good helping of wisdom to get us through the days and weeks ahead.

Our ancestors long ago came up with a series of responses – the Great O Antiphons some of which go to make up the words of the Anthem the choir will sing tonight – O come, O come Emmanuel. The first of these Antiphons – O Sapientia or O Wisdom, is also the inspiration behind a sonnet written by a modern poet and priest Malcolm Guite. So as you listen to these words, pray for that helping of wisdom that we may all make a good Advent; a good time of watching and waiting; a good preparation for the coming of God among us – Emmanuel.

O Sapientia
I cannot think – unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak – unless I have been spoken;
I cannot teach – except as I am taught,
Or break the bread – except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light – by which I see,
O Word, beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song, whose depth is sounding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s bounding line, defining me:
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.