Service for Sunday 29th November

Advent Sunday

This Service will also be on Zoom at 10.45am Sunday, please contact the Church Secretary for details - secretaryfurc@gmail.com

A prayer of adoration

God, your name is Love, and in your great love

you have called us into community with each other.
With you and in you and because of you,
we are nurtured in love.
Yours is the name that lasts for ever.
Your love reaches into all corners,
confirming those who wait for you –
that they wait in the name of Great Love.
Amen.

A prayer of confession

We have turned our face from you, O God,
whose face is always turned towards us.
We have forsaken what we know is just.
We have ignored what we understand is true.
We have refused to believe what should be believed.
We have deceived ourselves in word and deed.
For this, we humbly repent,
and we turn our face towards you –
who waits for us, and makes us ever new.
Make us ever new now, O restoring God.
Amen.

Read Mark chapter 13 verses 24-37

Sermon by Rev Peter Lyth

In the last few days, there have been messages of hope in the news. Three separate vaccines have been found to be safe and effective, with production on a large scale being expected. There is expected to be an easing of restrictions for Christmas, although not as much as many would like. But there is some hope on the horizon. With this being Advent Sunday, we have finished with Matthew’s Gospel as far as the readings are concerned (apart from the magi in the nativity) and instead, our focus turns to Mark’s Gospel for the next year. In the lead up to Christmas, this can seem a little problematic – after all there is no nativity story as such in Luke’s Gospel. But here, in that first reading, taken from a section of the gospel immediately prior to the crucifixion, the relevance is closer than we might think. The section is known as “the little apocalypse” and was written to prepare its readers to a second advent – known in technical terms as “the Parousia” when the Son of Man would return.

For the original readers of Mark’s gospel this idea would have been very welcome. Scholars believe that the gospel was written between 65 and 75 AD at a time of unrest. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD as a result of a rebellion by the Jews against their Roman oppressors and their subsequent defeat. The terse style of Mark’s Gospel gives the impression of being written down whilst the stories of Jesus were still vivid so that they might be preserved for future generations and did not die with the people who told them. Whether the gospel was written immediately before this destruction or just after, this passage speaks directly into the experience of its original readers. There is a sense that, in the turmoil that we see around us at this moment, a similar message of hope is needed.

The reading can conveniently be divided into three parts. It starts with the return of the Son of Man, then there is the lesson of the fig tree and finally the need for alertness. The overall message is one of hope, for the original readers of the Gospel were in the midst of a time of calamity: there was a desperate need for hope in the midst of the chaos and destruction that surrounded them. Likewise our existence in 2020 has often seemed hopeless. The domination of Covid-19 in the news stories and in our daily lives has masked other topics such as Brexit and climate change – the latter having even more potential for chaos despite it being less of an immediate topic at the moment.

We cannot forget, on this Advent Sunday when there are parallels between the first advent, the one leading up to the birth of Christ on Christmas day and the second Advent – the lead up to Christ’s return. In the first Advent the Jews were looking for God to intervene in their situation as a defeated, oppressed and occupied nation by sending a saviour. The people for whom Mark wrote were reeling from the Roman reprisals. Yet that hope can still be needed in many situations of today. Even with the production of a vaccine, we cannot ignore the plight of many who have lost loved ones and of those whose jobs have been lost.

Advent is a season of watching and waiting. It’s a bit like the situation that many have been in, taking their children on a long car journey. After a while, “are we there yet?” becomes the repeated question. So it is with waiting for Christ. Watching also means patience. Sometimes people look for signs and misread them – maybe even for their own ends. Religious leader William Miller began preaching in 1831 that the end of the world as we know it would occur with the second coming of Jesus Christ in 1843. He attracted as many as 100,000 followers who believed that they would be carried off to heaven when the date arrived. When the 1843 prediction failed to materialize, Miller recalculated and determined that the world would actually end in 1844. Follower Henry Emmons wrote, “I waited all Tuesday, and dear Jesus did not come … I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain—sick with disappointment.”

So what of the lesson of the fig tree? This can become problematic at this time of climate change. Even such signs can become unreliable as the seasons become topsy-turvey, with snowdrops blooming early and cold spells later on. It emphasises that we don’t know the time and to try and use artificial means to predict the time and manner will be ultimately futile, as William Miller found out. After all, who would have predicted the manner of Jesus Christ’s birth?

Returning to the question of watching, we need to be prepared. One of the things that struck me as I was reading the passage through the last part where Jesus compares the watching and waiting with a man going on a journey, leaving his servants behind. The doorkeeper was left on watch, but equally the other servants were left (and trusted) to get on with their work. So, I believe it is true of us. We are to be vigilant for when the Son of Man returns, whenever that might be. However there is still work to be done in the meantime. There is a temptation to concentrate all efforts on the watching. However, the work in Christ’s service is still there to be done. Witnessing, caring and loving in Christ’s name is the work that we are left to do in the meantime.

So this Advent, with all the tumultuous events of 2020, is a time which cries out for a message of hope. Mark wrote similarly to his readers in the first century as they lived through the upheaval of the uprising and its aftermath. He tells us to be patient- Christ will come again. The promise is seen in the signs, but we can’t know the time and place as that is God’s prerogative. But we can be vigilant – ready to see when Christ returns whilst being already prepared for his return.

 

 

A personal prayer

God of light and night,
you are to be found, whether at dusk or dawn.
Sometimes the light seems far,
and the night seems long.
May I find comfort, 
whether in the soft night, or the kind dawn,
knowing that you created both,
and you wait for me, as I wait for you.
Amen.

'Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.' John 14 v 27