28th November 2021

1 Thessalonians 3:9-end / Luke 21:25-36

Also preached as a homily

Dear Friends,

May I be the first to wish you a very Happy New Year! No, your vicar hasn’t finally lost it – today is the Church’s New Year’s Day! We hear much about the Gregorian and Chinese New Year, but not so much about the Church’s. But to ignore today as such, I believe, is to miss a real opportunity. Today provides us with a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean. Now, as Christians, we know that we have a fresh start with God every day. As we read in the Book of Lamentations, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22-23), and you may recall the famous hymn;

New every morning is the love
our wakening and uprising prove;
through sleep and darkness safely brought,
restored to life and power and thought.

However, for some, it may be helpful to have a focal point at which to turn over a new leaf. The next four weeks are a wonderful time to start over with God. Not like New Year’s resolutions such as giving up alcohol or trying to lose a few pounds, which all too often fail after a few days, but a season of cleansing, an exploration into our hearts to see what needs clearing-out in time for Christmas – an Advent Spring clean, if you like!

Advent dates from around the 5th century and was the last season of the Church’s year to develop. It was originally viewed as a period of fasting; a time of penitence, and therefore, just as during Lent, we wear purple vestments. However, it is now more strongly regarded as a season of preparation. Preparation, of course, is important, but I don’t feel we can really prepare for Christmas unless we have fully repented.

So, what is it we’re preparing for? Well, the obvious answer is we’re preparing once again for Jesus in the manger. Yet, I wonder if, over the course of time, the power of that has lost its punch for some folk. Jesus is waiting for us – he longs for us! There in that stable, born once, but here for all people, for all time is Glory, Hope and Joy personified in the infant Christ. God, come down to earth for each and every one of us. Let’s pray the realisation of that mystery of love becomes real and fresh in every one of us again this Advent.

We also know that in Advent we need to prepare for Jesus’ second coming. In our New Testament reading today from St.Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians we read, “May he so strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints”(3:9-end). Our Gospel also speaks of the End Times as Jesus predicts the signs that will be seen. Many people over the years have spent much time trying to figure out when the end of time will be, but it’s not for us to know. If it was, Jesus would have told us. We’re not supposed to be looking into the future at all, rather living in the present. What Jesus did say was, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap” (34-35a). Now, fortunately I don’t suppose many of us are going to be caught-out by dissipation and drunkenness, but the worries of this life are very likely to distract us if we’re not careful. Whatever concerns are in our lives, let us use this time of Advent to bring them to God, asking him to shoulder the burden of them.

Consequently, we have a tension in Advent between the birth of Jesus and his second coming; very different outcomes, but happily, both simply need preparation. And if we’re going to prepare during these next four weeks, we need to plan; because sure as eggs are eggs, if we don’t plan our Advent, we’ll find ourselves at Christmas Eve and nothing will have changed. It doesn’t matter if the first time you thought about Advent was as you read this letter, just ask the Holy Spirit to encourage you into action now. There are details of Advent resources in your notices and there will be plenty more online. If you need any help, please just ask. We not only need to plan; we also need to commit. Are we ready to make this Advent different from the rest of the year? I suggest we should. I want to urge us all to pull out all of the stops this Advent where we commit to spending more time in prayer, reading our Advent material and reading our Bibles. Having said that, please only do what you can, not what you can’t. Please don’t expect yourself to suddenly move mountains; it’s far better to commit to 5 minutes and do it every day, than to over-commit and never achieve anything. And if we already pray and read scripture every day, let’s step-up what we do – there’s always room to give God more. May I be the first to wish you all a very Happy New Year, and I pray you all enjoy a holy and blessed season of Advent.

Let us pray…

Loving God,

your Son, Jesus

is your greatest gift to us.

He is a sign of your love.

Help us to walk in that love

during these weeks of Advent,

as we wait and prepare

for his coming.

We pray in his precious name.