Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Advent: Beginning the journey

Advent marks the beginning of a journey that we undertake each year as we travel through the Christian Church Year. On this journey, we follow in the steps of Jesus as he is birthed in a stable, as he walks the dusty hillsides of Galilee, opens blind eyes and makes the lame to walk again, as he teaches the multitudes and the disciples, as he is crucified, and rises again. On this journey we also celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and reflect both on the mission of the Church and what it means to be a disciple of the Christ. By making this journey we remind ourselves who we are and whose we are.

We do so knowing that the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought is a present reality in our lives. And yet we also know that there is a future Kingdom over which God will reign in Christ, a Kingdom in which the world will once again fully reflect its creator. Last week on the Feast of Christ the King we celebrated Christ as past, present, and future King over all the earth, at the same time that we expressed our hope and our faith in that coming Kingdom.

Today we look forward to our journey this coming year, as we will express each week our faith in the transforming power of God at work in our world, and in our Church, and in our lives to restore all of creation to his purposes.

The royal colour of blue begins the Church Year in Advent, a word that means "coming". We pace this season of four Sundays hearing again the silence of the prophets, experiencing the breathless waiting of the Israelites hoping for a Messiah. We sing the song "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" with longing, not because we seek a Messiah yet to come to the world, but because the Christ has come and we long for him to come to us again. The quiet pace of Advent is in direct contrast to the bustling commercialism of the secular holidays. And so we begin our new year in Advent, reminding ourselves that in the midst of the worldliness of our lives we need to renew our relationship to this King who has come.

In the season of Christmas we change the sanctuary colours to white and gold, a celebration of the purity of the infant who was born in a manger, and yet a King with all the splendour of God come to dwell with his people. Christmas Day is both the culmination of the waiting of the Advent season, and the beginning of twelve days of celebration as we rejoice in the gift of our Saviour and the daily rebirth of grace in our own lives.

Epiphany means "to make known," and in the season of Epiphany we remember the ways and events through which God revealed himself through Jesus Christ. The colours of Epiphany are usually the colours of Christmas, White and gold, the colours of celebration, newness, and hope that mark the most sacred days of the church year.

As with most aspects of the Christian liturgical calendar, Epiphany has significance as a teaching tool in the church. The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon’s blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few.

Epiphany is now observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the church in reaching others by "showing" Jesus as the Saviour of all people. It is also a time of focusing on Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God’s children.

With the ashes on our heads after the service of Ash Wednesday, the sanctuary colours for Lent turn to a sombre purple or violet and even to black at the end of the Passion Week. Throughout the six weeks of Lent we pace the length of Jesus’ three years of ministry. Throughout the weeks we relearn the faces and names of people who, like you and me, were sometimes faithful and sometimes selfish; people who heard the good news and responded and others who laughed and scorned; men, women, and children who heard Jesus’ words and watched his life and came hungry and were fulfilled, or who walked away because they could not use him for their own ends.

It is a long season, a season that calls us to stop and take a look at our life in the light of Christlikeness, and humble ourselves before our God who says to us gently, "Come, let us talk this over. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing to obey, you shall eat the good things of the earth." (Isaiah 1:18-19 NJB)

The season of Lent culminates in "Passion Week," from a Latin word that means "to suffer." Starting with Palm Sunday and the joyful entry of Israel’s Messiah-King in to Jerusalem, it ends with that very same crowd yelling "Crucify him, crucify him." In between these two days, the week’s events are remembered with various services that may pace the Passion Week: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Tenebrae, and the Holy Saturday Vigil.

Easter morning dawns and Mary Magdalene weeps at the tomb until she is told the good news "He is not dead! He has risen!" And that call echoes down through the centuries as Christians around the world joyfully cry out "Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!" year after year on the highest and holiest day of the Christian calendar.

Easter lilies adorn the sanctuary, the colours change to the brightness of white and gold to portray the purity and kingliness of our Risen Savior. There is no joy compared to an Easter Sunday after the solemn pace of Lent. Three days before we buried our beloved Jesus; today He lives! We wept with Peter on the night he was crucified, and on Easter we are awed anew by the great news that He Lives!

And the fifty days of Easter ring jubilantly with the new life and new hope that the Risen Saviour brings to us, to our world, and to all peoples who open their hearts to him. We listen in on the conversations of the disciples as they struggle to wrap their human hearts and minds around this new revelation. We watch as those who previously had persecuted the people of God now fall on their knees in awe and wonder. We experience anew for ourselves in this season the freedom and joy and the power, strength, and life that is our heritage as the people of God.

The red of flames is the sanctuary colour of Pentecost as we remember the great rushing wind and the dancing flames like fire, and the words of Jesus, baptizing his disciples with the Holy Fire of the Spirit. The disciples and followers of Jesus were one moment huddled in fear in a small upper room. Then the Holy Spirit came in power and they rushed out of the building and into the streets, telling everyone about the good news in ways that all could understand. Today? Well, one day we are ordinary people, the next we are his evangelists, and pastors, and healers, and mercy-bringers, and the Body of Christ, redeemed by his blood, one in ministry to the entire world. Are you willing to be filled with the Spirit?

Ordinary time includes the counted Sundays between Pentecost and Advent. Since there are no Holy Days in this time it serves to remind us of the ordinary times of life. The book of Acts and the Epistles give us a clear picture of ordinary people, going about ordinary lives, but doing extraordinary things that built the Kingdom of God. The Church was growing by leaps and bounds, both the individuals within it and the worldwide Church. So we use the colour of Green to depict this growing time, and pray for the same thing within our ordinary lives. We hear again the Good News, we are instructed in the ways of the world and the Kingdom, and we are shown the vision of the Church and our responsibility within it. We hear afresh the voices of the gospel writers, the prophets, and Paul, Peter, James, each exhorting us to respond anew to the call of God to be his people in a world that is hungry for the grace, love, and peace we bring into every minute of life, if we are walking in the Light, if we are "abiding in the vine."

Ordinary? Yes, but through our lives God brings the living water to a thirsty world in our offerings of service and mercy that we offer to others on a daily basis. And this is the extraordinary way that God builds his Kingdom - through ordinary people like you and me.

At the end of the Church year on the Feast of Christ the King we are reminded that God is with us through all the seasons of life, as the writer of Ecclesiastes so poignantly reminds us. We are here because of Christ. We journey through the Church calendar because of him. We gather, "neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free", because we are one in Christ. It is Christ the Saviour-Shepherd-King who presides over his kingdom, his Church, our journey and the table where we share his supper – the Lord’s Supper, the Communion, the Eucharist. Here we can all come freely week by week to experience and to participate in the means of grace that visibly exhibits to us the heart and mind of our Creator, our Saviour, and our Sustainer.

As we gather together today to begin this journey once again may we feel the freedom, the joy, the strength of Jesus’ presence in our spirit. Remember his words - "Look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." (Matthew 28:20 NJB) May we begin the journey afresh today knowing that he accompanies us every step of the way. More than that, that every step we take on this journey we are treading where he has trod. So, go well and may the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and as we journey may God hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen.

(This sermon has been adapted from


Enya - O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

No comments: