Sunday, 19 November 2006

SERMON: Sunday 19 November 2006

In England they designate the four Sundays before Advent, rather than continuing on through the Pentecost (or here the Trinity) season. This has a personal story from JD's history which he graciously allowed me to share. AND it seemed to go over well because several men told me they had similar experiences and this had "helped" them or at least resonated with them.

19 November 2006
Second Sunday before Advent
Emmanuel Church -- Gorton-Abbey Hey Team

Daniel 12: 1 – 3 ; Psalm 16
Mark 13: 1-8 “eschatological discourse introduction”
Next week – Christ the King gospel = John
2 weeks – Advent 1 gospel = Luke 21:25 – 36

It’s pretty clear we’re on the way toward Christmas, isn’t it? You can see and hear it in the shops, the adverts on the TV, and in the beautiful lights all around us. It seems that from everywhere we’re being told to “get ready” and “book now” for Christmas. And it’s not on the high street, it’s right here around us -- just yesterday, I took my mum to three church Christmas Fairs: at St James, in Abbey Hey, and at the Fairfield Moravian Settlement.

Sundays in Church are getting ready for Christmas too. In our tradition, we’re in the Season called the “Weeks Before Advent”. It’s our own time for getting ready for Christmas during Sunday worship. One of those ways we do that is by looking to the stories in the Bible that talk about the end of time – as in the gospel we just read.

It’s kind of odd isn’t it, that as we know that the baby Jesus is coming – sort of a wonderful beginning to the world -- that we’re talking about the end of things. Let’s look closer at what we have.

In our story, Jesus is talking with his disciples about the end of the political and religious ways of Israel. They were all at the Jewish Temple – a HUGE structure – like their church, their city hall, and their market all built together in one large area. The foundations were built with stones as big as 30 feet long, and deep, and piled high.

Someone remarks how big they are and Jesus quickly says that nothing will be left, that all the stones will be pulled down and the place destroyed. What he is saying is as if all the concentrated power of the city centre would be leveled; not just unused factories or old tenements for regeneration, but the most important council buildings, shops, and churches cleared out.

Now Jesus has already told them that he will be come into power after the old religion and politics are gone.

Of course, then a few of the disciples ask Jesus when this will happen and what signs there will be when all this is going to take place.

Jesus tells them what to expect.

What he talks about is not a nice picture. There will be deception, and wars (nation fighting against nation), horrible weather (earthquakes and famines), beatings and challenges by the authorities. And probably the worst thing he says is that people will betray their own family members and children turn against their parents. People who are followers of Jesus will basically have a very difficult time – they will be hated.

And this is supposed to get us ready for Christmas? I’m honestly not quite how these stories fit when we want to hear about the birth of a beautiful, sweet baby.

But what makes me even more confused is that the things Jesus describes as being signs of the end seem to be what going on all around us right now.

I definitely do not mean to say that we ARE in the end times.

I just mean that we’re acting out like what Jesus describes. There is plenty of deception in our governments and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is global warming around us and famine in Africa. We see people behaving badly in our neighborhoods – not just against strangers but indeed in their own families.

Maybe WE are having troubles in our own families.

This gospel immediately reminded me of a story that my husband/JD told me from when he was a teenager. Apparently he didn’t speak to his father - in their own house - for six months. For six months they went through their daily lives, were around the house, had meals together and yet would not talk to one another. They were each too stubborn to give in and apologize.

Eventually his mother asked Joe to take the first step – and he did. One of them had to make a change and it was JD, even though he didn’t feel like it at the time because he believed he was correct, he did apologize … and he and his father started speaking again.

JD’s childhood story is not an example of the end of the world as we know it.
But it may remind us of our own situations.

You or I may have conflicts in our own families; maybe there are people at work or in the neighborhood that you don’t get along with.
Perhaps there are good reasons: especially if someone has wronged you.

Whether it is because of our personal situations or from the news of the world around us, we may feel like this is the end of time.
And while I can’t say precisely that it’s not the end because we’ll never know,
I CAN say we do not need to act these ways. We need to act differently.

What we should take from today’s gospel and other Bible stories like this is not fear of the world around us.
What we should take today is that while the birth of Jesus is just weeks away,
it’s a reminder that we need to act the way that Jesus the adult taught us – to love and forgive.

We need to take care of our planet.
We need to be part of our governments and make our communities better.
We need to be loving toward our families, friends, and co-workers even IF we have been wronged and are not at fault.

Love the world around us and forgive one another.

This time of year, when it’s time to prepare for Christmas, we do need to prepare - but it’s more than buying presents, decorating our homes, and preparing meals. We need to prepare for Christmas by acting in ways that make things better for the world, in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, and workplace.

Jesus’ words about what awful things that can happen should not make us afraid. These words can remind us to take a moment from all of our busy-ness.
We can ask ourselves how we are helping to work toward the good of the world; we can ask if we’re doing the right thing to the people who are close to us.

These are the kind of preparations we should be making at this time. So look around in these next few weeks as the lights get brighter and the Christmas music gets louder … let those things remind you that the birth of Jesus is coming and that that birth means we NEED always to look at the way we are living.

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