Happy New Year! Today is Advent Sunday, the first day of a New Church Year and the beginning of the countdown to Christmas. Traditionally today, we light the first of four candles in our Advent rings. Today also marks the start of Year C in the 3 year cycle of readings and in churches all over the world we move to a different Gospel writer, this year the spotlight falls on Luke.
But if it’s a New Year, shouldn’t we be thinking about resolutions?
A few years ago, as part of our New Year resolutions, my husband and I joined a local Health Club. After being assessed we were each given a personal fitness plan: detailing how many push-ups, step-ups, press-ups, and weights we needed to do, in order to get fit.
I’ll tell you how we got on in a moment. . . let’s get back to this morning’s readings . . .
Considering today is a fresh start for the church, the readings for today are not exactly encouraging, they’re actually rather disturbing, that’s because they are apocalyptic - they describe what will happen at the end of the world.
Luke identifies several signs to watch out for. We would be forgiven for thinking they sound like a summary of this week’s news: great distress among nations, mmm . . . pandemic maybe? Weather patterns, determined by the sun, moon and stars, all changing? Roaring seas rising, and tsunami like waves, all of them sound like they could be global warming?
The first disciples believed the second coming would happen in their lifetimes. Luke doesn’t mention when it might happen, he is simply telling us that when the Son of Man comes again, there will be no mistaking it. The 2nd coming will not be a hidden birth in a draughty stable, Jesus will come in triumph with clouds descending, even the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Luke is warning the disciples to be ready and spiritually resilient for this event. But how can we be spiritually resilient? What does that mean?
Well let’s go back to the gym. When Adrian and I first began working out, we made reasonable progress but overtime it was hard to keep up the enthusiasm, there always seemed to be something more important to do.
When we did go, because we were out of practice, each workout became a huge effort. It soon became clear, that if we only went to the gym once a week we would never get fit. Added to that if we didn’t eat healthily the rest of the week, our hard work in the gym was easily wasted.
It’s no different for our spiritual health. There will always be something seemingly more urgent to do. However much we pray, or go to church, however many good deeds we do, if we’re regularly using bad language, enjoying crude stories, or needing a drink to get through the day the rest of the week, our efforts will be wasted.
If we keep living yesterday over and over again, holding onto resentments and bitterness, if we carry gossip around with us everywhere we go, we will find ourselves weighed down. If we worship social media or shopping, or make anything a priority before God, we will find ourselves unable to stand and see Jesus face to face when he comes. Isn’t that a wonderful image? In Revelation it tells us that every knee shall bow, but here Luke tells us we will stand before the son of man himself, face to face.
We clearly need resilience if we are to overcome our apathy and our bad habits. But it will be worth the effort, for God is creating a new and righteous branch, which will spring into life, bringing justice and righteousness to all.
This Advent, take a good look at the condition of your soul, and identify what would help you best to do a spiritual workout.
Let us all ‘strengthen our hearts in holiness that we too will be blameless before him’. And when he comes let us pray for the grace of welcome, open hearts that are willing to be loved, loving and transformed. Amen.
- What relevance does the prediction of this second coming have for you?
- How is Advent different from Lent for you and those around you: either at church or at home? Why are they different?
- What would you like to say to the minority of Christians who want to speed up climate change because they think it is a sign of the second coming?