Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A World Waiting for Guidance - Advent Sunday with Mary Michael

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

The World was Waiting Expectantly

There was a sense that something was about to happen.

The Bible tells us little about the Wise Men who brought gifts to Jesus except that they came from The East. There is much speculation about their origins but the favourites tend to be Arabia, or Babylon or Persia. A few months ago we heard the story of Daniel in the lions den and that is only a small part of his story. He had been chosen for special training because of his intellectual and physical attributes. He was educated into the circle of “wise men” who were the scientists and intelligentsia of their society. We tend to think that magicians today are at best illusionists or at worst, charlatans but these Magi were experts in spiritual and supernatural matters. Daniel’s enemies sought his destruction because of the great influence he exerted. When the period of exile was over not all the Jews returned home. It does not seem unreasonable to me that his influence continued into further generations in Babylon.

Wherever they came from, the Wise Men knew that the star configuration they saw indicated that they should travel to Jerusalem. The children this morning helped Darryl to pack for a journey without knowing the destination. How long did the planning and packing for this journey take? Were the animals ready? Did the party set out even before Mary and Joseph left Nazareth? However well prepared the Wise Men were for their quest what they found was unexpected. Instead of a prince in a palace they found a baby in a stable. It would be fascinating to know how their lives were changed by this experience.

This baby was the longed for Messiah who constantly surprised people. He mixed with the wrong people – those who were socially unacceptable and outcast. Rejecting violence He taught love. Instead of leading an armed uprising he laid down his life. To me it is nonsense to celebrate Christmas if we don’t also remember what happened at Easter when Jesus not only died but also was raised from the dead. How should followers of such a Messiah live? Bernard Thorogood, writing in “Words for Today” says, “what Isaiah glimpses is the rule of God on earth through an obedient people. It is as we learn to live together as the family of God’s children that peace becomes more than a political slogan and in life a reconciling reality. Neither Jews nor Christians can boast that this has come true through their history. The great wars of the last century were fought by nations with a strong Christian heritage, and Israel today uses military force as its national security. Far from beating their swords into mattocks and their spears into pruning knives, Britain, the USA and Germany, with strong Christian churches, still boost the arms trade. Yet there was a cross standing in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Peace begins in that kind of suffering, that burden-bearing, that self-giving. Peacemakers are the true children of God.”

Reading Two; Romans 13: 8 –14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Guidance on how we should be living

“Advent” means “The coming, or second coming of Christ”. Are we prepared for a fresh encounter with Christ? The idea that end times are drawing near has been the foundation for many sects. I can remember my own father describing his fear, as a boy, that he might come home one day and find that his parents had been “taken up” whilst he was left behind. I am not interested in being drawn into examination of the Apocalyptic writings. I feel it is more useful to strive to live each day as is right, trying to avoid doing wrong and apologising when it happens.

As a church family we may feel comfortable that there was no drunkenness at our party last Sunday lunchtime. I’m sure there was no inappropriate behaviour at the Barn Dance. But how do we behave at Church Meeting. Do we treat each other with the love and respect that we should?

It sounds poetic to think of Wise Men coming from Arabia and Babylon And Persia but it’s less romantic to think of relations with Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Iran and Israel.

I’ve asked “Are you packed” because some people feel that they have to put everything in order before they are ready to meet with Christ, but life is not orderly. There are people who encounter Christ suddenly and others find that an interest has turned into a relationship. Either way this is a life changing experience. However well we may feel we have “packed” the likelihood is that something in our lives will change significantly. Are we packed for a journey into the unknown?

Christmas will be over in January. What difference will having been in contact with the Christ Child make to our lives? What difference will our desire to follow Christ make to the people we meet or to the wider world?

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