1st Sunday of Advent, 27 November 2022
Today as we embark on this new season of Advent, may the light of Christ come to you.
The first Advent candle represents HOPE, which emanates from what God has been doing in our lives and, more importantly, what He will sooner or later do for the sake of humanity. The most important focal point of Christian hope is directed toward the coming day when Christ returns to reign in His Kingdom – the Kingdom of Heaven – on earth. Looking back to the time of the Old Testament prophets, the candle of Hope, also called the Prophet’s candle, reminds us of how the faithful segment of God’s people relentlessly hope for the fulfilment of all His promises spoken through the prophets, as we find in II Chronicles 7:14:
“If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”[i]
As Christians, we traditionally read Isaiah 9:6 to celebrate the first week of Advent:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”[ii]
Living between the times
There is no reason for us to hope apart from the promise of God – it will all be wishful thinking.
Wouldn’t it be great to know what will happen tomorrow? There are certain things we can say will happen: the sun will shine, and you will wake up and go to work. These things happen routinely every day, and we assume they will happen tomorrow; but maybe this is only half true: Life is full of surprises; suddenly something happens that is unexpected or even disruptive to our lives. We wish life were easy, but sometimes it has twists and turns. Because we face an unpredictable future, man has an unhealthy obsession with predicting what will happen and trying to make things happen to our specific liking: we want our lives to be a certain way, and we want to make them that way. Humans have employed different means such as horoscopes, Ouija boards, palm reading, and card reading, and have invented many schemes to do this.
In today’s Gospel, after Jesus had left the Temple and returned to the Mount of Olives, He spoke to His disciples privately. They had asked Him two questions:
1) When will the temple be destroyed? He had spoken a few words about this.
2) What are the signs of the coming Kingdom? This was provoked by Old Testament prophecies. Some modern Christians have become obsessed with this. Is the war in Ukraine a sign of God’s Kingdom?
Jesus didn’t answer directly but told them not to waste their time being obsessed with curious things. During the pandemic some people asked, “Is Christ coming?” We are no different from them.
Instead, Jesus taught them how to wait patiently in this “time between the times”. Whilst using apocalyptic language (referring to the end times), He was not inviting His followers to predict the future but helping them learn to live in the presence of the One who has come. With an acknowledgment of God’s work and providence in this world, although it is war-stricken, and the understanding that Christ is present, there is still a possibility that people can live in peace. Amidst war and conflict, there is hope that the world can experience peace as people acknowledge the presence of the One who is in their midst. He said there will be war and pestilence, but this is what He will give us.
Jesus’ words enable us to see ourselves and the world in the light of God’s purpose and lead us to understand that we are to live our lives in this world from this perspective. You can look at life from a secular, human standpoint through chronological history, but history in Israel is the record of God’s intermingling in society and being a part of human activity. You can live with the idea that there is no God – although the Psalms consider this foolish, since there is evidence of Him. What is your purpose in life? I like to live my life in the way God purposed His creation to be.
If you are obsessed with when the Second Coming will take place, good luck! There was a book called 87 reasons why Jesus should come in 1987; the next year, the same author wrote another book called 88 reasons why Jesus should come in 1988. Jesus did not return in either of those years. The problem with that kind of thinking is whether Jesus will come in the evening or in the morning: when it’s morning in Australia it’s evening in Brazil. Don’t waste your time – Jesus said no one knows except the Father; everything is in His hands.
Living in righteousness
Hope and faith are closely connected. When we speak of faith, the first person who comes to mind may be Abraham; however, Hebrews 11 lists many people who demonstrated faith in YHWH and by so doing became part of God’s mighty acts in creation. One of these is Noah,[iii] to whom Jesus refers in the Gospel. Amidst an evil world, Noah by contrast lived a different lifestyle: he lived in righteousness.
The words and events of Genesis chapters 6-7 and Jesus’ words in the Gospel do not mean humans are not to carry out life’s affairs. They were drinking, marrying, and carrying on; they were having a good time. This does not mean God does not want us to enjoy life – far be it! Jeremiah told the Israelites in Babylon to plant vineyards, get married, and carry on with their lives.[iv] The issue was not their enjoying life, but their abandonment of righteousness and the awareness of God. Humans had espoused and embraced evil, and evil was prevalent in human existence.
To balance this, Saint Thomas Aquinas prayed,
“May all work delight me when done for Your sake; and may all repose [rest] not centred in You be ever wearisome for me.”
When work, all human activity, and everything we do, is done for the glory of God, it is enjoyable; otherwise, work will be drudgery to you. Many of you on Monday morning say “Oh no, I have to go back to work and do the same thing over and over again”; but you might consider what Aquinas said: If you offer it to God rather than simply looking at your cheque at the end of the month, you might enjoy your work better. Work is tiring, but when it’s offered to God, He might help you vacuum the floor. If you only look at the cheque, it might be very difficult for you to take hold of it. But if we offer all human activity for the glory of God, life becomes sanctified.
Noah was “a righteous man” (tzaddik), whom God named for his righteousness.[v] “Righteousness” means a right relationship with God; among everyone he had a right relationship with God. God instructed him to build an ark, which became an instrument of his and his family’s preservation. His obedience to the divine command attracted criticism and mockery among his peers. Unmoved, however, Noah instead lived and proclaimed righteousness; as a matter of fact, Peter would say he was
“a preacher of righteousness”.[vi]
Noah’s warning to his contemporaries fell on deaf ears; however, unable to persuade a change of conduct he remained determined and persevering:
“Though none go with me, I still will follow”.[vii]
Why must we speak about Christ’s coming?
In the season of Advent, we speak about the Incarnation of Jesus, which we celebrate in Christmas, and also His Second Coming; sometimes they are spoken of interchangeably. Among the Gospel writers, Matthew gives more emphasis and details about His coming. Why must we speak about the coming of Christ? The Incarnation and the Resurrection are two of the greatest mysteries. He came, and He will come again, and in between Jesus demonstrates His presence and continues His presence among or with us in the Church in various spiritual and sacramental ways. He comes in our midst in the Eucharist, but there are these prominent comings which are glorious: at His First Coming the angel said,
“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth”,[viii]
and His Second Coming will be equally glorious.
Both comings mentioned in Scripture require preparation, hence the Advent season is to make us aware of the necessity of preparing: it is God who is about to come. Like Noah, through worship the Church proclaims and calls us to prepare for Christ’s coming. Noah not only lived a righteous life but also preached it.
Last Sunday we had a glorious celebration. Recently when I watched the huge censer in Compostella, I could not help my tears. My mind went to Revelation 5:8, which says that the incense, when we pray, is the prayers of the people. It is the prayer of the Church throughout Europe to say, “Lord, help us”: Europe has become spiritually deserted. Inspired by what I saw, I instructed our church in Paris to make a huge crown, and then bring it out. I asked the choir to sing Non nobis, domine;[ix] and as they did, the men came to the front, lifted the crown, and processed it out. The message was: Let us bring the Kingdom of God outside the four walls of the church.
This was inspired by a story I heard a few years ago. Archbishop Craig Bates was talking to a Brazilian bishop. It is evident that in the global South the Church is growing in leaps and bounds: they were starting a new church almost every month, with almost 300 people being baptised and confirmed. In the USA, very few people were coming to churches; some churches had rectors who were 80 years old with five people in the congregation. The Patriarch asked why the Church in Brazil was growing while the Church in north America was stagnant if not dying. The Brazilian bishop said, “In America, you ask people to come to Jesus; in Brazil, we bring Jesus to the people.”
When you see a Filipino, you invite them to come to church or to a Bible study; but many of them don’t have time to study the Bible – they don’t even have Bibles. They would rather have a job that pays €5000; that’s the human obsession today. Like Noah, we need to be a preacher of righteousness during the season of Advent.
Not to destroy but to save
The Gospel raises the question of whether a loving God really intends to destroy His creation as in Noah’s time: is this really who God is? Was He determined to do so through the Flood? Dennis Prager said the coming of God is bothersome to many people because of the issue of judgment. But because so many innocent people who are killed, imprisoned, or mistreated, God will ensure there is justice when He comes.
Is God bent on destroying His creation, or do we see Him “emptying” Himself, coming down to a suffering and needy world? If the second of these is true, we can dare to say we have hope when Jesus Christ comes, and we will want Him to come. If God became man, as had never been heard of before, then we are people of hope, because His coming is the source of hope. God never meant to destroy creation – He came down to save you and me, who need Him desperately. As we celebrate the coming of Christ in His Incarnation, our hopes will be fulfilled. I hope and pray your heart is excited to celebrate His coming. If God comes not so much to judge the world as because the world is in a suffering and needy state, we dare say we are a people of hope. We dare to hope because God is a great and mighty God.
Even if you are encountering a very difficult, even impossible situation, never lose hope. That is not to say everything will go your way, but if you submit and embrace God’s plan, you might be have a very good surprise. Take hold of that hope:
Lord, thank You for the hope You give me today, that You are not bent on destroying creation but You came to a suffering and needy world that I’m a part of. Thank You for rekindling that hope in my heart and life, in Jesus’ name. Rekindle hope in every single one of us, and drive away the thoughts of darkness and evil that lead people to be depressed and take their own lives. As we look to You today, may we dare to be a people of hope, because beyond wishful thinking, You are the source of hope. For the impossible situations we face in life, we turn to You and hope in You, hoping against hope. Even when things are impossible, we call forth Your will to be done and to be made possible. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jesus comes in many different ways, and He comes to us by giving His body and blood. He comes in the midst of a suffering and needy world.
As Noah was a preacher of righteousness, the hope God gives us is not only for ourselves but also to share with others. Wherever we are, let us do what God has called us to do. Many people outside are wandering around and have lost a sense of direction, especially in the generation in which we are living. Be an instrument of hope to others; bring Christ to them, that they might draw closer to God, and bring them on Sundays.
- In what or whom do you hope? Is it truly hope based on something certain, or is it only wishful thinking? Is your hope in God’s promises persistent, or half-and-half?
- How much do you need to know about the future in order to have peace in the present? Or is it enough to live in God’s presence? What does it mean for to you to live according to God’s purpose while waiting for Christ’s coming?
- Are you more concerned about work and the activities of your daily life, or about living righteously in a world in which there is evil? Have you offered your work to God for His glory, and what would you need to change in order to live this out practically? In what ways is God calling you to grow in spiritual awareness and to live in a way that is different from the world around you?
- If preparing for Christ’s coming means not only to live righteously as an individual, but also as a member of the Church to be a preacher of righteousness, in what ways are you, your family, and the ministry group and church to which you belong, preparing? In what ways is God calling you to bring His Kingdom outside the Church and into the world?
- Do you think of God’s judgment and Christ’s coming as something to be afraid of or something that gives you hope, and why? If you are afraid, what would change this? What do you think is God’s attitude and intention towards the world in its present condition, and what is your attitude towards it?
- What difficult situations have you faced, or are you facing, in which there is the temptation to lose hope? What is or was your level of hope in those situations, and what help did you receive, or do you need, in order to overcome? Have you surrendered to God’s plan in that situation?
- Do you know anyone in the Church or the world who has lost their hope or sense of direction? In what ways are you being, or is God calling you to be, and instrument of hope to them or to others?
[i] II Chronicles 7:14, KJV
[ii] Isaiah 9:6, NIV
[iii] Hebrews 11:7
[iv] Jeremiah 29:5-6
[v] Genesis 6:9, Ezekiel 14:14
[vi] II Peter 2:5, emphasis added
[vii] From the song, I have decided to follow Jesus by Simon Kama Marak
[viii] Luke 2:14, paraphrased in the Gloria in Excelsis
[ix] Patrick Doyle, Non nobis, domine. This song is sung in Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film of William Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, based on an instruction of the King. It was adopted as a theme song early in the history of the Charismatic Episcopal Church in North America.