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Readings: 30 November 2012 - 1st Sunday of Advent

23 November 2012


1st Sunday of Advent

Start of Year C

Jeremiah 33.14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3.9-end; Luke 21.25-36

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

THE readings for Advent this year sound a more joyous note than last year, when we began Advent by crying to God to rend the heavens and come among us. This year, the tone is set by the opening words from Jeremiah: "The days are surely coming when I will fulfil the promise I made . . ." The initiative lies with God, and salvation and safety are promised when God acts.

The joyful theme is picked up by Paul, writing to the new Christians at Thessalonica: "How can we thank God enough of you in return for all the joy that we feel before God because of you!" Even amid the more sombre Gospel words from Jesus, there is still the encouragement to raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near.

Each year we add our voices to the great Advent hymn, which has resounded down the centuries, swelling its volume as it echoes from generation to generation: "O come! O come! Emmanuel!" Its confident expectant prayer is both petition and praise. As we join this song of the saints whom we have remembered in recent weeks and whose audacious hope sustained them, we dare to hope that our God is coming to save us, that joy is God's agenda for his people: "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."

"Do you hear the people sing?" ask those who manned the barricades in the musical Les Misérables. At first barely audibly, but building up to a climax, they sing about the life that is about to start when tomorrow comes. It is a rousing song, and the atmosphere at the end is electric. So it should be, if people are to be infected by the vision of God's salvation when we sing the song of God's tomorrow coming.

Our Advent song is a song of joyful expectation, in the face of aching and yearning, as the world gives voice to its weariness, its suffering, its shattered dreams. Taking our cue from Jeremiah, who spoke his words of hope to a weary and disconsolate people, the world's minor harmonies are part of the Advent song; the Church's task is to incorporate the pleas of people who, for whatever reason, cannot pray for themselves our hope-filled, "O come!"

We sing to God, who fulfils his promises, and will one day judge the living and the dead. In words that are worth pondering, as we listen to the news from places such as Syria, Israel, and Palestine, Jürgen Moltmann writes that God's creative justice was originally the hope of victims of injustice and violence, bringing them liberty, health and new life. They await a judgement that is based not on works, but on their sufferings.

He argues that, later, foreign influences turned this saving deliverer of victims into a universal criminal judge of good and evil, who no longer enquires about the victims. So a victim-orientated expectation of saving justice became a perpetrator-orientated moral judgement based on retribution (Sun of Righteousness, Arise! SCM, 2010).

Our God is surely coming to save, bringing justice and righteousness. In Advent, we live in the light of that promise, which is why we are exhorted to prayerful holiness. The collect indicates that this involves casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light. Although undergirded and sustained by joy, such living is not always easy: Jesus warned his disciples to be on their guard, not weighed down with unhealthy lifestyles, but alert, praying for strength; while Paul prayed that his new Christians would, with God's grace, abound in love, be strengthened in holiness, and be blameless before God at the coming of the Lord Jesus.

At the beginning of Advent, we hear afresh of our sure and certain hope of God's coming, a hope shared with saints through the ages. Advent challenges us to active godliness, as we sing of that hope.

Then cleansed be every Christian breast,

And furnished for so great a guest!

Yea, let us each our hearts prepare

For Christ to come and enter there.


Charles Coffin

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