SERMON: How wild and disconcerting the Advent hope is!

How wild and disconcerting the Advent hope is!

A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley

by Andrew McKearney on 2 December 2018


The words that I’ve just read from the prophet Jeremiah are full of hope and joy as we begin this season of Advent:

‘The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil my promise….In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.’

For the people who currently live in Jerusalem, whether Israeli or Palestinian, the idea of living in safety is a distant dream! But Christmas tells us that the idea of God fulfilling his promise is not a distant dream at all! Time and again over Christmas we shall hear the prophecies from the Old Testament fulfilled in the New – God keeping his promise and fulfilling his word.

This sense of positive, joyful hope is also present in the teaching of Jesus:

‘Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and

raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

The picture of each of us standing with heads raised because our redemption is drawing near is an inspiring image of confidence before God.

The difficulty is that this teaching by Jesus is placed in the context of utter and total devastation of cosmic proportions!

We heard how even the basic securities of life – the rising of the sun, the waxing of the moon and the movement of the stars – all these are disrupted so that in the end everything disappears in a vast cataclysm! Heaven and earth passes away and nothing is left except God and his will.

This process outlined by Jesus is a terrible stripping away, depriving us of everything that we hold dear. And it’s at this point, when we are naked and helpless, battered terrified and lost, that we are told to stand up and raise our heads because this is the moment when the greatest of all things is about to be given to us – our redemption is drawing near!

The Advent hope is wild and disconcerting! Love it or hate it, what are we to make of it?

This is one possible dimension worth exploring.

In all of the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, this is Jesus’ last bit of teaching. What happens next is that Jesus is betrayed and arrested. The forces of darkness are unleashed on him and he’s flogged, spat on and crucified.

When he’s crucified darkness covers the whole land until three in the afternoon. Matthew tells of an earthquake happening, Mark of the curtain of the temple being torn in two from top to bottom, and Luke of the bystanders returning home beating their breasts.

The description is apocalyptic, the imagery very similar to the last bit of Jesus’ teaching that we’ve been thinking about. And maybe that’s the point.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for the cataclysmic event of his death and deliberately using apocalyptic language to convey just what a significant event his death is.

He assures them that when they see these things taking place, the kingdom of God is near – he promises them that even though heaven and earth will pass away, his words will not pass away – he warns them to be alert at all times – he encourages them to pray that they may have the strength to escape all these things and to stand before the Son of Man.

How wild and disconcerting the Advent hope is!