Advent Sunday 2020

Mark 13: 24-37 – 29th November 2020

It is over 30 years since the fall of many of the Soviet states in Europe.

31 years since the Berlin Wall was torn down!

My brothers-in-law travelled there at the end of 1989 and picked up a souvenir piece of the wall. Pieces of the Berlin wall are still on sale today.

Over the New Year Holiday, the Berlin Wall was being dismantled. … The end of the Berlin Wall was the end of probably the most potent symbol of oppression in Europe in the 20th Century.

It’s disturbing to realise that it all happened over 30 years ago now. Maybe, at that time, you shared my sense of unbelief – ‘Is this really happening?’ It was hard to believe that the world order that I had grown up in – that of a Cold War, stand-off between two superpowers – was seemingly coming to an end. Something that even just months before those amazing events at the end of 1989 seemed impossible.

This same seeming impossibility surrounded the Jewish people in the centuries before Christ. They had been longing for a Messiah – someone who would change the course of history for ever. They were so often disappointed, different men came promising what they could not deliver. No doubt Israel felt the mocking eyes of others as they clung onto this seemingly vain hope of a glorious Messiah. Someone who would bring in Israel’s golden age. Everything pointed against it. Israel was a pawn, a minor league nation caught in the ebb and flow of the politics of the real powers.

In Advent, as Christians, we do at least two things – firstly, we remember, we enter into something of the feelings of the people of Israel as they waited for the coming of their Messiah. We wait with them. … They had to wait 500 years from the first promises made to them. We allow ourselves the month of December – but we wait for the coming of the Christ-child. Unlike them we know for sure that he will come – for we’ve read the story before.

But we are in other ways just like them. For we impose our expectations on him – we know what the Christmas story is all about – we’ve got the story neatly packaged. … We need the story to be constant, unchanging because life is too busy, too pressurised at this time of year. ‘Let’s stick to the routine,’ we say, ‘enjoy the celebrations, and hopefully have time to relax in January!’ Although what those Christmas celebrations will be like in 2020 is still a matter of uncertainty.

If we are not careful – if we don’t make the time to reflect, to listen, to wait – we’ll miss the Christ-child. We’ll not see the miracle of God in human form. Just as most of Israel missed its Messiah, so God’s grace will pass us by. Advent is our time to centre ourselves before Christmas, to focus on the true meaning of the Christmas story, to grasp that God’s Son, the Christ, God incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us – Jesus, is coming and he is coming for us, for me.

But we also wait in other ways … for many of us, life is not the way we want it to be and we pray for God’s intervention. It feels at times as though nothing is happening. Times like this are hard. We wait for God to come, and he seems absent. We are a little like the people of Israel awaiting their Messiah.

Advent is not just preparing for Christmas, but about looking forward to Christ’s Second Coming. Jesus spoke about this our Gospel reading. A difficult passage, because this Second Coming seems for Jesus to be so immediate. And so we, the Church, have our questions – raised at different times with different intensity. Why has it been so long? Has God forgotten us? Is Jesus never coming back? Were we intended to take it literally? Was Jesus mistaken? Is it important to believe in the Second Coming?

And these questions are often mirrored in our experience of daily life as at times God seems to be absent. And our experience of waiting in some way matches that of those nations waiting year after year under the tyranny of Communism. Seemingly without hope – yet in 1989 there was that dramatic change. What was unbelievable, happened. The wall came down, Communist regimes toppled.

Similar but different.

In our daily lives, we hold onto a promise – a promise to be taken on trust. Jesus’ promise to be there for us in the midst of all that life brings our way – Christ will come again.

But, as Christians, we also have something of the reality on deposit. In the meal of Holy Communion we look back to the realities of Christ=s first coming – his death and resurrection. And we also look forward to that heavenly banquet in which we will all share – a meal that Jesus promised to eat with us in his Kingdom.

We can believe that God is with us in our suffering. We can believe that Christ will return. Things that people dream about, do happen, God’s, presence with us is real, and Christ Second Coming is no more impossible than the collapse of the Berlin Wall felt to a divided Europe, a divided Germany. The seemingly impossible is possible with God.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

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