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The Second Sunday in Advent

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

Vogler’s Cove, Crousetown, West LaHave  – December 7, AD 2008

Romans 15:4-13     Luke 21:25-33

 

The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,

that ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.

 

We have entered the season of Advent – it is a time of preparation, a time of anticipation. 

 

For us, in Canada, this season happens at a time when the days are shorter – it is getting darker, it is getting colder, and we have the expectation of months of cold weather ahead of us.  It is not unusual for us to be feeling a bit down.  Nature has lost its luster – the brilliance of the fall leaves is replaced by the stark grey branches.  Death is all around us.  Tragic news hits us even harder – the loss of Peter Bell, and some of you may have other hard news to bear in your own families.  Maybe it is also that we are a little anxious about the preparations for Christmas. 

 

There’s a young woman I know at a store in Bridgewater who knows I’m a priest, and she told me a while ago that she had decided to read through the Bible, starting from the beginning, she had never done that before.  I saw her recently and she was looking gloomy, which is unusual for her – I wasn’t quite sure what was up – I asked her how she was doing and she admitted feeling down.  I asked her where she had got to in the Bible (she normally has some questions) – and she said she had given up reading it – had got bogged down in all the names and places in some of the stories.

 

I had been reflecting for this Sunday on the nature of our hope and it was so clear to me that she needed a dose of hope.

 

What is it that takes away our hope?

 

We set up for ourselves, even if we are not aware of it, certain ideas of how things should be, of what we can expect from life.  And these ideas are formed by the society we keep – the conversations we have with our spouse, our friends, our family and co-workers, and by the TV we watch or the radio we listen to and the books we read.  But it is important to remember that in the society in which we live, because religion can be contentious, it is often not spoken of, and then this can be confused with the idea that it is not important, [or simply non existent.]

 

We set up for ourselves certain expectations – we may not even be consciously aware of what those hopes are.  When we feel down, it is important for us to not simply to quickly cover over our discomfort, with distractions, with some quick fix, but to reflect on why we may be feeling sad – it is a time to reflect on the hopes that we have.

 

And we come to see that there are certain ideas that can in fact be binding us, making us forget or deny the promises of Christ.

 

-      maybe we have placed our hopes in the pleasures of the body, and they don’t seem to be as satisfying to us anymore;  maybe we have unrealistic expectations about our health – and it is deteriorating;  maybe we are overly focussed on our material well being, our finances, and they are not as we had expected;  maybe a job is not working out as we had hoped;  maybe a relationship we are in is not as we had hoped, something seems to have gone amiss, a distance has arisen between ourselves and a loved one; maybe we are just wondering what is the point of it all?

 

Advent is a time of quiet, a time to do this reflection and to wait, and to wait, in quiet expectation upon God – something that is extremely hard for us to do.

 

It is a season for the renewal, the rekindling, in our sadness, of true hope, the discovery of light in the darkness. 

 

In the Gospel today Jesus speaks of a kind of apocalypse,

There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.  And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh. 

 

It is a description of disturbing end times, but it is also a description of what happens in each one of our lives – Jesus says at the end of this passage, this generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.

 

The powers of heaven shall be shaken. 

 

We’ve looked before at these principalities and powers in Trinity season.  St. Paul teaches us that they are spiritual forces, ideas, some for good, some for ill, that set themselves up “in the air” (so to speak) and can bind us.  The powers that bind us for ill, are when we begin to think that the world is a certain way that it actually is not, but there are voices continually reinforcing these false ways, false ideas.  We become locked into certain ways of thinking, ways that are contrary to the promises of Jesus.

 

Here’s a simple example – when I go to visit someone who has little connection with the church for years, and I suggest before I leave, that we pray, sometimes I get a kind of bemused smile, like, sure why not, and they are really just being polite to let me go ahead.  And so we pray the Lord’s Prayer and, not always, but more often than not, I can see that something has changed.  They have been recalled in a small way to the eternal Word that is in them, hidden, buried but not lost – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness overcometh it not.  But it is not easy, it is a kind of clash of worlds, a battle if you like – not only in their souls but in my own soul in the face of their unbelief, to remain faithful, to remain as a person of hope.  This is what Jesus is speaking about when he says that in the midst of distress, powers are being shaken, and we look up, and we will see Jesus drawing near.  I’m always glad later that I have done this, prayed with people, despite the embarrassment and uncertainty of the moment.  It is a recalling of them to their hope.  And I hope that each of you will be less afraid to consider such a prayer, a simple prayer like the Lord’s Prayer, with a friend you are visiting who is in distress. 

 

St. Paul in the Epistle today reminds us of one of the most important ways God gives us to rekindled hope in our souls.

WHATSOEVER things were written aforetime, were written for our learning; that we, through patience, and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope. 

Reading the Bible is a way to rekindle our hope.

 

Now I say, that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision [to the Jews] for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers; and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; 

St. Paul gives examples in the Epistle reading from the three parts of the Old Testament—the Law, the Writings and the Prophets—which remind us that the promises made there by God are not just to the Jews of old, but the message throughout the Bible is that God has made these promises to every one of us—and this rekindles our true hope. 

 

When St. Paul was writing this he was speaking about the Old Testament, because that is all that was written at the time.  But I think it is a little hard for us to read only from the Old Testament, without seeing it from the perspective of the New Testament.  To the woman in the store in Bridgewater I suggested she might want to read a chapter a day from one of the Gospels, so that she doesn’t get bogged down in obscure names and places.  In fact this is the pattern for daily Bible reading that has been suggested for us in the Prayer Book—a chapter or two from the Old and New Testament each day (found in the table on the back of our weekly church bulletins).

 

When we read the Bible regularly, our false hopes are exposed for what they are—they come under judgement, or a kind of purifying—and we are better able to withstand the powers at work in our world, in our society, which attempt to set up false hopes.

 

As we read Scripture, hopes founded upon the Eternal Word in our souls are restored and strengthenedthe hope of the recovery and fulfillment and perfecting of love, the hope of glory, the hope of eternal life.  And it is when we ground our lives upon these true and lasting hopes that we become more and more real and that we come to know lasting joy.

 

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

                                                                                                                        Amen.

 

 

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