November 27, 2016
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by Canon Mark Collinson using Psalm 44, Micah 4:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 5:5-11 at Evensong on Sunday 27th November, Advent Sunday.
I wonder if you can remember the first time you were away from home? I never went to a boarding school, but I remember the first time that I spent two weeks away from home on a summer camp. It was great fun: sleeping in a canvas bell tent, games all day, swimming off the beach, no parents to tell you off. But after 9 or 10 days I began to feel this ache inside. I wondered if I was unwell. Things just didn’t seem quite right. I felt a bit sad, unenthusiastic, and lacking in energy. I was longing for the familiar, for home, for a hug from my mum. I didn’t realise at the time that it was homesickness I was experiencing. So when I finally got home, I burst into tears when I saw my mum, and ran into her arms. That sense of longing was satisfied, that sense of hope was realised, and I felt ‘everything is going to be alright’.
Today is Advent Sunday, and our Scripture readings introduce to us to the theme of Advent. ‘Longing for a better tomorrow’ is what characterises Advent and these four weeks leading up to Christmas.
Our first reading for today comes from the psalm sung so beautifully by the choir: Psalm 44 is a song of lament, a sad song, a song which says everything isn’t alright. The song starts with memories of God’s faithfulness in the past, but now it feels as though God is ignoring the people of Israel. We don’t know exactly when it was composed but it was a time when Israel’s army had been defeated (Ps 44:10). They have been scattered among the Gentile nations (v11) perhaps by being sent as exiles to Babylon in the sixth century BC.
Yet, crucially, (v17) even though it feels as though God is distant, they have not forgotten God and his ways. They call out to God, shouting at him to wake up and deliver them:
23 Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
26 Rise up, come to our help.
Redeem us for thy mercies’ sake.
Our second reading is taken from the prophet Micah, who was writing to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah, and its capital city of Jerusalm, at a time when it was being badly governed, probably during the eighth century before Christ. Micah the prophet warns of bad times to come, but also of a future glory, when even people who are not Jews, but people from all nations will worship God Almighty.
Perhaps God can still use these ancient texts to speak to us today. How do you feel about God? Do you need to admit that things aren’t right: some things are NOT as they should be: perhaps in our closest relationships or in society at large. Do you have a distant memory of times when God felt very close and real? Does God feel rather distant now? Do you want to be angry with God? For God to wake up and BE there for you? Do you have that longing to return to God?
We live in turbulent times. Our social filters separate us from people who don’t hold the same views as we do. We couldn’t predict the Brexit vote, or the US Presidential Election result. That makes life uncertain. The fact that the Chancellor is putting an extra £100 bn on his credit card doesn’t sound like good housekeeping. What will today’s debt mean for us and our children in the years to come?
Perhaps you’re JAM, one of those Just About Managing, squeezed between your limited income and costs rising thanks to inflation and a weak pound. Don’t we long for a better tomorrow?
I was in Sheffield this last week and asked the lady next to me in Café Nero, ‘What do you hope for?’ She pondered the question, and said, (in her Yorkshire accent) ‘I don’t hope for wealth but I do hope for health and happiness for me and me family.’
There you go. Good Yorkshire modesty. Don’t hope for too much: be happy with what you’ve got, and perhaps you’ll get a bit of happiness on the side.
I think God has something more than that for us. Throughout the Scriptures God offers us more. Creation is overflowing with life and vitality. God’s promise to Abraham offers him more descendents than the stars above, and more than the grains of sand on the sea-shore. He offers the Hebrews in Egypt a land flowing with milk and honey. He offers the people of Israel himself, to be their righteous King and Judge. He promises them life in his kingdom: when all nations will recognise him as Lord and God. God offers us himself: his presence with us that is transforming and life-changing.
When God arrives in human form, as Jesus Christ, he shows us a new tomorrow;
a country where there is righteousness and justice, especially for the poor;
where the JAMs don’t have the life squeezed out of them; where people look out for their neighbour regardless of colour, race or creed.
God promises a better tomorrow and our faithfulness in Christ means we too long for that tomorrow. We’re homesick for God. We’re lethargic and out of sorts until we experience God’s warm embrace.
We ache with the woes of the present and look forward to the joy in the future. That’s what Advent is about, waiting for a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that is defined by the birth of Jesus Christ and his kingdom.
I remember the occasion when I was travelling to Africa for the first time. I was going to Uganda, to work in a hospital in the Luweero triangle, one the areas most devastated by Idi Amin.
On the flight out to Nairobi we were accompanied by a group of university students who were going climbing around Mount Kenya. They were full of buzz and excitement of their forthcoming trip. On the way back we flew from Entebbe to Nairobi, and were waiting in Nairobi airport, and who should be on the same flight back to London but the same group of university students? The flight was delayed, and it was already the middle of night. It was such a coincidence that we got talking to them.
We quickly realised the atmosphere in their group was sombre and tired, and it wasn’t just due to the lateness of the hour. They were heavy and weary… they were longing to get home. It turned out they were returning with one less member of their party than they went out with. One of them had fallen and died on the mountain. They were grieving. Lamenting the loss of their friend. They longed for the end of their adventure, they were longing for home and the joy of seeing their families. They were in Advent.
You may be in the midst of darkness or grief. You may be sad or tired. You may be squeezed like jam and fearful of hoping for more. But God is faithful. He is present, even if you don’t feel it.
He did send himself, at Christmas, in the form of Jesus Christ to bring about the kind of society that we’re not ashamed to live in; a society where justice, truth and love are stronger than the forces of evil, lies and death. We are promised a better a tomorrow, and Christ sustains us today until it is revealed. Amen.