Saturday, December 23, 2006

24 December 2006 - Outlandish Renewal

Here is the sermon for Advent 4. The sermon is based on both of the following texts: Micah 5:2-5a and Luke 1:39-55



I want to put it to you this morning that the two Scripture readings that we heard earlier are some of the most exciting passages in the bible.

To quote from one of the commentaries on the Micah reading: “The God of Israel is a God of shimmering surprises, of outlandish innovation and renewal. At precisely that moment when God’s people have determined the shape of the future…God intervenes and…we are forced to begin again.”*

What more could you ask for on Christmas Eve than “outlandish innovation” and “shimmering surprises” from the Lord of the Universe?

Today we are waiting with expectation for Christmas, about 13 hours away. We are waiting for God’s greatest gift to humankind: the Gift of his Son, God incarnate, the one who will save us from our sins and reconcile us with God.

But in addition to the big Gift of his Son, God has another gift to give us in this morning’s readings. In fact that gift is a “little gift”. Or rather, it’s the gift of being little. It’s a gift for the lowly: little people, little places. A gift that has to do with the lifting up of the lowly and the bringing down of the powerful from their thrones.

It is the gift of hope.

Today’s readings proclaim the transformation that God intends to bring to creation through the arrival of his Son. Today’s readings are about hope, but not about small glimmers of hope. Today’s readings are about big hope – about understanding the final transformation of all creation. And we learn that it is the little people, the insignificant of society whom God uses to make that transformation happen.

This is the story about the outlandish innovation and renewal of all things. A shimmering, glorious hope.


Let’s begin with Bethlehem. A small town, an insignificant town. Now the Christian Church has always applied the text from Micah to Jesus and we most certainly want to do that today, but it is also important to know what Micah thought he was prophesying.

For Micah, perhaps the most important thing about Bethlehem is that it is not Jerusalem. It is not the Capital City.

If you can imagine living in a situation of “London versus the rest of the country” magnified about a hundred times, this is what was going on during the reign of King Hezekiah, the king of Judah during the time that Micah prophesized. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen less than ten years earlier and it no longer existed. Judah was under threat from Assyria to the East.

King Hezekiah had a two-fold policy for the country. His first policy was the reform of worship - and that was fine as far as it went. But his second policy was a policy of militarily strengthening Jerusalem and some outlying fortress cities in the event of attack by Assyria.

Literally all of the country’s resources – money, materials and labour - went to Jerusalem and these fortress cities whilst it was intended that the people in country towns like Bethlehem would be left to fend for themselves in the event of the country being attacked.

Even worse, the people of the countryside were conscripted to work on the fortification of Jerusalem. The resources they had in order to feed themselves and their own families were small. So despite King Hezekiah’s concern with making sure that the people engaged in the correct form of worship, many of the people lived in abject poverty and in fear of their very lives, injustices that occupy a great deal of the book of Micah.

You can see what sort of a system this is. It’s a system that says: The King matters. The Capital City matters. The army matters. The average person doesn’t matter and if he and his family happen to starve to death because his resources and labour have been used to fortify the Capital City, then so be it.
This was an ancient form of “I’m alright, Jack” starting from the King on down.

But here is the glorious bit of redemption. Here is the incidence of “shimmering surprises and outlandish innovation and renewal”… God says that the Messiah is going to come from one of these poor country villages! From Bethlehem.

The Messiah is going to come from a lowly place. A place where the people are oppressed and where the king is happy to use them as cannon fodder and abandon them to their deaths. God cares about this little village which humankind mocks.

God’s outlandish innovation is that the Messiah, the saviour of the universe, is going to born amongst the lowest of the low. God’s shimmering surprise is that that the people the world despises are people of infinite worth to God.

Imagine! The world tells you that you are dirt, that you are scum and God’s prophet comes along and says, “Out of you, I will bring a ruler for Israel and people all over the earth will acknowledge his greatness.”

The earthly religious system thought they had it all figured out. The Messiah was going to be born in Jerusalem of a prominent family. He was going to be a great military leader who would ensure a great victory of independence for his people.

But God had other plans. “At precisely that moment when God’s people have determined the shape of the future…God intervenes…and we are forced to being again.”* The Messiah is born in a lowly town of lowly parents. He is not a great military leader but the Prince of Peace.

Elizabeth & Mary

And what about Elizabeth and Mary? The mothers of John the Baptist and Jesus.

Elizabeth is a shamed woman because she is barren and has never borne children. Mary is very likely a shamed woman for becoming pregnant before her marriage.

Elizabeth is too old to be a mother. Mary is too young to be a mother. The son that elderly Elizabeth will have, John the Baptist, will usher out the former age. The son that too-young Mary will have will usher in the age to come. As with Jacob and Easu, the older of the two will become the servant of the younger. John the Baptist first acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus when he leaps in his mother’s womb. It is his reaction to the unborn Jesus that causes Elizabeth to proclaim her praises to God.

More outlandish innovation on God’s part. He uses two shamed women to be the mothers of the Messiah and the latter-day Elijah, the herald of the Messiah. You’d think God would have been more sensible. If you or I had been told to pick two mothers for these two great men, would we have picked a childless woman beyond her child-bearing years and an unmarried teenager? Common-sense would have suggested that we choose two upstanding women in their twenties with good track-records of raising Godly, healthy, well-adjusted children.

But, once again, rather than using the safe option, rather than using the tried-and-true, God opts instead for shimmering surprises and outlandish renewal. After all, it makes sense that the circumstances of the Redeemer’s birth will also be circumstances of renewal and redemption, doesn’t it?

Both Elizabeth and Mary understand God’s redemptive purposes and Mary then begins to praise and bless God.

Mary’s words are amongst some of the most beautiful and exciting words in the New Testament – the Magnificat. These words indicate a profound understanding of God’s purposes in the salvation of the World.

In her hymn of blessing to God, Luke’s Mary opens up the Old Testament prophecies for us in a way similar to the way the risen Jesus opened up the texts for the Emmaus travellers.
One commentator suggested that we read the Magnificat as a summary of the Old Testament prophecies. The height of the Magnificat comes in verses 51 to 53: “He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands.” (Luke 1:51-53, GNB)

This is the very same vision proclaimed to us by Micah. It’s the same vision proclaimed to us by Jeremiah, Isaiah, by Malachi and Zephaniah and many other Prophets. God had a plan. I think this is really exciting!

God knew what he was doing and what his plan for salvation would be. The problem isn’t that God wasn’t clear. The problem is that we fail to understand because God does things in ways we don’t expect. We don’t expect him to use the powerless, the little people, those who are unable, to bring about his Kingdom. But that’s exactly what he does.

This is God’s outlandish plan for innovation and renewal: A world that is ruled by the lowly; A Kingdom where everyone is of infinite worth to God, especially those who the world despises.

This isn’t just a little ray of hope. This is hope with a capital H! Redemption is brought into the world by those who are small, feeble and unable. It is when we are small, feeble and unable that we are sometimes tempted to give up hope. But these are precisely the moments that God has chosen as the moments he uses to redeem the world.

The Redemption of Israel and of the world will come through the Messiah hanging on the cross. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”


“The God of Israel is a God of shimmering surprises, of outlandish innovation and renewal. At precisely that moment when God’s people have determined the shape of the future…God intervenes and…we are forced to begin again.”*

A little, insignificant, town. Two shamed women. A little baby who would become, not a warrior king, but a crucified Messiah.

Just when we are tempted to give up all hope, the power of the love of God bursts into the universe with a shimmering hope that is so glorious, as human beings we are not really able to understand its height and breadth and depth. The coming of this inexpressible Hope into the world in the form of a little baby will require the songs and praises of all the heavenly hosts to do him justice.

Let us wait in Hope for the coming of that baby. Our brother, our Saviour and our Lord. Amen

* Cousar, C. et. al. 1994. Texts for Preaching: a lectionary commentary based on the NRSV – Year C. Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press. p. 30.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

17 December 2006 - Prayer and the Nearness of God

This is the sermon for Advent 3. The scripture readings are: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7 and Luke 3:7-18



Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-9)

It was the phrase ‘The Lord is near’ that drew me to this particular scripture reading this morning.

‘Well, of course, the Lord is near’ you might think ‘After all, it is Advent, when the Church celebrates the nearness of the Christ-child on Christmas morning.’ There are all sorts of reasons for rejoicing at the arrival of the Christ-child, all sorts of reasons for rejoicing at Christmas.

What really strikes me about these sentences from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, though, is the context in which they were written. Paul himself was in a Roman prison when he wrote these words, and he was facing execution. And the church to whom Paul wrote was a church that was encountering persecution.

You might very well expect this letter read something like: ‘Times are difficult, we are all suffering hardship, pain and persecution, but the Lord never told us that things were going to be easy.’ However, instead of taking a sombre tone, Paul uses the word ‘rejoice’ 14 times in this very short letter. Knowing this information, we can either admire Paul or we can think him foolish. The one thing that we can’t do, however, is to disregard these words as being written by someone who did not have experience of life or who didn’t know pain and suffering.

What was it that gave Paul this extraordinary perspective? How did Paul acquire his ability to rejoice in the face of prison and death? I think there are two key phrases in this morning’s Epistle reading. The first is ‘The Lord is near’ (verse 5) and the second is ‘In everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God’ (verse 6).

In fact, I’d like to argue that the statement ‘the Lord is near’ is a prayerful statement

Prayer as Relationship

I want to put forward the idea this morning that ‘Prayer is a relationship with God, not an audience with God.’

I almost hate to use the phrase ‘a relationship with God’ because it’s become so over-used in Christian culture. But I think the idea of ‘relationship, not audience’ is helpful, and I’d like to spend some time unpacking that idea this morning.

Now, I have to confess that I’ve never had an audience with any dignitary I’ve never had an audience with the Queen or an audience with the Pope. I imagine that, before the actual audience, something formalised has to happen, such as receiving a letter from the Queen's staff or perhaps approaching the right people to join in with an organised audience with the Pope.

But whatever happens in an audience, you don’t form a relationship with that person whom you have gone to see. You don’t become the person’s friend and you definitely don’t become part of their life.

I suspect that most of us – myself included – have had experiences of treating our prayer-lives a lot like having an audience with God. We kind of ‘check in’ with God at the formal times. Maybe that’s Sunday morning church service, house group or our personal devotional times. (And there isn't anything wrong with that, per se) Then we sit and [gesture] ‘say’ our prayers to God. Most of us probably thank him for things and ask him for things. Maybe we also spend some time praising God. And then, like having an audience with the Queen, we finish our prayers with God, leave God and get back to our ‘real lives.’ Does any of this sound familiar?

But what about a form of prayer that focuses on the nearness of God? It seems to me that, in order to have a relationship with someone, that person has to be near. The person has to be present with us in our ordinary lives and he or she has to share our everyday concerns. The Queen doesn’t get a look-in here. Neither does the Pope. When was the last time you and the Queen commiserated together about British Gas’ price rises? I don’t think so.

I suspect that the apostle Paul knew something about the nearness of God in prayer. If Jewish prayer in the first century was anything like Jewish prayer today, everything that Paul did would have been an occasion for blessing God in prayer. Small, mundane things like opening one’s eyes in the morning, washing one’s hands, putting on one’s sandals, all required a prayer of blessing. And the prayers themselves would have focussed on God’s presence in those daily tasks.

As an example, here is the modern Jewish prayer that takes place when a person washes his or her hands before eating: ‘Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to wash our hands.’

I think that, even though these prayers are formalised, they certainly do bring God into a person’s everyday life. Whatever else one can say about such prayers, they are not the prayers of a person having a formal audience with God. They are the prayers of an every-day relationship.

I’m not recommending that we all adapt the prayer practices of Orthodox Jews. I am, however, suggesting that we might not go too far wrong in considering whether the everydayness of such prayers might give us some inspiration with respect to being aware of the nearness of God.

Prayer as Listening

There is another aspect to ‘prayer as relationship’. This aspect is ‘listening’. If we are going to have a relationship with God, doing all the talking ourselves is not necessarily the best way of going about it.

As Christians, we say that we believe that: 1) God the Creator is everywhere holding us in being; 2) that we meet Jesus – the Son – in the people around us and that 3) through the Holy Spirit, God is in our own spirits. If we truly believe that God is to be found everywhere around us, then it is helpful to practice the mindfulness of God’s presence. It is incredibly helpful to listen to God. To be quiet and ‘just be’ with God.

Prayer is a relationship with God, not an audience with God.

The Peace and Joy of Prayer

Paul suggests that there are great benefits to having a prayer-relationship with God. 'And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 4:7)

Again, I think that the analogy of ‘relationship’ is incredibly helpful here because we’re not talking about ‘prayer as magic’.

In my years as a Christian, I have heard a number of people complain that they didn’t feel that they could go to church anymore because their lives weren’t particularly happy or peaceful. These people sometimes felt that to be a “real” – or a “successful” - Christian, they had to be happy all the time. They felt that their troubles would be seen by the Church as some sort of a spiritual failure. Or maybe it was just that they themselves felt that they were spiritual failures.

I don’t think that an unrealistic happiness is the sort of peace that Paul is talking about – nor the sort of joy that he’s talking about either. And I don’t think it’s the sort of the joy that Zephaniah had. His was the joy of a Jerusalem retaken after destruction by an occupying force. This is a bittersweet joy, not a Pollyanna joy that refuses to confront suffering.

Consider what it is to have a relationship with someone who you trust. Perhaps it is a spouse, or maybe a long-term friend. Someone with whom you do not need to put on masks. Someone who you can trust to accept you as you are – neither over-dramatising your pain nor brushing it away because they are afraid of it. It is in such a relationship that we can experience peace and joy even in the middle of hardship. It is in such a relationship that we can let ourselves go in the good times, knowing that our friend will be happy for us.

But relationships take time. They take commitment. They are about giving and receiving, about speaking and listening. Prayer is a relationship with God, not an audience with God. The Lord is near and constant mindfulness of the presence of God is the way that we can increase our experience of his nearness to us. Such a relationship can be a source of strength, of joy and of peace, even in difficult times.


In this third week of Advent, we draw ever nearer to the coming of Christ into our world.

Here and now, we also prepare our hearts to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion as we draw near to the Lord at his table. We are mindful of the God who is near to us. We are mindful of the God whose Spirit is in us, the God who holds us in being and the God who meets with us in our brothers and sisters in Christ.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

We pause now in silence to be mindful of his presence.

(Note to readers. I always leave a minute or two silence after every sermon.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

10 December 2006 - The Good News of Repentance

This is the sermon for Sunday 10th December 2006. The scripture readings are: Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 3:1-6



Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent and the main character in today’s scripture readings is not Jesus but rather John the Baptist. In today’s Gospel reading, we read about the ministry of John the Baptist. The Old Testament Reading, from Malachi, was - of course - not originally written about John the Baptist but has been traditionally linked by the Christian church with the life and work of John.

The season of Advent begins on the first Sunday of December and it is a time of preparation and penitence. Like Lent, Advent is a time when we consider who we are before God and when we prepare our hearts.

Although Advent is generally a more ‘positive’ season of preparation than Lent, it is nevertheless a time to take stock of the state of our soul and our being before God as we prepare for his coming. Because it is not only Jesus’ first coming for which we are preparing, but also his second coming.

In Advent, we are not just waiting for Christmas Day so that we can mark the memorial of Jesus’ birth. We are also waiting - and hopefully working - for the “second coming” of Jesus, when Christ will reign at the right hand of God in God’s Kingdom. We are waiting for the baby Jesus and for our triumphant and risen Lord.

Today’s readings focus our attention rather dramatically on the penitential aspect of Advent. Both the readings are somewhat difficult and challenging; neither message is comfy and cosy.

In the Gospel reading, John the Baptist demands that we repent and be forgiven of our sins. He calls us to get to work preparing the path to the Kingdom of God so that the roads are straight and smooth. In the Old Testament reading, we understand that although John’s message has been long-awaited (because it heralds the coming of the Messiah), that his message will refine and purify us and that the day of this purification will be difficult to endure.

It all makes you long for the gentle baby Jesus, meek and mild, doesn’t it?


The first thing that I’d like to do this morning is to consider the idea of “repentance”.

I think that sometimes the word “repentance” can conjure up images of our mothers or fathers standing over us angrily with their hands on their hips shouting: “You say sorry now, young lady! (or young man)” And if this morning’s readings do anything, they might very well reinforce this picture of God as an angry parent.

But the concept of “repentance” is actually a call to turn around. “Repentance” is primarily something that we do in physical space. Of course, you can’t change your direction unless you first decide to do it, but making the decision isn’t all there is to it. A change of attitude is necessary but not sufficient. We actually have to start moving in another direction. We actually have to start doing things differently.

If you think about repentance in physical terms, it’s as if we are walking a path and have our backs turned on God. If our intention is to arrive at the Kingdom of God, we are going in the wrong direction and have to turn around.

What John the Baptist is doing is saying “Hey! You’re going the wrong way! Change your direction and walk that way!”

Repentance isn’t so much about God being angry with us an threatening us, it’s more about actually changing what we are doing. Scripture is filled with many prophetic books, all of which are calling human beings and human society to repentance. If God’s primary interest was to punish us then, first of all he would not have sent a Saviour into the world, but secondly, he would not have sent prophets into the world to call us to repentance.

God’s main interest is not to punish us, but to get us to turn around and walk in the other direction. Repentance may not be easy. Repentance might be difficult, but it shouldn’t make us afraid of God.

Walking toward the Kingdom

What does “walking in the other direction” mean, though? Well, I think we are being called to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, so we are called to “walk in the direction” of the Kingdom.
Because of Jesus’ first coming, and because of his life, death and resurrection, the fabric of reality has been changed such that sin no long has control over human beings. This is why we celebrate Christmas and the coming of the second person of the Trinity in human form.

Because of Jesus’ first coming at Christmas, the second coming becomes possible and we are promised that the Kingdom of God will be established. And as followers of Christ, we are called to recognise and understand what the Eternal Kingdom will look like, so that we can live as if the Kingdom were already here.

So, in practical terms, what does the Kingdom of God look like? What are its traits? How can we recognise it when we see it?

Well, if I recall correctly, one of the first sermons I preached to you was on “Racial Justice Sunday” when we talked about the fact that that God does not judge individuals the way that our worldly society does. God does not think that one person is better than another by virtue of race, gender, ability, social status, education, or what-have-you. Each person has been individually created by God, God knows each of us through and through and he sees each of us as unbelievably precious.

The Kingdom of God, is a place where every individual is infinitely loved and respected by God. And citizens of the Kingdom of God treat each other in the way that God treats them. In the Kingdom, we will have no need to try to prove that we are better than others. In the Kingdom, we will have no need to try to put other people down.

Secondly, because the Kingdom is a place where individuals are not judged by the standards of the world, I believe that the Kingdom is also a place that is inclusive. We need to be slightly careful in this concept, because there are people who hear the word “inclusive” and think that such an idea means we have to abandon all attempts to tell right from wrong.

When I say “inclusive”, I don’t mean keeping quiet in the face of wrong-doing. When I say “inclusive”, I mean that God wants to offer his Kingdom – his salvation – to everyone. Picking up on the image of repentance being a commitment to walk in the direction of the Kingdom, what I’m saying is that through the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus, God has issued a general invitation to all people of all time to walk in his direction.

It is the work of Christ that has made it possible for us to make the decision to walk in the direction of the Kingdom. Having issued the invitation to all people of all time, there are no fences around the Kingdom.

God does not stop some people at the gate and turn them back. God issues a general invitation and all who respond to that invitation, all who repent and walk in the direction of the Kingdom will be welcomed.

Thirdly, the Prophets tell us repeatedly that the Kingdom is a place where justice and righteousness are the order of the day. But it’s important to understand how the Prophets define justice and righteousness. Although righteousness certainly starts with each one of us, it’s not a concept that is confined to the realm of personal morality.

In the prophetic tradition, “righteousness” is a social and communal issue. Righteousness is about establishing a society where the poor and the oppressed have rights, where they are not exploited by the rich and powerful. The prophets constantly rail against Israel and Judah for establishing societies where the rich get richer and where the poor get poorer. The prophets tell such societies that God hates their worship and their religious festivals when there religious obligations are conducted in the context of a society where the poor cannot eat.

So the Kingdom of God is also a place where justice and righteousness are the order of the day.

Repentance is Good News

Far from being bad news, I want to argue that God’s call to repentance is actually good news.

Repentance is possible in the first place because of God’s love and forgiveness as expressed in the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. So the fact that we are able to repent – the fact that we are able to walk in God’s direction – is the result of God’s love for us.

But in saying that repentance is good news, am I burying my head in the sand and ignoring the hard images in today’s readings? Am I ignoring the images of the refiner’s fire, the images of purification, the images of straightening that which is crooked and of smoothing that which is rough? I don’t think so. Good news does not always have to be the news that life will be easy.

Any individual who has asked God for the grace to give up a besetting sin will tell you that such a journey is not an easy one.

And, if we look at the unrighteousness in our society, we can also see that the solutions are not easy ones and that they will require difficult measures. Being good stewards of the earth and of the climate requires people in the developed world to reduce the energy we consume. Making sure that people in developing countries can earn a living wage requires the West to rethink the way it orders its economy, meaning that we cannot continue to grow our economy and suck in global wealth the way that we have done in the past.

But all of these actions, however painful and refining they may be, are Good News because they are reflections of Kingdom of God.


In Advent, we remember the coming of the baby Jesus into our world 2000 years ago. But Advent is not just a season of looking backwards to the first coming of Christ.

It is also a season of looking forward to the second coming of Christ and to the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is a season that calls us to prepare our hearts for that Kingdom and to live as if the Kingdom were already upon us. Advent invites us to hope in a world where hoping sometimes seems impossible to do.

In this second Sunday of Advent, the prophetic voice of John the Baptist calls us all to repentance. John’s exhortation reminds us that God has made repentance possible. His exhortation reminds us that God invites all of us to change our direction, to straighten and smooth our path and walk toward the Kingdom. We are reminded that change is possible, that hope is possible, that righteousness and justice are possible.

As we go from this place, my prayer for each of us this morning is that we continue to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ by lives of on-going repentance. I pray that each of us can clearly hear the voice of God calling us with his message of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. I pray that we each be given the grace of God to bring his forgiveness, love, justice and righteousness more fully into the world around us. Amen

Sunday, December 03, 2006

3 December 2006 - Waiting and Hoping

This is the sermon for Advent 1. The texts are: Jeremiah 33: 14-16 and Luke 21:25-36


The Plight of Jerusalem

“In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 33:16, NRSV)

Imagine what it would be like to live in a small community that is literally caught between three superpowers.

The text we read this morning from the book of Jeremiah was written in just such a situation. This reading refers to a time in the life of the city of Jerusalem before the city had fallen, but it was also a time when the city’s inhabitants were well aware of their dangerous situation. The people of Jerusalem were caught between three superpowers: Egypt to the South, Babylon to the East and Assyria to the North.

Had the people of Jerusalem and Judah lived in another geographic location, it’s probable that none of these superpowers would have taken the slightest bit of notice of them. But geography was precisely their problem, because their city lay in a strategic location, in the corridor that each Empire needed to use on its way to attack the other. This obviously made Jerusalem desirable from the point of view of military strategy: control the corridor of access to your enemy and your armies will stand a higher chance of success in battle.

But many people in Jerusalem were probably not as concerned about this state of affairs as they ought to have been. The Temple of the One True God was located in Jerusalem. God was physically present in the Temple, therefore they believed that Jerusalem could not fall. Time and again, God had protected Jerusalem from foreign invasion.

Except the prophet Jeremiah had a different message for the King of Judah and for the people of Jerusalem. Because of the unrighteousness and unfaithfulness of Jerusalem and her King, the city was going to fall into the hands of her enemies. You can imagine that this message did not make Jeremiah very popular, either with the king or with the people.

Why did Jeremiah see the King of Judah (Johoiakim) as unrighteous?

If you look back to Jeremiah 22:13-17, Jeremiah accuses the King of dishonest gain, the shedding of innocent blood, and of practicing oppression and violence. (v. 17) Jeremiah tells the king that the essence of true kingship is not “building spacious houses with large upper rooms” (v 14) but defending the poor and the needy (v 16) as his father had done. So Jeremiah prophesies the unthinkable: the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple of God.

The Book of Restoration

But in the midst of all this doom and gloom, there are four chapters in Jeremiah which are given the name “The Book of Restoration”. These are chapters 30 to 33; and today’s Old Testament reading is taken from Chapter 33.

Even in the face of the prophecy of the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah, these chapters foresee God’s eventual restoration of his land and of his people. This hope is reflected in today’s brief reading from Jeremiah.

Jeremiah tells his listeners that that God is faithful, and he will fulfil his promise. From the dead branch of the defeated Kingdom, God will cause a green shoot to spring forth from the house of David. Out of a desperate situation, springs hope; out of death springs new life.

This shoot will be a righteous shoot, a righteous King of a righteous people. A King will establish a Kingdom concerned with the defence of the poor and vulnerable. The name of “The Lord is our Righteousness” will be applied not only to the King of this Kingdom, but also to the people of the Kingdom.

Because of God’s faithfulness, God’s judgement of evil and his desire to establish justice and righteousness, a new King and a new Kingdom will be established where God’s promises will be fulfilled.

The Kingdom Comes

I wonder whether – when you heard this morning’s readings – you thought that these were strange texts for the first Sunday in Advent.

Just two weeks ago, the assigned readings for Sunday were all about the end of time and the Kingdom of God and here we are again, with these same sorts of readings. Instead of all this doom and gloom in Advent, shouldn’t we be reading about the coming of the baby Jesus?

The thing is that, like the Kingdom of God, Advent is one of those “now and not yet events”.

The “now” bit is the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, Christmas and the baby Jesus. The first coming. The “not yet bit” is “the Second Coming” – the Eternal establishment of the reality of the Kingdom of God. The celebration of Christmas is not just a memorial of the first coming of the Messiah. It is also a preparation for the second coming of the Messiah.

Earlier in the service with the children, we noted that, in Advent, we are looking forward to the coming of the baby Jesus. We said that Advent is about looking forward to Christmas.

But, as adult Christians we know that Advent is also about looking forward to the eternal and permanent reign of Christ in the Kingdom of God. That is why, like Lent, Advent is also a time of penitence and self-examination.

It’s not just the baby Jesus that we’re waiting for. Like Jeremiah, we are also waiting for the rule of the Righteousness of God, because that’s what the “Second Coming” is about. The Second Coming is about the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus tells us numerous times that we don’t know when that will happen. I personally also think that we don’t know what it will look like. It’s a personal interpretation, but I suspect that, in the same way that the disciples first did not recognise the risen Jesus and then were able to recognise him, that the Second Coming and the Kingdom will be something that is both familiar yet, at the same time, beyond the bounds of our current life experience.
But it is certainly something to hope for.


We ended our all-age talk earlier by mentioning some of the things we would like to ask the Son for God for – for the world and for ourselves. We mentioned things like acceptance, peace, justice, reconciliation.

As we acknowledged in voicing these wishes, being a human in this fallen world can sometimes be difficult. Faced with things like serious illness, chronic pain, unemployment, mindless vandalism, it can sometimes seem impossible to hope. In a world where people try to scrape a living together because they can’t get a fair wage for their crops or where they can’t afford medical treatment, it can sometimes seem impossible to hope. In a world where yet another natural disaster kills thousands of people and leaves many more thousand homeless, it can sometimes seem impossible to hope.

Advent can be a tough season because it does ask us to look forward and to wait in hope. It can be a season of great and genuine difficulty and loneliness for many people and yet we are asked to hope, a call that may sometimes seems like God is mocking us.

I suspect that Jeremiah understood this puzzle of trying to communicate hope in a hopeless situation. As we do, he looked at the world around him and saw the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. As we do, he saw a system stacked in favour of those in power where the weak had no-one to defend them.

But yet, he proclaimed his message of righteousness rising out of the death of unrighteousness. He proclaimed his vision of the covenant Kingdom of God. ‘The reign of God is coming!’ he proclaimed, ‘Justice and righteousness will conquer sin.’ It’s easy to see why people often thought that the prophets were mad.

Waiting for What is to Come

In Advent, we look forward to the celebration of Christmas – the birth of the baby Jesus and the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity – God with us. We remember that Jesus came into the world to be our Saviour and our Leader. We remember that Jesus came into the world in a mission that would change the very fabric of reality so that, no matter how bad things may seem, we know that God has the last word.

We remember that, as Christians, we can believe these things by faith, even if we don’t feel them, for that is the Truth that we proclaim. But we also look forward to the coming of the Reign of Righteousness, and to the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In thankfulness for the love, forgiveness and healing that we have received from Christ, we remember that we are called to spread his love and good news throughout the world. We are instruments of Christ’s kingdom and we are called to spread his hope in what we do as well as in what we say. We are called to live as if the fullness of the Kingdom were already upon us.

As we come to the table of the Lord in a few minutes’ time, I pray that we may each receive any healing that we need to grow in hope. I pray that we may receive the nourishment we need to live as if the fullness of the Kingdom were already here. I pray that we may meet with Christ as he comes to us as both helpless baby and as risen Lord.

May our Advent waiting be blessed with the presence of the Prince of Peace. Amen