A reflection for the 29th November 2020
Advent Sunday

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Offered for Sunday 29nd November 2020


Stephen

Reflections Script

Advent Sunday g

November 29th 2020


'The Thing from Another World'
not a headline from some
newspaper tabloid but the full title
of a 1951 Science Fiction film.

The premise of the film
concerns a U.S. Air Force crew
and scientists who find a crashed flying saucer
and a body frozen nearby
in the Arctic Ice.

Returning to their remote
research outpost
with the humanoid body
in a block of ice,
they are forced to
defend themselves against
this malevolent,
plant-based alien
when it is accidentally revived.
When the weather clears,
the journalist
who has witnessed everything,
files his "story of a lifetime"
by radio to a roomful
of reporters in Anchorage.

During his report,
he gives a warning to reporters:
"Tell the world.
Tell this to everybody,
wherever they are.
Watch the skies everywhere.
Keep looking.
Keep watching the skies."

A plea and call to arms
that could be our mantra
as we await the
'Triumphant Return of Christ'.
However,
as Paul the Apostle points out
and addresses
in 1Thessalonians 4: 9 to 12.

Where the preaching of the
Second Coming had produced
an odd and awkward situation.
Many of the Thessalonians
had given up their daily work
and were standing about
in excited groups,
upsetting themselves
and everyone else,
while they waited
for the Second Coming
of Christ to arrive.

Ordinary life had been disrupted;
the task of making a living
had been abandoned;
Paul's advice was supremely practical.
He told them, in effect,
the best way in which
Jesus Christ could come upon them
was that he would find them quietly,
efficiently and diligently
doing their daily job.

To rework a quote
from my collage principal,
"Today I must complete
outstanding paperwork;
tomorrow I must officiate
at a funeral;
on Sunday I must preach;
some day I must die.

Let us do as well as we can
each task as it comes to us.
"The thought
Christ will someday come,
that life as we know it will end,
is not a reason for stopping work;
it is a reason for working
all the harder
and more faithfully.

It is not hysterical
and useless waiting
but quiet and useful work
which will be our passport
to God's Kingdom.


Let us Pray


Our Opening Prayer
is based around Mark Chapter 13

When the skies grow dark
and buildings fall,
When the deceivers come
and the nations rise in anger,
When famines begin,
and when the earth shakes
to bring the future to birth,
When we take our stand
to witness to your truth,?
when our people are
arrested and betrayed,
When the sun is darkened
and the moon fails
to give us light,
and when the stars
fall from the sky,
When you come
in your great power and glory
with all your angels from heaven:
Then, Lord,
gather us from the four winds -
from the ends of the earth,
to be with you
for all of eternity.
Amen.>


Address

It's Saturday:
the eleven-year-olds are playing football,
reds against greens.
The reds are the better team and,
with all the action at the far end,
their goalkeeper is bored.

He takes an interest in the match on the next pitch
and is drawn into the drama
of a penalty kick. But shouts alert him to
developments of his own game.
He looks round.
Two green clad players
and the ball are speeding towards him.

But he had his eye on the wrong ball,
he's lost his bearings
and his balance.
The ball cuts across him
and into the net.
He was neither alert nor awake
to his job.

Jesus calls us to keep awake
and alert spiritually,
keeping our eye
on the right ball.

Mark 13,
known as the 'Mini Apocalypse',
the whole chapter
needs to be read
not just verses 24 to 37
as the vagrancies
of the lectionary tell us to.

The whole chapter
needs to be read in context.
At the beginning of the chapter
Jesus' prediction the Temple
in Jerusalem would be destroyed
'No one stone here
will be left on another;
everyone will be thrown down'

But to some minds,
this outlandish claim
dishonoured God,
but it also suggests
God's imminent judgement
and the end of the world.

Against this backdrop
Jesus speaks about sufferings
to come for his followers,
after which, he says,
the sun, moon and stars
will be no more, and he,
the Son of Man,
will return in heavenly glory
with angels who will
gather together God's people.

This sort of language
in the Bible has often led to
speculation about the details
of the last judgement.
What exactly will happen and when?

Scholars and zealots have combed
similar biblical texts
for clues about those events.

The truth is
what is written
gives no such clues at all.

For example,
the demise of the sun,
moon and stars may not refer to
the events to come,
but is traditional symbolic language
for the fall of these objects
worshipped by other nations
at that time.

The aim is to emphasise
God's ultimate victory.

But for us to understand
what is being said
we need to think not only
of the context of
Jesus' teaching,
but also the context
in which Mark was writing.?

Scholars and Theologians
do not agree exactly when
this Gospel was written,
but today's passage
does suggest
the author was addressing
Christians going through
a period of considerable suffering,
perhaps associated with the
destruction of the Temple
in 70 - 72 AD.

If this is the case,
then those believers
were very likely
to be asking why
they were suffering
and when Jesus would return,
as promised,
to save them.

So Mark's aim is to encourage them,
not by promising an instant fix,
but by placing their troubles
in a context,
in which God is still sovereign,
who knows all about
what they are going through
and will bring salvation once
the hardship has been endured.

This passage is trying to encourage
the people to hold fast
to God through Jesus,
who will ultimately return
to call his people to himself.

But it is very specifically
not setting dates
or even a programme of events
leading up to Christ's return,
verse 32
"about that day or hour no one knows".
This is a bit of a balancing act:
look forward to God's intervention
but don't assume he will act simply
because you're currently
having a hard time.

Don't rest all your faith
on God's immediate rescue,
but do "keep alert" and "keep awake"
to Christ who will return anytime.

In other words,
keep your eye on the ball,
which is living the Christian life
in hope, faith and expectation.

In some ways we today
are in the same position
as the people of the first century:
between the time of Jesus
and the end of the world.
But two thousand years
lie between us and them
and this can make it difficult
to maintain the conviction
Christ could return anytime.

Our tendency is not to wonder why
he has not already returned,
but whether his "return"
will actually be anything
other than the laws
of physics or human folly
eventually bringing
our planet to an end.

The truth is the future
is indeed a mystery,
who could have predicted
this time last year how
2020 would evolve,
we simply need to hold on
to the truth of God's supremacy!

Trying to predict
almost anything about
the end of the world is,
like the goalkeeper,
keeping our eye on the wrong ball.

Rather we need to keep awake
and alert to the work of God
in our lives
and his presence around us,
living in hope,
faith and expectation.

That is the best preparation
for any sort of judgement.
That is keeping our eye
on the right ball.

To Summarise

Jesus predicts
the destruction of the Temple
and speaks about Judgement Day.

Mark, writing his Gospel,
has in mind Christians
who are suffering hardship.

Some Christians
have used this text and others
to try to predict
certain details
about the end of the world.

But this is a misuse
of this or any other biblical text.?

The passage affirms
that Jesus will
ultimately return and gather
"his own" to himself,
but also seeks
to damp down expectations
of Jesus' imminent return
and instead encourage
the believers
to endure their troubles,
while keeping "awake"
and "alert" to Christ.

In our times,
roughly 2,000 years after Jesus
and the writing of this Gospel,
it can be hard to maintain
the conviction
of Christ's imminent return,
but we are still called
to keep awake and alert to him
and live the Christian life
in faith, hope and expectation.

Our Blessing

May God the Father,
who loved the world so much that
he sent his only Son,
give us grace to prepare
for life eternal.
May God the Son,
who comes to us as redeemer
and judge,
reveal to us the path
from darkness to light.
May God the Holy Spirit,
by whose plan
the Virgin Mary
conceived Christ,
help us bear
the fruits of holiness
and the blessing......


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