Theme – Keep awake!
Text: Mark 13: 35 “Therefore keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come.”
WEEK 1 – THE BEGINNING OF ADVENT
Bible reading … Mark 13:32-37
This week we mark the beginning of Advent. Advent serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it marks the beginning of new time. For virtually half the year the church has liturgically celebrated the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of the world. Now we have come to the realization that not much has changed in our world, in our community and in our lives. That in spite of the intervention of God’s Holy Spirit and the best of our efforts, the World is yet to be redeemed. And so the prayer of Advent is that Christ will come again to rule over God’s creation in power and with Justice.
But Advent does something else. It takes us back to that time long ago when men and women of faith yearned for the first coming of the saviour. This yearning for something new to break forth into our lives is a reminder that no matter how impatient we get as a society, no matter how fast we expect to see things change there are some things we cannot speed up. No matter how we try we cannot advance the speed of pregnancy. We still have to wait the same patient nine months that Mary did. Modern technology may allow us to view the early development of the foetus, but we are still not able to hurry things along. This is how life is and it is precisely the reason why the season of Advent is important. Before the church can change, before I can change, before anything changes, comes a time of watching and waiting. Mark’s Gospel reminds us not only of that need but also of why it is necessary. Genuine change cannot be about haste, but neither is it about playing for time.
So this season of four Sundays which we begin today is given to the church to help us capture that spirit of hopeful waiting on God’s reliability in a time of hopelessness – a yearning for a new and unique expression of God’s initiative to save a world gone wrong. We need such a message in an age characterized by impatience and where for many of us the temptation is to eliminate Advent and move directly to Christmas. With this in mind the studies over the next three weeks will help to prepare us in our quest to experience the hope which Advent inspires.
Questions for discussion
1) What does Advent mean to you?
2) Do you believe that the Christian Church has become caught up in the secular trappings of commercialisation?
3) In what ways may we have strayed from the deep meaning of the valuable experience of Advent? Is ‘the act of waiting’ an imposition on your time?
4) Can we recapture the Advent experience? How can we re-frame this against the background of 21st century “preparation tactics”?
WEEK 2 – THE HOPE OF ADVENT
Bible reading St. Luke 1:68-79 (The Benedictus)
According to our text watchfulness is necessary because there are those who, intentionally or not, will mislead you. The voices inside and outside of the church that claim to know what crisis is at hand are many. They claim to speak with authority on every issue of the day – the political crisis, the crisis within the church and the society as a whole – despite their claim none of them really knows what time it truly is or what response will end up being appropriate for the situation. Watchfulness is necessary, according to the Gospel writer, because only God knows what the real crisis is and how it will manifest itself. “Therefore keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come.”
So, in a practical way, we must be prepared to let go of the old way of living. Our Old Testament reading reminds us, that like Israel, we expect God to do great things for us, not realizing the extent to which our very uncleanness prevents us from receiving the very thing God wills for us.
There is much that we have to give thanks for in our personal and collective lives. However our liturgy teaches us that our life before God must also include grieving over our sins. If we do not grieve over these things, things that prevent us from fulfilling our true humanity, then we will run the risk of becoming stuck in ways that are debilitating.
The good news for Advent is that we don’t have to expect a logical continuation of everything we have already seen and known. We don’t have to get stuck in the past. Something different is on the way. As theologian Walter Brueggemann notes, “What we ready ourselves for in Advent, is the sneaking suspicion, the growing restlessness that this weary world is not the one God has in mind. God will work another world … according to the person and passion of Jesus. The day is coming when the love and justice of Jesus Christ will fill the universe. According to Jesus, it can only happen after the world as we know it is unplugged and dismantled”.
Questions for discussion
1) What is your understanding of “letting go”?
2) How do you view a “crisis”? Think of a few and focus on their importance and subsequent resolution. Where and how do you see God in these situations?
3) Are we ‘stuck in the past’ or are we continually seeking new avenues to explore?
WEEK 3 – THE SUSTAINING POWER OF GOD’S GIFTS
Bible reading 1 Corinthians 1:4-9
We need to acknowledge this Advent that God’s gifts are more than sufficient to sustain us while we live during this time of waiting. “In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind, so you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor. 1:5 &7). Paul is saying in our reading from 1st Corinthians that our problem as Christians is not caused by a lack of gifts. God can be trusted to supply all our needs.
It is up to us to utilize the gifts God has given in ways that will benefit the good of all. The removal of the moral and ethical anchors that held our community our homes as well as our nation together in the past have created a kind of social crisis and despair that our predecessors could not have anticipated. The challenge today is not simply to lament the loss of such anchors but to ask ourselves, what can Advent teach us about the kind of response that is appropriate for these times? Over the next few weeks we will be challenged to move beyond our numbed endurance and our domesticated expectations, to consider our life afresh in light of the new gifts that God is about to unfold. Thus our readings for today invite us into a vision of a healed alternative for our world.
Questions for discussion
1) How quickly can you enumerate ten gifts that God has given you over the past week?
2) How do we respond to God’s generosity?
3) How should we express gratitude to God for continued and unfolding gifts to each of us?
WEEK 4 – IMAGINING HOPE
Bible reading – Romans 8:18-25
It is not an easy thing to work for personal and institutional change while at the same time exercising patience and watchfulness. Our world of instant gratification knows nothing about living in that kind of tension. However for the Christian, living with such a tension is possible since we know that the future is in God’s hand. We know we can count on the reliability of God’s promise.
It is as our collective imagination is nurtured in prayer and worship, that new possibilities are given birth. Without imagination we become imprisoned in an absolute present, unaware of the direction we have come from, and therefore what direction we are heading in. Without imagination we become stuck in the way things are with no options, unable to appreciate that things might have been different in the past, and therefore can be different in the future. What the author of Mark has heard in Jesus’ story, and has woven into the fabric of his gospel, is that every moment of the passing day is already alive with the promise of God’s future. Those who trust in the promise of God’s coming kingdom are also able to see advance signs of its coming all around them. Those who believe that, in God’s good time, something is about to happen, also know, that even now, something is happening.
Questions for discussion
1) In hindsight, how have you experienced the fact that the forte is in God’s hands?
2) How do you view the possibilities of hope?
3) As we come to the end of the Advent season do we feel alive with the promise of God’s future?
Prayer – O God of the patriarchs, prophets and apostles, awaken within us the hope of new beginnings. Come to us as the breaking of the dawn, and dispel the darkness of our desolation and abandonment with a sense of expectancy. Dispel our fears, increase our hope, that we may respond with urgency and wait with patience for the kingdom the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.
Christmas Message 2014
In his first Christmas message to his Diocese, Province and the wider Anglican Communion in 2013, Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev Justin Welby, said the Church is to focus on the good news that Jesus “rescues us from our brokenness and makes us carriers of life and light.” Here the Archbishop echoes words from I Peter 2:9 and Col. 1:13. In both instances, the Biblical witness points to the message of salvation as one of deliverance from death to life and from darkness to light.
Archbishop Welby expressed the view that, for Christians, the good news of Jesus Christ is rooted in the birth of a baby. He says St John 1:14 echoes the idea that God chose to be vulnerable so that the world may pass Him by; ignore him and neglect him. Nevertheless, God took this risk on the basis of pure love. Later in the Gospel, the writer of St John has Jesus saying, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16). At Christmas time, we celebrate the presence of pure, unconditional love poured out on the world. Yet, the profound truth is that such love can be embraced but it can also be neglected. Whether embraced or neglected, however, scripture and the Church, including the Archbishop, are of the view this love is here to stay.
At this time of year, faithful Christians gather the world over to testify and celebrate the presence and power of love in the world. Jesus is the supreme reality of love and the Church is a sign of Jesus’ love. Celebration in word, sacrament, drama, poetry, with the use of food, wine and other things, suggests a lavish means of marking such a momentous occasion. Pointing to the reality of love present as divine grace in the world, Archbishop Welby says:
We follow the God who is Saviour, whose word of love was found in action and word. We are called to act, whether at home or around the world, not just lament. Jesus rescues us from our brokenness and makes us carriers of life and light. He calls for that great line of witnesses that has swept down through the centuries to be continued today by a church that is confident in the message of God’s love and truth. It will always be an untidy church because we are in a vulnerable, untidy, broken world. Yet when we see the fact of Christ’s birth, hear the witnesses, receive the life he gives and respond in passionate discipleship then all our vulnerabilities, muddles and weaknesses are carried in His strength. The Christian meaning of Christmas is unconditional love received, love overflowing into a frequently love-lost world.
At Christmas 2014, therefore, Christians in Jamaica, across the Caribbean and around the world are invited to embrace the gospel as a message of love. It is love which enters into the darkness of an often love-less world to rescue it from death and transfer it into the light of God. We are called to love as God loves and make known such love by word, deed and example of life. To extend love to someone this Christmas is to be the word in flesh.
A blessed, holy and peaceful Christmas to you all.
Rev Garth Minott
United Theological College of the West Indies