Sunday Sermons

Advent 1: The Patriarchs (& their wives)

I wonder what you are waiting for this advent? Take a moment. This is a time of anticipation .. what is it you look forward to? Do you look forward with excitement, dread, concern, hope? What are you waiting for this advent?

In classic Christian thinking about advent it is normal to see the infant Jesus as the saviour-in-waiting, and to see the surrounding characters in a rather sterile and serene light.

We consider this morning the Patriarchs … but we should be careful not look back in a one dimensional light at them and their hopes … as though they had no doubts, no fears, no complications just belief in God and his provision?

Do we ever think of them as the lonely, doubting, angry waiters that they were. Angry with God for all that seemed wrong in the world. Nervous,tired and worried about the future..

We can fall into the trap both in terms of history and the future of thinking salvation is coming simply through the arrival of this one child: what I mean I suppose is that we can sometimes assume that in Jesus salvation cost God everything, and us nothing. As though you cannot help God but he has come to help you. As Luther put it salvation in a gift received not a task worked out.

This Advent I want to remind you that this is not completely true. Ours is not a passive wait for salvation. This advent like we are called to prepare and get ready. We as spiritually alert as we can because just like the patriarchs, the prophets and , John the Baptist, his mother Mary, the wise men, Simeon and the shepherds – we need to make ready and participate in our own salvation.

What the advent story tells us is in fact that the bringing of salvation to the world turns out to be a work in which the cost is shared among many. The patriarchs heard a promise that they must hope in, the prophets saw there is something wrong and were persecuted, Mary had to say “yes”, and to the Annunciation with some sacrifice. John the Baptist, loses his ministry and his life for Jesus. God’s salvation incurs debts and demands our sacrifices too.

In short then we realise at advent that because God comes as a child not a king, is inviting us to help in the act of salvation. The Advent and Christmas story is full of characters who are examples of Christian virtue, discipline and generosity. The innkeeper extends his boundaries to find one more room. The wise men bring extravagant gifts, speaking of foolish generosity. The shepherds mirror the spontaneity needed in the search for Jesus. Small wonder as an adult Christ preached on the importance of welcoming the stranger, being generous, searching for God’s kingdom..

So whatever you are waiting for this advent, do not look in terms of God solely bearing the cost and not needing our help. The salvation story is far richer in depth and meaning than one of simply awaiting our fate. God involves many people in that work of “gathering up all things in Christ”, and allows all sorts of folk to participate in his saving work.

He invites his followers to share in the work of salvation, and to distribute the rewards. You are a partner in this extraordinary business, in which everyone can receive a full and equal share of God’s riches. This is God’s true wisdom, coming to us as a helpless child who reaches out to us not a king enthroned. As one of my tutors used to say the Christmas story is ultimately one of midwifery, not of theology.

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