Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Jeremiah 33: 14 – 16
The Righteous Branch and the Covenant with David
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In 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.’
1 Thessalonians 3: 9 – 11
9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Luke 21: 25 – 36
The Coming of the Son of Man
25‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
29Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Exhortation to Watch
34‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
Well, here we are at the beginning of Advent.
Advent for many people means the countdown to Christmas. For some this is an exciting time of remembering the birth of Jesus, the Saviour of the world. It conjures up images of decorations, seeing loved ones again, of presents, and of good food.
For others Christmas is anything but that. For some people Christmas can be a very miserable time indeed. Where families have little money, Christmas can simply be a reminder that others have more than enough and that they have very little. In our consumer culture the hollowness of the commercialised holiday period only serves to bring home how unsatisfying a materialistic approach to life can be.
In dysfunctional families where people may come together simply because they are related, and where alcohol can have a devastating affect upon the behaviour of some individuals, Christmas can in fact be a frightening experience.
Part of the appeal of Christmas is that it has to do with the arrival of a new and special baby. Nearly everyone loves babies. They speak of innocence, of starting afresh, of the continuation of all that is good in us.
In short, Christmas holds the promise of something better, something hopeful.
The Scriptures are full of promises of something better, and these promises come in the form of prophecies. Most of these are centred on the figure of the Messiah – what out reading from the prophet Jeremiah calls a righteous Branch.
He will be a descendant of King David and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.
So the promise is the promise of a person who is coming to save us, and as we know from the prophet Isaiah, the person will be born as a baby.
The Christian hope, then, is based on promises.
Of course I can be promised something wonderful; I can even be given something, but if I don’t take hold of that something, it’s no good to me at all.
There is an old story about a wealthy art collector who loved his son dearly. Unfortunately his son went off to war and was killed. A few months later in the post arrived a parcel. It was a little portrait of the son sent to the old man by a friend who fought alongside him. The picture became very important to him, not because it was worth much but because the artist captured just what the son looked like.
A few years after this the old man died and his goods were to be auctioned. The auctioneer began by putting up the picture of the son for sale. It was not very impressive as pictures go and he could not get the bidding going.
Eventually a voice cried “Who cares about that painting? It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s forget it and go on to the important paintings.”
Finally, a friend of the old man spoke. “I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it. I will bid $100.”
“I have a bid for $100,” called the auctioneer. “Will anyone go higher?” After a long silence, the auctioneer said, “Going once. Going twice. Gone.” The gavel fell. Cheers filled the room and someone was heard to say, “Now we can get on with it!”
But the auctioneer looked at the audience and announced that the auction was over. Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up and asked, “What do you mean it’s over? We didn’t come here for a picture of some old guy’s son. What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars worth of art here! What’s going on?”
The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son… gets it all.”
That is the essence of the story of Christmas: Whoever takes the Son gets it all. The Bible puts it like this: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5: 11 – 12)
The one who has the son, has it all.
When we light the candle on the first Sunday of Advent, we remember what it is that makes us hopeful. Not some vague hope that perhaps something good is on the way. Christian hope is solid. It is what keeps us positive, it is sure. It is the promise of salvation and it is contained in Jesus – a Jesus who first comes as a little baby, born in Bethlehem.
There is some irony in Jesus having been born in Bethlehem. It is a village at the centre of the Israeli/Palestinian struggle. The times we live in may be uncertain. We may be concerned about what is happening in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, but Bethlehem remains a potent sign of hope.
For whether global unrest bothers you or not; whether Christmas is a good time for you or not, the child born in Bethlehem remains God’s concrete hope for all of us – Jesus remains the personification of God’s saving love for you, and you can have him, the Son of God, because ‘the one who has the son, has it all.’
God bless you.
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