Thursday, December 8, 2011

Now but not yet!

I share my sermon from last Sunday morning - I know that it has already spoken to a few people and hope that God may speak to you through it. Praying for all those in the now but not yet season!

Readings:          Isaiah 40: 1-11 & Mark 1: 1-8      

We are now in week two of the season called advent. A time which traditionally is a time of waiting - but we always seem to be waiting for something - and often we see that as a negative thing. Whether it’s stuck in the queue at Morrisons, waiting for a bus, sitting in the doctors surgery waiting for your turn in the queue, or sitting on the A1 for 6 hours waiting for the police to clear up an accident, like I was a couple of months ago – it’s not usually a positive happy time.

 In fact waiting can be very frustrating – the other morning, I was sat at my computer and trying to catch up in the news through the internet – when the system froze and a message came up “waiting for a response from the webpage….” I ended up having to reboot the computer before I could carry on.

 But this isn’t the sort of waiting we mean when we describe advent – I think it’s more like the time, which I was only talking about the other day when I was at Wesley College in Bristol.

 It was only a few months before I was due to move up here to York, and the college decided that I had to write my dissertation before I moved and gave me 6 weeks to do it – the problem was that at about the same time the last Harry Potter book was released and I had pre-ordered it and was looking forward to reading it. But I knew that if I even looked at the book the dissertation would never get done… and so before I had even opened the package – I asked another student to look after it and told her not to give it to me until I had finished the work. I longed to read that book, and within about 10 minutes of the dissertation being handed in, I had started reading the book!

 Although I longed to read the book, and it was frustrating knowing it was there, it was essential waiting! Advent can be a bit like that – we know that at the end we get to the joy of Christmas, but there is plenty we need to do before we get there – not only practically for Christmas day, or for setting up our Christmas Festival (which as an aside – went really well yesterday – and the church looks lovely – and I would like to thank everyone who contributed before and on the day!) but in preparing ourselves by going through this season of Advent.

Isaiah chapter 40 brings about a shift in emphasis in his prophecy – for the first 39 chapters carry the message and warning of judgement for sin, to Judah, Israel and the surrounding nations. They tried to live godly lives, but in their hearts they were corrupt – Isaiah’s warning to them were intended to get them to understand God’s true nature and message and to purify their hearts, turning back to God. Chapter 40 is the beginning of some words of comfort, bringing a message of forgiveness and hope, which looks forwards to Jesus; coming to earth.

The first words of the chapter say “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

 Here we see that the waiting appears to be over for those nations, for a merciful God shows the tender side of his character. The people have done their time for their mistakes, and God has called time in their misery. They had waited a long time for their waiting to be over, and finally the thing they longed for the most had come to them. But this message is not just for people who lived many thousands of years ago, for Isaiah’s message still speaks to us powerfully today.

Many people still spend long periods of time in despair or have tough times that seem like to go for ever, but in verse 4 of that chapter, we read – every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low, the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places plain” In other words those things that distract or hinder us, will one day be removed, but in the meantime we have to wait – and although it seems frustrating or sometimes painful, it is essential waiting for God speaks to us through that time.

 This time of Advent encourages us to wait – and talks about waiting with courage, with patience, for joy and with faithfulness. Advent is bound up in excitement and hope, and like a cake baking, a little boiling or paint drying, we have to wait for a process to happen.

John the Baptist was a man who knows about waiting … he, like many Jews were waiting for the messiah to come and save them – although unlike others, John knew that the messiah was Jesus. But in his waiting, he also preached, taught and warned people that they needed to repent and be baptised in preparation for the messiah’s arrival. When John challenged the people to confess their sin individually, he signalled the start of a new relationship with God – a relationship that we too can have with him today.

 Think back to that doctor’s waiting room we mentioned early. Patients may arrive with a sense of anticipation knowing that they may receive healing or the answer to the problems ailing them, or they may be anxious because they are unsure if they can be healed, or worried that they will never find the problem. There is nearly always a wait – regardless of whether the patient is on time for the appointment. This is the “now, but not just yet” situation that gives rise to mixed emotions.

When we wait patiently there are outcomes; the patient will see the practitioner; Christmas does eventually come; God does respond to our needs. However, unlike the arrival of the doctor or Christmas, there is no precise appointment time for God’s interventions in our lives. It is much harder to wait for something when we do not know the time scale. But if we nip back into the book of Isaiah, verse 5 of that passage we heard says that our wait will be rewarded when the glory of the lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. It is important to wait, but also important that we are together in our waiting so we can encourage one another.

 We are in the “now, but not yet” place but when Christmas comes this year, our advent wait will be rewarded, but before that happens, we need to spent this time reflecting on our own relationship with God, and see whether there is anything we need to do during this time, to ensure we are ready for Christmas in a spiritual, as well as practical way.

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