Sermon 29 November 2020


Advent 1 Hope

Our gospel reading this week is once again a warning to be prepared for the coming of the Day of the Lord. In it Jesus uses stark language preparing his disciples for tough times to come and ends with the message to “Watch!” After looking in detail at Matthew 25 over the last three weeks and thinking about what it means to be prepared for that amazing day when Jesus comes again and we face his judgment, today I want to focus more on the advent theme of hope.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and each of the four Sunday’s of Advent has a theme:

Advent 1: HOPE

Advent 2: PEACE

Advent 3: JOY

Advent 4: LOVE

As we begin a short story:

A priest was preparing a dying man for his death. Whispering firmly, the priest said; “Denounce the devil! Let him know how little you think of his evil!”

The dying man said nothing.

The priest repeated his demand. Still the dying man said nothing.

The priest asked, “Why are you refusing to denounce the devil and all his evil?”

The man replied, “Until I know where I am heading, I don’t think I ought to aggravate anybody”. From A Box of Delights by J.John & Mark Stibbe

As we approach our deaths or think about the Second Coming, we don’t have to wonder where we are heading or be frightened, because we have HOPE, Christian hope. The thing about Christian Hope is that it is so much more than the kind of hope where we cross our fingers and wish for something to happen.

Christian hope is NOT wishful thinking

Christian hope is more than optimism

Christian hope is waiting with eager anticipation

Christian hope is CONFIDENT EXPECTATION

Christian hope is a CHOICE based on past experience

Christian hope is when God has promised that something is going to happen and YOU put your trust in that promise.

Christian hope is confidence that something will come to pass because GOD has promised it will come to pass.

Christian hope is not based on circumstances but on a PERSON - on Jesus Christ who died, rose and ascended into heaven.

There are three words for hope in the Bible:

YAKHAL – Hebrew meaning to wait for

QAVAH – Hebrew meaning tense expectation

ELPIS – Greek meaning hope, expectation, trust, confidence.

So Christian hope is about waiting. Waiting in expectation and in anticipation of a future better than the present.

In our reading today from 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 we see Paul outlining the Christian hope to this early church. As we have seen in previous weeks this letter of Paul to the church in Corinth was to be quite a strong one in which he reprimanded them for some of their attitudes and behaviour, but he starts with the hope that they have and the truth of who they are in Christ. He wants them to have this truth rooted deeply in their inner being as he goes on to address some difficult issues.

He starts by greeting them with the grace and peace of Christ. This is more than a polite beginning to his letter although it does follow a familiar format to many of Paul’s letters. Grace is the essence of our faith. As we know from the children’s song: Grace is when God gives us the things we don’t deserve. Or to use a very old acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. The grace Paul is speaking of is the gift we have of being made right with God through Christ’s death and resurrection. And with that comes peace. We no longer need to fear for our futures because they are in God’s hands.

Paul is so thankful that these people have received God’s grace. This wasn’t because of anything they had done but it came as a gift. Paul says, ‘I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus’. Grace can only be given; it can never be earned or bought.

He goes on to point out that Jesus has proved he had given them his grace, love and acceptance by following the gift of grace with other gifts. Paul says, For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge v5. After the grace they received, God gave them so much more. They experienced his presence; through praise, preaching, teaching, gifts of tongues, wisdom and words of knowledge and so on. And all of this was confirmation of the message that Paul had taught them (God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you v 6). It is so important in our lives to be grounded in our faith and this is what Paul is doing for the members of the church in Corinth. Life will bring difficulties; we will be tempted to abandon our faith or to allow some of the truths to be stolen from us. Mark 13 speaks of false messiahs and deception causing people to turn away. Jesus warns that there will be much to cause people to question and to maintain their walk with him. So he says in Mark 13:33 Be on guard! Be alert!

So we return to the word HOPE. Hope is about waiting. Waiting and watching. Waiting for the promises of Jesus to be fulfilled and watching with the eyes of hindsight the things he has done in the past, especially his going to the cross for you and for me, so that our hope is strengthened.

This year for various reasons the verse “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight ” from Proverbs 3:5&6 has been Tudor and my verse to live by. It has sometimes felt as if we have been hanging on by our fingernails as we have waited in hope for him to reveal himself in difficult and trying situations. Situations where we have made mistakes, situations which have been out of our comfort zone and situations where we had no choice but to trust as there was nothing else we could do. We haven’t seen lots of miracles but we have encountered his faithfulness which has enabled us to trust him more.

There is a verse in the hymn Amazing Grace:

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come;

'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home.

John Newton who wrote this hymn knew that the more of the storms of life that he went through trusting in God’s grace the greater his certainty of his place in heaven, and the deeper his longing for that day to arrive.

Paul encourages the Corinthians to look forward to that day, “as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” v7. They can do this because of all they have already received from Christ and all that they are yet to experience. Paul goes on to say that God will “keep you firm to the end” v8.

But how do we keep firm? I want to suggest that the theological doctrine of assurance is really important here. In some ways assurance is another term for Christian hope. It is defined as the state of being confident in a condition or outcome.  Usually it is applied to one’s assurance of salvation. (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry on-line Dictionary of Theology).

Nothing we can do will help us on the Day of Judgment. We can try as hard as we can; doing good things, and pretending that some of the not so good things that we have done were someone else’s fault.

Are you good at blaming others for your mistakes? There are times in our household where I think we could turn it into an Olympic sport. It is human nature to dodge the blame. Listen to this person dodging the blame for a car accident:

“Going to work at 7:00 this morning I drove out of my driveway straight into a bus. The bus was 5 minutes early.”

But we cannot dodge the blame for our actions or our negligence. And yet Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that “you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” v8. How can this be? You and I know that we have messed up in our lives. So we return again to the word GRACE. It is only through what Jesus did on the cross, taking your pain, and your shame on himself that we can KNOW this assurance that on the last day we will be blameless. BLAMELESS!

How do we know this is true? Paul says it in verse 9, God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

So let us start this Advent with hope. With Christian hope, that is also an assurance that he who has done so much in your life and mine will be faithful. And if we struggle to believe and strive to feel safe and secure when facing the day when he comes again, let us walk a little closer to him, trusting him throughout all our trials large and small to bring us home.

 


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