Glencairn Methodist Church
Advent and Christmas
There is a hymn which begins "Advent tells us Christ is near/ Christmas tells us Christ is here". Well, over the last number of years, St Michael and all retailers have beaten Advent by a country mile in telling us that Christmas is near. Since Hallowe'en we have been bombarded with strident messages telling us that Christmas is coming and to "Shop now with 20% discount for Christmas gifts; order your turkey now and get a free bottle of Port wine." Advent has been overshadowed by the call of the new religion - consumerism. There is nothing wrong with shopping early for Christmas, as your financial circumstances permit; it is good to give gifts at Christmas and to enjoy a nice meal with family and friends. But there are two things to say. Retailers tell us that Christmas is near, while Advent tells us that Christ is near and that difference is significant, And, ironically, everyone has forgotten that the word Christmas is a contraction of "Christ Mass", that is, the simple meal of bread and wine that Christians share together to celebrate the coming of Christ. The word Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus meaning arrival, the arrival of Jesus.
So why is it important to prepare for "the yearly remembrance of the birth of" Jesus? It's simple really. For believers, the birth of Jesus was the unprecedented coming to Earth of the Son of God, or God the Son. God in Man came to teach us about the Kingdom of God and to exhort us to become citizens of this Kingdom. Humanity was mired in sin - disobedience to God's laws for us - and was unable to get itself out of the muck. Jesus taught us the ways of the kingdom - basically to love God and to demonstrate this by loving our neighbour - and to learn that God actually loves us but wants us to stop sinning. Through his ministry Jesus demonstrated powerfully that - to the eye of the believer - he actually was God in Man. But the ways of God run counter to the ways of men and so he was deemed a threat by those in positions of power, most notably the Jewish elite. With the support of "the mob" they had Jesus crucified. End of story? By no means! Many followers claimed to have seen Jesus resurrected - alive but in a new way; they experienced further fellowship with him for a time; they experienced his departure - back to heaven they said - and they experienced extraordinary power to tell others about these miraculous and mysterious events, the consequence of which was that everyone could each find their way out of the muck.
Without the incarnation - God becoming Man - there could be no resurrection and no hope for us all. And so at Christmas we rejoice and give thanks for the coming of Jesus and we prepare to celebrate his birthday.
But even that is not the end of the story, nor the only purpose of the Season of Advent. At his Ascension, the believing community were assured that "this same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same was as you have seen him leave." The church thought that this would be soon - a matter of days or weeks. But as the weeks became months and the months became years, they realised that Jesus had not been joking when he told that that no one except the Father, not even himself, knew when this second coming would be.
And so, two thousand plus years later, we find ourselves still living in "the end times". When will this be? What will it be like? We don't know. We know from science that it is very likely that in a few billion years our Sun will run out of gas (hydrogen) to burn. As it dies, it will expand swallowing all the planets in the Solar System, putting an end to all life here. Or the end of human life might come before that. Earth might be hit by a big lump of rock from outer space causing total devastation. (It is believed that such an event killed off the dinosaurs some millions of years ago.) Or Ebola might escape and, as they say, go viral and kill everybody.
We will in any case, just grow old and die and perhaps death is the event, as we pass from temporality into eternity, that we will meet Jesus and be judged by him, as he promised, to be with him or not as the case may be.
We should be read for this to happen anytime - suddenly or more gradually - and Advent is an opportunity to prepare to meet our God.
11 December 2014
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm