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Advent 2009


"I Will Return" - Idle words or for real?

In my boyhood days, having a scrap with a mate in a playground was no unusual thing.  I think it gave me and my school pals our early interest in boxing.  The names of Joe Lewis, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston were in everyday conversation.  However the emergence of Cassius Clay who later became known as Mohammed Ali was unique in the boxing world.  His arrogance and style, with his catch phrase, “I am the greatest,” impressed some but antagonised many.  However he was unquestionably the greatest boxer of his era.  He was known for his gimmickry and humorous verses “I like your company and I like your style but I have to leave you after a while,” “Float like a butterfly sting like a bee.” I was in my teenage years and recall turning on my bedside radio at 3.00am on the morning of the 26th February 1964 to hear the commentary of the fight in which he won against all the odds by beating the then perceived unbeatable, Sonny Liston.  World heavyweight boxing had changed forever as Ali with his unique style, defended his world crown on numerous occasions; in a career that was to take many turns.

My Methodist Minister friend, Wesley Blair often recounts with some humour, how after successfully defending his title, Ali in February 1978 was defeated in Las Vegas, by Leon Spinks.  He took his defeat with his usual arrogance and bad grace and declared “I will return,” and so he did to regain the world heavyweight title nine months later.  However commentators were convinced that on that fateful night in Las Vegas it was a watershed for the great man.  Ali’s boxing career was coming to an end.   In 1981, now on medication for a crippling disease, the man who said “I am the greatest,” was finished, never to return to the boxing arena.

When Ali said those famous words “I will return” he may not have realised that someone much greater said them and will fulfil them.  The gospel writer John records the words of Jesus, “I will come again and receive you unto myself.”  As Jesus ascended into heaven two men in white robes said to His disciples “This same Jesus will come again as you have seen him go.”  No ill-conceived comment but an amazing promise.

On this the first Sunday in Advent in the season that leads up to Christmas, the word Advent means coming.  Reflecting on the coming of Jesus, we rejoice in His first coming but also in His coming again.  It is the great hope of the Christian.  As many of us struggle with the difficulties, suffering and temptations of this life, how tremendous are the words of St Paul in Romans c 8 v 18 “ I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

While none of us knows the hour or moment of Christ’s return the Bible strongly commends that we watch, wait, and be ready for that day.  The best we can do is to take seriously the words of the late Edgar Stites who was a boatman on the Delaware River and looked to the future life but left important advice in words he wrote:

Trusting Him while life shall last, Trusting Him till earth be past;
Till within the jasper wall, Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Trusting as the moments fly, Trusting as the days go by;
Trusting Him whate’er befall, Trusting Jesus that is all   

Jim Rea

29 November 2009


Reproduced with permission from "Shankill Methodist Church News" 30 November 2008


NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at