OBSERVE THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Sermon delivered on the First Sunday in Advent, the 29th November 2015 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban’s Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.
Scriptures: Jeremiah 33:14-16 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13 S. Luke 21:25-36
S. Luke 21:28 “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Today is the First Sunday in Advent, the first day in the new Christian year beginning today. And so, may I sincerely wish for all a truly blessed New Year. Advent Sunday is also marked for me by its being the anniversary of our first act of worship in this building as St. Alban’s Church of England on Advent Sunday 2000. Some of us remember that we had previously used the South Sound Community Hall for worship on Sunday mornings since about the same time of the year in 1983. In addition, the Advent Sunday fifteen years ago was a plausible marker of the new Millennium - the first day of the Christian year that would fall mainly in 2001. Today the Christian calendar beckons us forward to the sixteenth year in the current Christian Millennium, for by characteristically Christian thought our minds are both turned back in time to the actions and documents that are the source-references of our faith, and are turned forward in time to the various challenges ahead that faith tells us to meet and overcome. For our church there are immense challenges, such as, amongst others, the finding and settling in of a new rector and any family, and the starting of the planned church building. May God guide us through these times.
SIGNS OF THE TIME
Remarkable things indeed have been happening in the world of our time, and even if it is not yet that in the words of the Gospel we see either in vision or reality the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory, the minds of many are disturbed with images of great destruction and appalling inhumanity. Apart from the darkening of the sun at Calvary’s noon-time, mankind has not yet seen the promised signs in sun and moon and stars, though if these signs are intended in some way to be symbolic of the massive explosions of modern warfare and metaphorical for the overthrowing of Gentile earthly powers, they might not altogether be invisible. At this time it is not by any means fanciful to discern the possibility of Western societal fissure and collapse in the last great Gentile power conglomerate, dramatically weakened not only by what we might term serious economic indiscretions, but by the voices within it that militantly urge a wholesale departure from its foundational Christian faith, from marital faithfulness as we have always understood it, from restraint of behaviour, and from truth-telling in general. Now, fastening upon these internal Western weaknesses comes a threat that is old according to the history books, but new to everyone living, the grave threat of a violently imposed islamist caliphate. Small territories such as ours bob up and down like flotsam on the waves of these world movements and opinions. Western-type challenges to life, matrimony and freedom of religious expression have arrived here, with the ideological background of some institutions quietly declining to acknowledge the Christianity of Christmas. It is by no means too presumptious to reckon with the idea outlined by Christ that “redemption draws near”. In what better place can we be to note these realities than in what I consider to be one of God’s true millennium markers, St. Alban’s Church, 461 Shedden Road, George Town? Let us be reminded, therefore, that we look for the Advent of Christ, His coming, not as though this had not already begun to happen. From the time that Jesus walked in the Holy Land, the Kingdom of God has begun to arrive, as He Himself affirmed. We live simultaneously in two time-scales, the time of this age and the time or eternity of the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God is indeed already at hand, as all faithful people can testify. We pray for the time or eternity of the Kingdom of God to fashion the time of this age when we pray, “Thy kingdom Come, Thy Will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”, but the competing wills of this “Brave New World” appear as increasingly in rebellion against the other.
We read in our Old Testament lesson today from Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” From our faith perspective we know God’s promise to all His people, not only to those of Israel and Judah, will be fulfilled. We may not be able with the eyes of our world to see from the extraordinary turmoil of our time the appearance of the King or the Kingdom that Jeremiah prophesied as “The Lord is our Righteousness”, but we can be assured by faith in the efficacy of the Cross-bearing Christ’s redemption of the world, that the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise is the soundest of all realities. Our second lesson from 1 Thessalonians depicts the intensity of fellowship between apostle and people, and among all God’s people. We too, as St. Paul did, pray as his successors that the Lord will make His people increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, so that He may establish their hearts unblamable in holiness at the coming of the Lord Jesus with His holy ones. And as outgoing rector I pray similarly for this congregation. For personal sanctity is incompatible with the fostering of bad relationships. The fellowship among His people as we take the perspective of the Lord’s coming should intensify and become more theologically oriented, as should our mind about things in general. We are in fellowship not on the basis of liking one another, but on the basis that God has brought all of us together in preparation for the Coming of the Lord Jesus with all His saints.
WATCH SO AS TO STAND AT THE DAY APPOINTED
I have referred to our remarkable times, in which empires are weakened and fail and alignments not to our liking take place, the role of Russia in the world today perhaps being a key instance, and in which the very culture that was most formed by Christian precepts is devoured by those who purport to be its own spokesmen. We may be tempted to a “don’t care” attitude, in which we deal with life’s difficulties by turning them off, or perhaps by unsavoury diversions of one kind or another. Our Gospel counsels us not to allow ourselves these things. “Take heed to yourselves” we are warned in Luke 21:34. Like an unwary rabbit, he who does such things is suddenly caught in a snare, and the purpose for which the Lord has gathered us together is frustrated. Furthermore, it is not enough, either, to allow our minds to be captivated by the insistent voices of cultural accommodation and destruction, even if we consider that we are doing nothing to support them. The truth is that there is no neutrality in the war now being joined. Pope Francis has described our present condition as the developing phase of a Third World War, one that is different in character from previous wars. If we claim neutrality in this war, we shall be among those guiding the forces of the enemy towards the targets of Christian civilisation that remain. We should not be fooled. For all the general talk of transparency and democracy, even by the rulers of Britain, Europe, the United States and Canada, further moves are even now in process that have the potential to strangle in our public and social life Christian expression and active commitment. And silence, however understandable, by Christians now will spell worse peril in the days to come than what we are seeing at the moment. Let this place of St. Alban’s Church and our presence within it on this Advent Sunday and anniversary be a sign to us that our redemption indeed draws near, and let us always be on the watch for the battle between the Kingdom and its adversaries, so that having fought on the battlefield the good fight, we shall stand on the day appointed, before the Son of Man.