- STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH December 5, 2021
Rev. Sabrina Ingram ADVENT 2
Piano Music Slide
Call to Worship
Peace is the light that sheds understanding.
Peace is the promise of God.
Peace is found when God’s order and justice are brought to the world.
We await the birth of the Prince of Peace.
Let us pray:
Source of light, shine in our lives and in your world with your everlasting peace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
Lord, hear our voice.
Lighting of the Christ Candle Hope is a Star vs 2
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Lord God, we praise you.
You are Lord above all. Before anything was created, you were. You transcend time and space. You are beyond the confines of our mortal bodies and our human existence. Yet, in love, you came into our world as human baby and participated in our mortality. It is hard for us to grasp the humility you have endured to save us.
We look forward to the day when you will come again – not as a human being, but as Lord of all. You will come not with self-effacement but with glory and power. The nations will bow before you and you will rule. It is hard for us to grasp such triumph.
You will set up a new Heaven and a new Earth, a new reign of justice and grace, of love and peace. Sorrow and sighing will end, and we will live in your presence. It is hard for us to grasp the bliss that will await us.
We confess that although we pray that your kingdom will come on Earth as in Heaven, we often fail to do your will. We can be hard hearted towards others. We can be unforgiving. We harbour attitudes of retribution rather than grace. We are too proud to choose reconciliation over principles and so we feel righteous in our condemnation of others. Forgive us.
We gather today in a spirit of love, grateful for those who are with us and remembering your people throughout the world.
May our celebration today contain a taste of the worship we will pour out when we see you come in glory. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Isaiah 25: 9 & 10
“Look at what’s happened! This is our God!
We waited for him
and he showed up and saved us!
This God, the one we waited for!
Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of his salvation.
God’s hand rests on this mountain!”
Hymn Hail to the Lord’s Annointed
Exchanging the Peace
God Speaks to Us:
Prayer for Illumination
Lord Jesus, there are many things in scripture that are difficult to understand. Give us confidence in your faithfulness, that we may wait with watchful anticipation. Amen.
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-13
Luke 21: 25 – 36
Hymn: Come Though Long Expected Jesus
Message: Getting Closer – Jesus’ Return
Atheists were asked to answer the question, “How would you react if the 2nd coming occurred and Jesus returned to Earth?” One person said, “I’d be like ‘Huh. I guess I was wrong’.” A lawyer wrote, “This is an incredible income opportunity for attorneys, which is good because my estate planning business would be gone. The legal rights of the resurrected is a poorly developed area of law, largely because it’s never happened. There’d also be a HUGE market for attorneys to argue on behalf of clients who are facing Judgment Day. I’d be able to charge more exorbitant fees than I do (a thought that makes me tingle) and if the client objects, just say, “Are you SURE you want to do this on your own?” Another said, “My reaction would be to think it was an alien invasion, take out my phone and record the event.” One person made the grim prediction, “I know how the world would react, or more importantly the church: they’d deny it, and have the person locked up or committed to a mental facility.
Over the centuries, Christians have also had interesting perceptions about Jesus’ return. Many have spent time and energy trying to read the signs so they can predict when it will happen. This is rather arrogant, given Jesus said,
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).
Some Christians suffer from “rapture anxiety”. One recalls the terror she felt when her parents forgot to pick her up after school. She was convinced they’d been raptured, leaving her behind to face tribulations alone. While some are terrified at the thought others welcome it. One teenager didn’t bother to make college plans because he was convinced the rapture would come before high school ended. Still others see it as an opportunity for personal gain: some have maxed out their credit cards, believing the rapture would come before payment was due (I doubt the returning Jesus will be impressed by that). Others interpret the predictions through the lens of politics. Organizations like the United Nations are seen as signs of Satan’s reign, money is poured into Israel or political leaders who might bring on Armageddon get elected. Still others interpret every natural disaster, pandemic, and political tension as proof the rapture is at our doorstep. Every generation has done these things.
In the Early Church, the reign of Nero (54 – 68 A.D.); the destruction of the 2nd temple (70 A.D.) and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii (79 AD) certainly sounded like the events Jesus had described.
In 600 A.D. the founding of Islam, and the Islamic invasion of Jerusalem (636 A.D.), Turkey and southern Europe which launched the Christian Crusades, must have convinced some people the end was near.
At the time of the Reformation, Puritans and others read the rise in persecution as a sign of the times.
The last century with it’s 2 world wars, the rise of Hitler and persecution of the Jews, the spread of communism, dictatorships, genocides and the threat of nuclear warfare, convinced people that something of cosmic proportions was happening.
Today we look at the increasing political tensions, the shrinking of the Church in the west, a pandemic and climate change and we wonder if this isn’t the time Jesus will return. Still, in every case, people (even those who believed they knew the exact date), managed to find some rationalization to continue on when Christ didn’t return.
Yet, we can’t put the predictions of Christ’s second coming aside as silly nonsense. Jesus is quite clear that just as prophecies of the Messiah’s first coming were fulfilled in him at his birth, predictions of his second coming will be fulfilled. He gives us a litany of signs. False prophets and deceptive leaders will emerge (Matthew 24: 8). Wars and natural disasters will be commonplace followed by the usual famines and plagues (vs. 9 – 11). Persecution of Christ’s followers will be rampant (vs. 12) spurned on by the betrayals of family and friends and the hatred of others (vs. 16 & 17). Jerusalem will be invaded, her inhabitants killed or taken as captives (vs. 20 & 24). There will be strange and terrifying omens in the cosmos and natural disasters on Earth (vs. 25). No wonder we have “rapture anxiety”; it all sounds quite terrifying.
Jesus doesn’t take this lightly. Distressing, dangerous, dreadful things lie ahead. Wars and natural disasters are to be expected followed by mass migration. People will leave their homes and flee the country as displaced persons without refuge. Jesus has particular concern for “those who are pregnant and those who are nursing infants” (vs. 23). As we see in today’s refugee camps, mothers and children suffer more than those who are strong and able-bodied. Yet these things will need to be endured for
“the end will not follow immediately” (vs. 9).
At the same time, Jesus also offers words of hope and consolation. He encourages us not to fear persecution and imprisonment, but to see them as opportunities
“to testify. Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict” (vs. 13 – 16). While it’s reassuring that God will give us the words to speak, there’s a deeper promise embedded here.
If Christ will give us words and wisdom to witness to him, he will be with us through all of these hardships, and whatever else life throws at us, until he does return.
We long for that time when suffering will end. We look forward to a “New Heaven and a New Earth”. The great eutopia when all people will bow before God, when nations will be at peace and old wounds will heal, and when sorrow and tears will end. To dream about this as a future reality gives us hope. But to obsess about when this will happen creates anxiety. It tempts us to push the timeline by taking history into our own hands – a sure recipe for disaster. It distracts us from what God is calling us to do in the world right now. A better question is not “when will Jesus return?” but “what will I do in the meantime?”
Scripture repeatedly tells us to be ready. To be prepared for when the “bridegroom” arrives. To be awake and alert for Jesus’ appearance, not because we know when it will happen but because we don’t. We need to be good to go at any time. But what does that look like? We’ve all seen the bumper stickers that advice: Jesus is coming. Look busy. I don’t think looking busy is much of a goal. We can all work for God, but we’re called to do the work God wants us to do, not run around looking busy as if Christ won’t know the difference. The Christian faith is beautiful in the way it turns the world’s ways upside down. It is grounded in love and sacrifice. It upholds unusual values such as humility, repentance, grace, and forgiveness.
While we are waiting for Jesus to return, we can learn humility. We can have the mind of Christ who emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant. We all think we have servant hearts until someone treats us like one, then we’re offended and demand honour. Humility is related to the Latin word humus – the soil, the dirt. The humble reclaim their roots – we are dust and to dust we will return. Humility keeps us open. Open to people – especially those who aren’t like us. Humility makes us teachable – open to learning and able to admit there is much we don’t know. Open to service – to putting others before our self and meeting their needs. Open to enduring embarrassment and humiliation, without anger or a need for revenge.
Christians know we’re imperfect. We do hurtful and destructive things to ourselves and others. Even though we don’t want to, we find ourselves repeating those behaviours. One of the ways we prepare for Christ’s return is to look honestly at ourselves without dodging what we see, or pretending its okay, or justifying it, or blaming someone else. We need to name our sin. We need to ask for God’s forgiveness and for his Spirit to change us. We need to remain alert to our faults and be repeatedly ready to do better.
\ We need to be people of grace. We usually think grace is something God gives to us. Grace is when God makes me an heir to his kingdom, through Christ’s death. We forget it’s not just “Jesus and me”. Other people are part of the equation. How gracious are you to others? Are you prepared to bless others in ways they don’t deserve? To show them love when they’re unlovable? To include them when they haven’t earned it or are unwilling to prove they deserve it? Can you stop weighing and balancing your exchanges with people, and just give without holding back and without limits? Could you lay down your life for someone who is unworthy and wretched? Who in your life needs to know Christ’s grace through you?
While we are waiting for Christ’s return, can we practice forgiveness? I recall asking a group of people what spiritual gifts they thought they had and one young man said, “forgiveness. I don’t hang on to things, I let them go.” I was so filled with awe – first that someone in his teens would be able to name that and then that he was able to do it. I thought, “Wow, I can’t let go of anything. Disappointment, hurt, stupid comments, unkind behaviours – I’ll never die because I’d have to let go of life and that’s not happening”. I’m like the monkey that puts his hand in a jar to grab some food and gets stuck because he won’t let go. I’ve seen so many people go to their grave with angry, bitter hearts, unwilling to let go of some old and rotting hurt. I’ve met people who can’t remember what made them angry in the first place but are determined to stay that way. People who are so caught up in pride they can’t let go even if it consumes them. There is a wonderful freedom in forgiving. There is new life in reconciliation.
Just as no one knew when the Messiah would come, no one knows when Jesus will return. Peter tells us,
“The Lord is not slow about his promise… but patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3: 9). Maybe the reason Jesus has not returned is more important than when he will return. God is giving us time to prepare. Preparation time is a gift. It often takes more time to prepare for something than to do it. It takes hours to write a sermon and 20 minutes to give it. A half hour to make supper and 10 minutes to eat it. 9 months to create a baby and a day to give birth. It takes a lifetime to prepare to meet Christ and a twinkling of an eye for him to return. But if we are prepared “Then we’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! [We’ll] stand tall with our heads high. [Knowing our] redemption is on the way!” (Luke 21: 28).
Silent Prayer and Reflection
Holy Lord, You fill us with awe. You were born into our world, and you will return. We bring you our gifts; we dedicate our abilities to you and we give you our lives. Help us to live so that on the day of judgement, we will bring you glory. Amen.
Hymn: What Child is This
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
God of power and glory,
Thank you for loving us, even when we had turned away from you and did not walk in your ways.
Thank you for Jesus, who took on flesh and lived among us. Who laid down his life and rose again so that we might live. He is our light and our salvation.
Thank you for the promise of his return and for a day when your kingdom will be the only reality. Thank you that we can anticipate a time when strife will end, and sorrow will cease. Thank you for wanting to be with us and for inviting us into your presence for all eternity.
Thank you for your Spirit, who is with us now and will be with us until that new day dawns.
Thank you for life’s blessings. For people who surround us with love and joy. For those who serve. For those who entertain. For those who reflect and challenge and encourage. For those who govern. For those who teach. May we use our gifts to build your world, your way.
Thank you for the abundance we have in every aspect of life. Help us to know this is not our entitlement. Help us to remember those who have less. Give us the ability to adapt to our economic changes that may come due to recession. Remind us that we are dependent on you alone.
Thank you for the wonders of our world. For places steeped in history that teaches us we can do better. For the beauty of nature. For the gifts of the Earth – water, air, food, natural resources. Help us to live more carefully and to adapt to change.
Thank you for the gift of work and for the ways we can give back. Be with those whose lives and livelihoods are impacted by the pandemic or by political decisions.
Thank you for the gifts of freedom and peace in a country that is the envy of so many nations. Thank you for stability and a democratic system of government. Help us to continue to grow in respect for one another. Be with those who live in places that are torn by war, who are in refugee camps, who live in countries where criminal activity terrorizes people, who are without life’s basic necessities which force them to make desperate decisions.
Thank you for the gift of health. We pray for those who are suffering in body or mind. We think especially of …… We pray for those who are suffering from grief; comfort them.
Thank you for the gift of faith. There are many things beyond our understanding, but we are grateful that we belong to you. Be with those we love who do not know you or consider you in their daily lives.
Hear us as we pray in silence for those we love….
And hear us now as we pray together saying…
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn: O Little Town of Bethlehem
Invitation to Mission
We go from here with expectancy,
watching as the day of our Lord draws closer.
We go from here to live in Christ’s service,
waiting until that final day when we live in his presence forever.
Benediction May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.
Postlude – O Come Divine Messiah