It’s often said that the Church of God is called to an Eucharistic/Thanksgiving Community; but also it is called to be an Advent Community carrying a strong and resilient hope into the world. The sermon text is below the sermon audio. I cannot help but note that President Bush (#41) speaks of accepting Jesus as His Savior… what a blessing!
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport; Sunday December 9th 2018; The Reverend Alan Neale; “All will be well”
In 1907 composer Victor Herbert and lyricist Henry Blossom produced a two act operetta entitled Mlle. Modiste. One of its songs contained this phrase repeated over… and over… and over again… “I want what I want when I want it.”
It seems to me that if ever there was to be a collection of Advent Antithetical Hymnody this would be #1 – it is immodestly self-centered, it is unapologetically narrow and it is unashamedly impatient.
“I want what I want when I want it.”
Compare and contrast Paul’s Letter to the Christians in Philippi chapter 1, verse 6: “6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
Here the focus is not on self, not on wants and definitely not on immediacy.
Listen to the same verse but this time in the Message Translation: “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”
The four weeks of Advent (so inconveniently but of necessity) just before Christmas charge us to cultivate patience… whether that cultivation be in the primal soil of personal relationships, the perennial soil of unfulfilled dreams or the petty soil of daily inconveniences too myriad to name.
St. Paul helps the Philippian Christians to nurture patience as they reflect:
1. “that God began a good work”
2. “that God will bring it to completion” and
3. God is working to a schedule… “the day of Jesus Christ”
“God began a good work”. There is a great solemnity about this work “began” (enarchomai) which only appears in one other place in the New Testament. In Galatians 3:3 Paul is beside himself as he writes to the Galatian Christians, “3 Are you so foolish? Having started (enarchomai) with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” Perhaps their impatience to harvest the fruit of the Spirit led them to forsake God and rely on self… how very foolish.
Our lives begin as God breathes life into them, even our apparent decision to follow Christ is pre-empted by God’s decision to choose and love us. How foolish to allow our impatience to ignore God and rely on self. John Stott comments, “The human will blows hot and cold, is firm and unstable by fits and starts; it offers no security of tenure. But it is the will of God that is the ground of salvation.”
“God will bring it to completion”. The verb here has a continuous sense and may be better translated as “God will evermore put his finishing touches to work, long ago inaugurated – oh my lament with so many projects is “oh, that’ll do” but not so with Ms. Wendy and not so with God. This is no theistic deity who having launched the creation as some heavenly jape leaves it to its own devices while she/he lounges on the verandah of eternity. No this God is constantly at work with the created order and Advent is a liturgical jolt to our system… urging us to wait, to see where God is at work and then happily to work in cooperation with Him. The Advent question to be asked constantly of ourselves, our community is… “Where is God in this? What is God doing?” To quote Stott again, “The assurance that God gives us not only guarantees the outcome; it guarantees every experience of every day, for “in all things God is putting the finished touches”. Good news, bad news, difficulty, blessing, unexpected happiness, unexpected trouble…” in all things God is at work. Advent pleads with us to slow down, take note, be changed and give thanks.
And thirdly, “God is working to a schedule to “the day of Jesus Christ.””
Advent is a complicated time and that is a gross understatement. We cannot, as our Bishop reminded us this week, we cannot pretend that Christmas distant (there is no theological frontal lobotomy that would make that possible) but here, right now, we are called to observe the way in which Jesus comes to us daily, often, momentarily, privately, loudly, sensitively, cautiously and then… we are called to put all of this into the perspective of that one great day to which all creation is steadily, surely, securely moving. There is no chaos, there is no frustration, there is no disappointment that will cause this schedule to collapse. Though our Old Testament/Hebrew Scripture prepares us for a day of gloom and doom, the day of Jesus Christ will be one of rescue, liberation and redemption… which those who have died have already tasted and of that day they know the truth.
President George Herbert Walker Bush was once asked if he had ever been “born again,” he hesitantly answered, “I think I would ask for a definition.” He later explained, “If by ‘born again’ one is asking, ‘Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?’ then I could answer a clear-cut ‘Yes.’ No hesitancy, no awkwardness. Yet if the question was whether there had been one single moment, above any others, in which my life has been instantly changed, then I can’t say that this has happened, since there have been many moments.” The Advent Hope cultivates a visionary alertness that waits “for the many moments.”
A good friend, a mentor of mine would patiently listen to my woes and then, looking at me fiercely, would say, “Alan, it will all be well.” Out of context you might think this inane, ineffective, insipid but in the moment… it carried all I needed to hear. It truly restored my soul for I knew two things… he believed what he said, and he knew it to be true in his own life.
Paul, in prison with a death sentence hanging over him, says this to the Christians in Philippi “I am confident, I do not have the slightest doubt…” all will be well. This is our Advent Hope for which we need pray an Advent Life. AMEN