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Date: December 18, 2016 (Advent 4, Year A) 1. Texts: Isaiah 7:10-16; Ps. 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25. 2. Subject: end times. 3. Topic: community as a sign of the end times. 4. Aim: guide, cajole, challenge. 5. Proposition: “As the birth of Jesus both signalled and initiated the Kingdom of God, so the community”


SIGNAL AND CHANNEL Oh, dear, we’re coming up on Christmas. While this is, of course, a good thing, it does carry some sizable stumbling blocks to our faith and its tangible expressions. First of all, as we’re all very much aware, this time of year puts a huge emphasis on the commercial and material aspects of the season. We’re spending huge amounts of energy as well as money on gifts, wrapping paper, decorations and food. Frequently, when people don’t have huge amounts of money to spend on such, the experience of Christmas is tarnished and family life is compromised. The material and commercial aspects of this pre-Christmas season easily and usually distract us from our Christian faith and discipleship. Sad, but true. Secondly, we’re so saturated with all these trappings of Christmas, that we’ve come to think of Christmas as commonplace. Christmas has come and gone every year of our lives and we have had to go through the stresses of preparation every year of our lives that we’re quite used to it. Oh, we may dread all that we have to do—especially trying to find that perfect Christmas gift—but we expect it and actually find it quite ordinary. Think of that: Christmas as ordinary, something to which we have become accustomed. So, there is little that is new and unique about Christmas. We’ve all “been there and done that” as far as Christmas is concerned—and we better get it done again this year or else we’ll fail our family and friends. Write those cards! Buy and wrap those gifts! Roast that turkey, lift that barge… It’s difficult to see our preparations and the holiday as any sort of life-changing event. That’s not the way it was back in Mary’s day. That Christmas was earthshatteringly unique. Page 2 of 5 -Church as harbinger and instrumentFirst of all, Mary was a pregnant virgin. This is not an everyday episode and could have cost Mary her life. In fact, it was absolutely shocking to Mary. Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”1 This is unique—and Mary’s response is remarkable: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”2 Even that response seems unique, for who among us would open ourselves up to potential ridicule and death because God asked us to? It was equally as shocking to Joseph. Oh, not the pregnant virgin bit, because he didn’t believe she was a virgin. He just assumed she was a woman of loose morals. The shocking bit arrived with the angel who proclaimed, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”3 So not only was the origin of the child divine, his future and purpose were divine. The child’s goal was no less than the salvation of God’s people. It was all shocking enough that Joseph changed his mind and did as the angel commanded. This is significant: the first Christmas and the time preparing for it were unique, shocking and life-changing. This is as it should be, even for us today. I’m not sure it can be as shocking and life-changing as it was, but we likely need to recover some sense of the uniqueness of what happened. It might help if we were to comprehend what the arrival of that child actually meant: it meant the end of the world as it was known. From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’4 1 Luke 1:34-35. 2 Luke 1:38. 3 Matthew 1:20-21. 4 Matthew 4:17. Page 3 of 5 -Church as harbinger and instrumentYour kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.5 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 6 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers…7 The arrival of the Kingdom of God means human existence has changed and that arrival is accomplished in Jesus. God has cast his judgment upon humankind and provided the means of salvation in Jesus. The incarnation of the Christ changes humanity and grants us worth beyond compare for God has made us worthy of being saved. The God-Child both announces and initiates the Kingdom of God. The presence and action of the Holy Spirit in his life is the impetus and force behind the Kingdom of God. The action of the Holy Spirit signalled and communicated God’s intent for his people. The involvement of the Holy Spirit was both proclamation and channel for God’s transformation of the world. With this we can begin to comprehend the uniqueness of the incarnation and thus of Christmas. The transformation of the world was begun in the incarnation and reached its pinnacle in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus both proclaimed and initiated the end of human existence as it was known. It is in Advent that the Church then prepares for the final culmination of the Kingdom of God. It is as if the arrival of the Kingdom is announced with the first stroke of the bell at midnight and it is made complete as the last toll echoes which will call forth Jesus’ return at the completion of time itself. In the incarnation—in the conception, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ—the end of time arrived and we will experience its culmination in his return. That’s what Advent is for—the preparation of the Kingdom of God for its divine culmination, fulfillment and perfection. 5 Matthew 6:10. 6 Matthew 12:28. 7 Matthew 13:41. Page 4 of 5 -Church as harbinger and instrumentSo now we have to move this down to our experience and action. Well, it is clear that the Church itself is to be both the proclamation and instrument of the Kingdom of God. As Christ is God incarnate, so the Body of Christ is the presence of God made tangible and real in the world today. His incarnation both initiated and proclaimed the transformation of humanity and the end of the world. The Church is to reflect that reality and so be both the tool and the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Our existence as disciples is to reflect his existence. As his life brought about the Kingdom of God, so our lives are to announce and carry out the Kingdom. The Church of Christ’s disciples is the instrument of God’s Kingdom and the tool for his transformation of human existence. It is through you and me that God’s Kingdom is going to be made real in the lives of others. Think of it: we are the chosen instruments of the Spirit’s work to transform human existence as a reflection of Christ’s transformation of all humanity. That’s what it means to be a disciple, to be an ambassador of the Kingdom of Heaven. God himself is working in and through us to bring his Kingdom to its fulfillment, the Kingdom that was both announced and initiated in Jesus. I can think of no illustration, picture or story that will illustrate this reality— which is proof of its uniqueness. The incarnation of Christ and the institution of the Kingdom of God are perhaps the only genuinely unique occurrences in the universe since its creation. There is nothing to which it can be compared, nothing about which anyone can say, “It’s like this…” So now allow this reality to reach into your spirits. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.8 Be renewed by the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. Accept with thanksgiving your appointment as ambassadors of the Kingdom. Grasp with joy the transformation of the Spirit so that God’s Kingdom and the transformation of all humanity may be both expressed and experienced in and through you. 8 Romans 12:2. Page 5 of 5 -Church as harbinger and instrumentLet us pray. God our Saviour, through Jesus you both created and proclaimed your Kingdom and the coming of the end of time. Fill us to overflowing with your Spirit so that we may serve as your ambassadors and as the servants of your Kingdom to the transformation of our world. For this privilege we thank you and surrender ourselves to your renewal. Through Christ our King we pray. AMEN.