Notes for a Talk on 2006-12-03 First in Advent
Theme the coming of Jesus
and references to parts of Col 2.
Intro - Advent 1 - New Year on the Church Calendar
Advent: we prepare for the coming of Jesus. Using today's readings and a couple of other references I want to try to put the coming of Jesus into the context of God's big plan for the universe.
The coming of Jesus is a momentous event. Jesus was there in the beginning of creation. (John 1:1-3 ) Jesus came to earth, born as a human child. Jesus sent His Spirit - the Comforter, the Spirit of God at Pentecost in Acts 2 and He continues to come as we receive His Spirit. Jesus will come again in glory. So Jesus has come, is coming and will come again.
The Big Picture
Now to try to explain what I mean by the 'big picture' that forms the context for Jesus' coming. This is a perspective which struck me in a passage of a book I have been slowly reading for some time and which I have referred to here before. Eugene H. Peterson "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places" . This is the first in a series of five books laying a theological foundation for the 21st century. The next in the series is about reading the Bible and is entitled "Eat This Book" .
The idea which captured me is that the purpose of God throughout the history of the universe is salvation. It comes in the following passage:
My choice of texts for grounding Christian identity in the historical reality in which salvation is revealed and received is Exodus and St. Mark's Gospel. These two texts in combination are paradigmatic for revealing the presence and work of God in history, the play of Christ in all the circumstances and events that occur in time and place. Game, used as a metaphor, is useful for gathering up all that goes on in history. But it must be understood that this game is no diversion from the main business of history. This is the main business. Salvation is the game that brings everything that happens, including everything that happens to each one of us, onto the playing field of history and into the play of Christ. This is a game in which there are no spectators - we are all in it; the meaning and outcome of our lives is at stake. The results are eternal.
Eugene H. Peterson "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places" p.148
So, what he's saying is God is playing out a game, a strategy, throughout all the events and circumstances of history and the purpose of that game is salvation. And we are all in on it. There are no spectators because God's purpose encompasses everybody.
The massive scale on which God is operating through all the events of time and space down the history of the millenia since the creation of the universe. Try to grasp this image of Peterson's that the purpose of God in history is salvation.
Inventory of God's efforts at salvation down through the history of the OT:
- Noah at the flood
- Rescue of the Hebrews from Egypt
- The law
- The Arc of the Covenant with the presence of God
- the giving of the promised land
- rescue from exile in Babylon
- the prophets
all in vain?
The final play - sending His Son, knowing he would be the ultimate sacrifice. But that that sacrifice would open the way to sending the Holy Spirit.
As well as seeing Jesus as having come, still coming and yet to come again, I think we also see a progression in the scope of God's salvation plan. Adam and Eve were the first of all mankind. But God's salvation plans throughout the OT were focussed on the Israelites. The OT prophets foresee the coming of a saviour, the Messiah. But generally their scope was still the Israelites with their capital and the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus ministry was focussed on the Jewish people. But He found several non-Jewish people also had great faith in Him - the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and officers in the Roman army. But after Pentecost in Acts the scope of salvation widened. The disciples find non-Jews who have received the Gospel. Peter has a clear vision from God to bring the Gospel to a gentile house and the Spirit falls on the gentiles there. Paul's ministry extends far beyond the Jewish communities in the places he visits and in his letters he lays down God's vision for redeeming all mankind.
So, on the one hand we are awed at the huge game being played out by Christ, the high stakes - the salvation of mankind, the grace of God. "While we were yet dead in our sins God made us alive". Our God is indeed an awesome God. Our only response can be humility and repentance.
On the other hand we personally experience joy and freedom at the closeness and intimacy of God and His personal relationship with each of us. We are set free to be His children, His Spirit dwells in us, we can (and must) join with Him in the ongoing acts of creation and salvation.
Can you grasp this combination of the big picture and the personal or am I the schizophrenic in the kitchen?
Part of the big picture in the weekend's newspapers a couple of weeks ago - the shifting mantle of the earth that causes the poles to seem to move across the surface over millions of years, the mixing of Neanderthal and homo sapiens genes, whales' deep diving techniques and their mass destruction by military sonar. Can the SP become the third largest party and what are possible coalitions? Discussing some of this in the kitchen, where the newspapers were spread over the table, Sophie remarked something like this:
"But, daddy, I think you must be schizophrenic! How do you as a Christian believe evolution theory? How do you deal with scientific truth, Christian truth and a tendency to support the SP all in one mind?"
But it does seem to me that somehow everything has to have its place in the big picture.
Col 2 the significance and impact of the coming of Jesus
(We have been reading Colossians in the men's breakfast fellowship.)
This passage shows something of the significance of the coming of Christ. There is a huge difference between life in Christ and life under the law. There is a paradigm shift . Life under the law and life in Christ are different worlds. This is particularly clear in Col 2:13-15:
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Col 2:13-15 NIV)
The phrase "having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross" seems to suggest that the law is cancelled by its being nailed to the cross. But some translations render this differently. TNIV has:
"He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross." (Col 2:14 TNIV)
The rendering "having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross" makes it clear it is not the law in general that is nailed to the cross, but the specific charges against us. We are individually freed of the charges against us, our sins are forgiven, nailed to the cross. We are free.
Our freedom is to "live in Christ". How should we understand that? What does it mean to "live in Christ". There are several phrases which involve such interpenetration:
"just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him,." (vv6-7 TNIV)
"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. " (vv9-10 TNIV)
"In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your sinful nature was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." (vv11-12 TNIV)
"Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, ..." (v20 TNIV)
This interpenetration is known as perichoresis - co-indwelling, co-inhering. (See also Trinity and Community.) This deep inter-relationship or interpenetration of personalities is seen most in our perspective on the Trinity - one God, three Persons. It seems in these phrases that salvation brings us into such close identification with Christ that we become part of Him and He of us.
So, how does this impact us in our daily lives? We are walking around with the Spirit of God in us. That has massive implications. The Spirit of God, the creator of the universe, dwells in us. That should have a big impact on the way we see people and the world and on the way we behave.
That should be an extreme paradigm shift. We should be different people, transformed, reborn.
(And yet Paul is warning the Colossians not to lose the awareness of that and slip back into the ways of the world. It seems strange that it is possible to be so transformed and then to lose it by slipping back into the ways of the world. Or even to have received God and yet never quite break free of the ways of the world, never quite make it completely with Jesus.)
Each of our readings today are covering different aspects of the coming of Jesus. Jesus coming as a man. Jesus coming now by His Spirit. Jesus coming in glory sometime in the future.
The passage from Jeremiah is a prophecy of the first coming of Jesus.
14 "'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.
15 "'In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.'" (NIV)
So this is a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah to the Jewish people at Jerusalem. Here Jesus is named "the LORD Our Righteousness" - in one of the traditional readings in the lessons and carols service there is a list of names of Jesus.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is 9:6 NIV)
So He will also be called "the LORD Our Righteousness" - the God who counts us as righteous, the God who enables us to be counted as righteous. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, the LORD Our Righteousness - whose coming was predicted, announced, heralded by the OT prophets, Jeremiah and Isaiah.
13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (Thes 3 NIV)
The coming of Jesus is an ongoing process. He came at His birth as a man. He came by His Spirit at Pentecost. He continues to come as His Spirit is given to each of us. He will come again in glory. The Amplified Bible "with all His saints (the holy and glorified people of God)"
How should we prepare for the coming of Jesus, according to Paul, in Thessalonians?
12 And may the Lord make you to increase and excel and overflow in love for one another and for all people, just as we also do for you, 13 So that He may strengthen and confirm and establish your hearts faultlessly pure and unblamable in holiness in the sight of our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ... (Amp)
So the Lord himself helps us prepare for the coming of Jesus. And the preparation is that we should overflow with love for one another and for all people. The result of that is our hearts will become pure, holy and unblamable in the sight of God and we will be prepared for the coming of Jesus. "Unblamable" is a lovely word. (Spelling checker doesn't know it. I wonder if it really exists? Can God the LORD Our Righteousness really transform us into the "unblamable" ones? Wow!)
The passage from Luke is about Jesus coming again in glory at some future date. Jesus is warning of the signs of the imminent coming of the Son of Man in glory
25 "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (NIV)
And what should we do when this happens:
28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (NIV)
And Jesus warns us to be prepared, and not be distracted by matters of daily life, and on the look out, in case we miss the moment:
35 Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, ('The Message' has "parties and drinking and shopping") and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man. (NIV)
So don't get too distracted by the Christmas shopping, or the parties, during Advent or the day of the coming of the Lord may happen while you are looking the other way and it will close on you like a trap.
But, although we have these teachings and warnings about the coming of Jesus, past, present and future. And His purpose is our salvation. It is not actually about us in the sense that we need to focus ourselves. On the contrary, our focus should be on Jesus. It is all about Jesus. Another quote from "Christ Plays ..."
...the Christian life is not about us; it is about God. Christian spirituality is not a life-project for becoming a better person, it is not about developing a so-called "deeper life." We are in on it, to be sure. But we are not the subject. Nor are we the action...
The great weakness of North American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting in on the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. And the more there is of us, the less there is of God.
Eugene H. Peterson "Christ Plays in The Thousand Places"
Instead, Peterson says, we're called to join "God and his actions in us and in the world," participating in what God is doing. So we get to be players in the game, participants in the salvation process. We hear His call in Mat 28:19 to "Go, and disciples will be made ..." (Reference DashHouse.com: The Christian life is not about us)
And that is the focus of Advent - preparing for Jesus' coming, focussing on Him, following His Way, being His disciples being prepared to receive Him - not focussing on ourselves and our needs and improving our lives and certainly not on our Christmas parties, drinking and shopping.
What God has done in playing out His game
He has given us free will. The freedom to make choices and to experience the consequences of those choices for ourselves and for others. We have made bad and good choices and we suffer and enjoy the consequences - sometimes for a lifetime, sometimes from generation to generation. We have become trapped in some of our bad choices, enslaved to short term benefits and thrills, personal gain, greed, comfort. We have lost sight of the big picture. Sin has become endemic among us.
But God is still gracious in His play. He has opened a way. He has torn down the veil. By sending Jesus He as made our choice very clear. We can choose light or darkness, freedom or enslavement, life or death.
We can choose to follow Jesus. We can choose to be His disciples. It is a choice we remake, minute to minute, day by day. God has left us in the integrity of our freewill - but He has made the choice crystal clear - and when we choose for Him the way is very clear.
So these are my thoughts at the beginning of Advent as we prepare again for the coming of Jesus.
Last time we met here I was asked about some of the things I had said at our discussion about this gathering in early November. I had given the impression that I was frustrated in my search for something. I had spent a lifetime trying different forms of church. And there was concern that maybe I was searching for something that does not exist - which could certainly lead to frustration - a lifetime's wild goose chase. Maybe if I recognised that it did not exist I could cease my search and find some peace.
Well, that is not quite the way I see it. At different times and places in my life as a Christian and in my experiences in different churches I have seen glimpses of what I am looking for. So that gives me hope that I am not on a wild goose chase. This picture I have tried to sketch today of the vastness of Gods' purpose of salvation, which He is playing out down the centuries of the history of the universe, is my perception of the big picture of reality. This big picture has, or should have, an impact in the microcosm level of me and my world in the sense of my daily life and my relationships with those around me, including my relationships in this gathering.
This awareness of the coming of Jesus in the past, present and future should dramatically change our lives. It should give us a totally different view of ourselves, of others, of God, of our place in the universe relative to these things. Our perception of the importance of things of the world should fall away. Our concerns about career, houses, mortgages, motor cars, health insurance, politics, clothes, food, parties, drink and shopping should all fall into perspective. We should see primarily the essentials of Jesus, the effect of the forgiveness of our sins, the presence of the Holy Spirit in us and His purpose to bring others into this Kingdom of salvation.
We have lots of expressions of this kind of transformation in the Bible and in our hymns and songs:
- being born again
- "refiner's fire" - burning away the trash in our lives and making us pure, holy and fit for God's purpose
- amazing grace saving a wretch like me
So what I am looking for is more of this transformation in myself and in the life of the church. I think we should be more manifestly different. The coming of Jesus, the Son of God, Son of Man, is such a big thing that it should make a transforming difference to our lives. My quest is the search for that transformation.
Advent 1 Year C RCL
The OT, Epistle and Gospel readings in several translations
Eugene H. Peterson "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places"
Wikipedia on "paradigm shift"
Theopedia on "perichoresis"
Notes on Trinity and Community
"At the Cross" Hillsong
DashHouse.com: The Christian life is not about us - quote from "Christ Plays ..."