Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent 4 - Sunday 20 Dec 2015 plus Xmas bonus

Note: this is a recycled set of notes from my very first post on this blog in 2012. Having now completed a three year cycle, I am not going to "reinvent the wheel."

20 December (Advent 4)  
Theme                God’s kingdom fulfils all God’s promises              
Sentence             p. 553 
Collect                p. 554 

Praise and honour to you living God;
your coming will be like a thief in the night,
like lightning flashing across the sky.
Grant that we may be ready,
and our hearts answer, Come Lord Jesus.
                           
Readings                                             
Micah 5:2-5a
Psalm 80:1-7
Hebrews 10:5-10
                        Luke 1:39-45

There is a 'wow' factor when precise predictions are made which are later fulfilled. Micah predicts that Bethlehem will be the place of origin of the future shepherd king of Israel. The psalmist, by contrast, is predicting nothing but crying out to God as the shepherd king of Israel, 'Stir up your might, and come to save us!' (v. 2b). His prayer is answered by Micah's prediction coming true according to the gospels of Matthew and Luke which tell us the story of Jesus the shepherd king of Israel who is born in Bethlehem.

The reading from Hebrews offers a different perspective on the role of Christ. If Micah and Psalm readings lead us to think of Jesus Christ's role as shepherd king, this reading is about Christ as high priest. As shepherd king, Christ leads Israel to become a great nation, with the twist that this greatness is expressed through a vast international movement of Christians rather than through a restored militarily and politically independent country. As high priest Christ transforms the internal spiritual centre of Israel: no longer is it the Jerusalem Temple and the sacrificial system anchored to it, now it is Jesus Christ himself. The connection point (according to Hebrews 10:10) in this unfolding sequence from prayer to prediction, from prediction to fulfilment, from one way of being God's people to another way is 'God's will.'

God's will would be nothing at all if it were words predicting a future course of events which never came true. Luke's gospel from beginning to end is enthusiastic about God's will coming true, about the promises of God being fulfilled. Sometimes Luke demonstrates for us that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of ancient prophecies. Other times Luke show us that a promise or forecast at the beginning of Jesus' story is fulfilled later in that story. The end of our gospel reading takes us straight to this enthusiasm of Luke: Elizabeth, a kinswoman of Mary, herself pregnant with an unexpected yet promised child, celebrates Mary's pregnancy: it is a fulfilment of a promise made to Mary and she is to be blessed because she believed that promise. In these and other ways through the gospel, Luke hammers home to his readers the simple point, What God promises, he fulfils; what God wills, it comes to pass.

Our gospel reading stops short of Mary's famous song which we know as the Magnificat. That song is the national anthem (as it were) of the kingdom of God: in this kingdom the shepherd king acts to answer the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 80, 'He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy' (1:54). But if our eyes continue to read through the whole of the gospel we find that through the coming of the baby born in Bethlehem, this kingdom is the fulfilment of all God's promises.

24 December (Midnight) and 25 December (Morning) 
Theme                The best news ever       
Sentence             NZPB p. 555
Collect                 

Christmas Eve service: NZ PB p. 555 

Son of God, light that shines in the dark,
child of joy and peace,
help us to come to you
and be born anew this holy night.
                               

Christmas Day service: NZPB p. 556 

Son of God, Child of Mary
born in the stable at Bethlehem,
be born again in us this day
that through us the world may know
the wonder of your love.     

Readings                                             
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
                        Luke 2:1-14

What kind of news drives the shepherds to leave their flocks in the middle of the night to race to a stable to worship a baby? To call the news 'good news' is accurate - that is the meaning of 'gospel' - but not very helpful. A better sense would be to call this news the 'best news ever.' All the good news in the world - the birth of a new baby, a promotion with massive pay rise, the All Blacks winning the World Cup three times in a row ("Come, 2019!!") - falls well short of the news which sets the shepherds racing to the stable. They hear the best news ever. We hear it too in our four readings. Isaiah, centuries ahead of the actual birth date of Jesus, celebrates the best king ever. The psalmist celebrates God as the best God ever and sneaks in a preview of God coming to earth. Paul writing to his friend and colleague Titus reminds him that what happened in the birth of Jesus was nothing less than the appearance of the generous, unconstrained love of God which brought salvation for all (v.11).

In Luke's gospel the angel announcing this best news ever says it is of 'great joy for all the people' (v. 10). There is that word 'all' again. What on earth could the best news ever be when it is best news for everyone?

Going back to Titus, Paul lays out this best news ever in terms of our relationship with God. What state is that relationship in for humanity? What state is that relationship in for you and for me? If all were well there would be no need for talk of salvation, for peace and goodwill. But all is not well. The relationship has been broken. Instead of peace there are wars between countries and bitter conflicts between individuals. Instead of prosperity for all there is a growing gap between rich and poor. Instead of sober, pure living we inhabit a world drenched with pornography and awash with liquor and drugs.

It is a wonder God has not washed his hands of us and left us to our own selfish devices. Or even wiped us from the face of the earth. That would be bad news. Instead we have the best news ever,

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.'

God is not deterred that we have rejected him and spurned his will for our lives. Instead God has entered our world, hiding his glory, taking on the ordinary life of a baby who will grow to be a man. That man will die on a cross a death which absorbs all the bad stuff so the rift between us and God can be healed. Only with that healing can the world itself be healed.

Each Christmas we pause to celebrate this gift from God full of possibility for a new world. The challenging edge to this message is what we are going to do about it for the next 364 days! Something or nothing?

3 comments:

  1. Thanks, Peter, for this new venture of yours. May it be a blessing.

    I think if this becomes a 3 year resource that people refer back to (well forward to - but in the future; you know what I mean), this may have needed to have been 3 posts. That aside

    You would be surprised if I didn't mention the collects. You have to admit that the three here are about as thin as they can get...

    Who is the first collect addressing? God ("coming like a thief in the night")? Jesus? Jesus as God? The First Person of the Trinity...

    If I had to choose one from NZPB page 554, it would be:

    God of all hope and joy,
    open our hearts in welcome,
    that your Son Jesus Christ at his coming
    may find in us a dwelling prepared for himself;
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God now and for ever.
    Amen.

    This at least has some history that shows it bears the weight of repetition: it is a version of the Gelasian collect (no. 1127). In the Gregorian Sacramentary (no. 809) it was one of the "other prayers for Advent", in the Missale Gallicanum vetus (no. 40) it was the collect for the first of three Advent Masses.

    The Christmas collects you point to are also quite forgettable.

    Compare them with the collects Anglicans share with the great Western Christian tradition:

    O God,
    you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer,
    may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge;
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God, now and for ever.
    Amen.

    O God,
    you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light:
    Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth,
    may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven;
    where with you and the Holy Spirit
    he lives and reigns,
    one God, in glory everlasting.
    Amen.

    O God,
    who wonderfully created,
    and yet more wonderfully restored,
    the dignity of human nature:
    Grant that we may share the divine life
    of him who humbled himself to share our humanity,
    you Son Jesus Christ;
    who lives and reigns with you,
    in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
    one God, for ever and ever.
    Amen.

    It is great to see the full RCL provision encouraged here.

    Advent blessings

    Bosco

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Bosco,
    Trivial point but, clearly, I have not enabled 'comment moderation' for the blog :)

    Yes, there are better collects. I am choosing these with the specific local context of St Aidan's Bryndwr in mind. In that context we have a mixture of ages and stages of life and differing approaches to liturgy. Putting all that in the tumbler of my mind, I came up (this year!!) with these choices.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I would hope that all churches will especially at this time of year have a mixture of ages and stages of life and differing approaches to liturgy.

    If I get time I will work on the shared collects as you know I am want to do.

    It would be an interesting experiment to read the collect aloud once. And some minutes later ask different ages and stages to give their paraphrase of the meaning of the prayer. I think you may be surprised which ones are most easy to comprehend.

    The rapidly piled together mixed metaphors of

    Son of God, light that shines in the dark,
    child of joy and peace,
    help us to come to you
    and be born anew this holy night.

    and the confusing concept of "born anew" applied to Jesus
    makes it understandable that the Gunning Fog index would see this as requiring age 16 to easily understand the text on the first reading.

    A prayer like

    God of all hope and joy,
    open our hearts in welcome,
    that your Son Jesus Christ at his coming
    may find in us a dwelling prepared for himself;
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
    one God now and for ever.
    Amen.

    can be understood on first reading two years earlier.

    Advent blessings

    Bosco

    ReplyDelete