Mark 13 24-end; 1 Cor 1 3-9
Today we celebrate Advent Sunday – the first of four as we enter into
that season of waiting, hope and expectation in anticipation of the birth
of our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. This year, of course, the waiting,
expectation and hope we have is focussed not only on the coming of the
Light of the World, but also on the news that the development of a
vaccine against Coronavirus may result in the world slowly emerging
from the chaos of a global pandemic.
And today we also celebrate the patronal festival of one of our church
buildings, because tomorrow is St Andrew’s Day!
Unsurprisingly, this has always been my favourite saint’s day and now I
have double reason to celebrate this mighty man of God as not only the
patron saint of my birth country but also of this wonderful parish!
I sometimes think that St. Andrew gets a little forgotten in the scheme of
things – he is not one of the Gospel writers and he is somewhat
overshadowed by his big brother, Peter.
But if we delve into scripture we find that Andrew is certainly not sitting
back taking it easy. He is very much a man of action. For a start if it
weren’t for Andrew then Peter may never have met Jesus as it he who
first introduces his big bro to Jesus.
And what would have happened at the feeding of the 5,000 if Andrew
hadn’t stumbled across the boy with the loaves and fishes?
And then there’s the Greeks who are anxious to meet Jesus and thanks
to Andrew are blessed by that encounter.
Andrew is a man who seizes the opportunities that God provides – he is
not someone who waits around to see what might happen, he makes it
The church calendar doesn’t make it easy to do real justice to the
importance of Andrew’s ministry in it’s own right, given his saint’s day
tends to fall either between Christ the King and Advent Sunday or, as is
the case this year, just as we tip into the Advent season.
Yet Andrew’s example of proactive evangelism sums up the spirit of the
new season that we have now entered, and perhaps never more so than
this year when we are seeking different ways to take the Gospel out into
In past years, we had numerous opportunities to engage with those who
are unlikely to enter our buildings in any other season. Carol services,
Community Christmas lunch, Christingles, Crib services, school
assemblies, just some of the ways in which we could extend invitation
and hospitality and which many eagerly anticipated as part of the build
up to Christmas Day.
All around us people were counting the days until 25th December,
children eagerly opening the doors on their advent calendars , the shops
packed with people jostling each other as they try and find the perfect
present for auntie gladys. There is much planning of what to eat and
drink, there are trees to decorate, lights to be put up….the list is
But this year we are presented with an opportunity to approach Advent
differently, which may feel somewhat daunting. Who better, therefore ,
to look to than Andrew, who when presented with a problem, looked for
a solution! When the rest of the disciples were shrugging their shoulders
not knowing what to do, Andrew was out there looking for a way in
which a massive crowd could be fed!
When a bunch of strangers turn up looking for Jesus, Andrew doesn’t
turn them away, he welcomes them and makes sure that they are able
to spend time with Jesus.
Andrew takes a tricky situation and makes it a transformative one.
Andrew is always ready to turn the negative into the positive and our
Gospel passage this morning is also very much focussed on readiness,
on the need to be alert and watchful.
Mark’s account of Jesus’s words to his disciples make for challenging
reading especially falling as it does in a period when we’re all about
peace and goodwill, rather than the somewhat graphic images of
destruction that this whole chapter describes. In my NIV Bible the
chapter is headed “Signs of the end of the age” which in itself gives a
flavour of what is to come.
Jesus uses harsh apocalyptic language as he prophesies the
destruction of the world as the Jewish people know it – and indeed 40
years hence in AD 70 Israel will come crashing down around them with
the physical destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the dispersal of
the Jewish nation, a dispersal that will last for centuries.
But within this uncomfortable passage there is also a message of hope
as Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man “in clouds with great
power and glory”, as he describes how when the twigs of the fig tree
grow tender and leaves appear that the hope of summer is imminent.
Jesus does not want us to live in fear. He is not saying these things to
make us want to cower away, anxious about what the future holds.
Jesus is encouraging us to live in hope, in a state of watchful alertness
and that is what Advent is all about.
Its about being ready for the birth of our Saviour, its about being alert to
the opportunities that God will surely present us with as we encourage
our families, friends and neighbours not to dwell on the negative
aspects of a Christmas that is going to be very different from those that
we normally enjoy but to think about how we can ensure this season
remains one of joyful expectation culminating in the most marvellous
celebration of all – the birth of our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ.
If we take a moment to consider Paul’s words to the emerging church in
Corinth, we can see he too speaks of waiting. In just a few short verses
Paul uses Jesus’s name six times, reminding these first Christians of
how it is Christ who should be at the centre of all that they do, that it is
he who has bestowed upon them many spiritual gifts and that they
should use them to build up God’s kingdom as they wait for the return of
the Son of Man.
There is no doubt that this year has been the most challenging that
many people have ever experienced in all sorts of different ways and
that is true for us as Christians and the Body of Christ in this community.
But I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit continues to move among us
and has ensured the provision of much with which we are able to bless
those around us, not just as part of the Christmas preparations but
throughout the year that has passed and indeed into the year that is to
The Russian author Dostoevsky wrote “Other men see a hopeless end
but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope” Hope is one of the themes
We who are Jesus’ disciples remind ourselves that God is going to
complete the job he started in Bethlehem on that first Christmas and
continued in Jesus’ death and mighty resurrection.
So what do we hope and pray for, this year especially?
• Of course we all hope for an end to this brutal pandemic
• We pray that the vaccines on the horizon will work.
We hope for an economic upturn for the well-being of all.
But we also hope and pray that more people will come to know our Lord
Jesus Christ, and commit as disciples, especially at this hardest of
It is becoming ever more challenging to resource and sustain that
mission, not just locally but throughout the Body of Christ of which we
are all a part. I am always struck by the generosity of spirit that abounds
in this community, by the way in which people come together to help
each other, the resilience that so many show in the face of adversity, but
sadly this is not always the case everywhere.
Sometimes it is tempting just to put our hands over our ears, to cover
our eyes and to ignore what it is going on in the wider world.
Nearly a year ago there was a small news item about a city in China,
that I would imagine most of us had never heard of, where there was an
outbreak of a particularly nasty strain of flu. Who would have thought
that event would have resulted in a global pandemic that has altered the
way of life of the majority of the world’s population.
Over two thousand years ago, a tiny baby was born in a dirty outhouse
in a rough part of a little known town in the middle east. Who would have
thought that event would have resulted in the transformation of the lives
of millions of people over the last two millennia.
As disciples in God’s Church, we want to see that transformation
continue and we need to consider how we can be part of that through
our continued generosity and in a way that is realistic going forward.
We have already seen how God’s work, done in God’s way will not lack
God’s abundant provision in this place.
This Sunday our Diocese is launching a major stewardship programme
“Generous God, Generous Disciples”. This is not a one off campaign but
an invitation for us to reflect on how we can sustain God’s mission not
just in our community but throughout our Diocese.
There will be an opportunity for us to consider this as a parish over the
next few months so I am not going to dwell on it now. I’m simply going to
suggest that we pray about what generosity means to each of us, and to
think about how St Andrew might have considered this, not as a problem
but as an opportunity to demonstrate our love for the Lord in ways which
make sense for us and brings glory to God.
I leave you with a prayer that may help you in your reflections this
Advent, a prayer written by St Ignatius of Loyola, who some of you may
remember me speaking of when I preached a couple of weeks ago. It is
a very simple prayer but one that encourages us all to think about the
true meaning of generosity, not just as we approach the season where
giving is one of the key traditions, but throughout all seasons as we
continue our journey as disciples of the one for whom we wait, Jesus
Christ, the Light of the world
Lord, teach us to be generous
To serve you as you deserve
To give and not count the cost