Materials for Worship on Advent Sunday

Nerys writes: For me the first day of Advent every year brings with it a mental check-list of tasks that need to be done before Christmas. These include climbing into the attic to retrieve our Nativity set which will have been carefully packed away the previous January. As I set out the figures, my mind always goes back to the day in 1990 when Davie and I bought them in a market square in Kraków only a few months after we had met. This was the first item that we bought together for our future home. At that point it was difficult for us to envisage a life together. Our academic careers were set to keep us apart, the one in Scotland and the other in Wales. The act of jointly buying the Nativity set represented our hope that somehow, one day, the future we longed for would come about.

Today in church the first candle will be lit on our Advent Wreath, the candle that represents Hope. I wonder if you’ve ever thought what hope means for us as followers of Christ? Thankfully, it is much more than wishful thinking or a strong desire for something to happen. And it isn’t based on chance, a crossing of our fingers, or on having an optimistic outlook on life. As we are reminded when we reflect on our Bible readings this morning, Isaiah 2.1-5, Romans 13.11-14 and Matthew 24.36-44, faith-filled hope is something quite different. It can be just a tiny flicker like a candle flame but the darkness can’t put it out because it is based not on what we think or feel but on who God is.

Isaiah’s sharing of his vision of a new Jerusalem, raised high above all the cities of the world, is a similar expression of hope. Despite its precarious position, threatened by enemies from the outside and corrupted by its faithless inhabitants, the prophet declares that Jerusalem has a golden future. A day will come when people from all nations will gather there to worship the God of Israel. And as they learn to live according to God’s ways, justice will prevail and people throughout the world will be moved to turn instruments of war into tools for peace.

We all long for a better world like the one of Isaiah’s vision, but it is hard to believe that such a future will actually come about when we are reminded every day of the fighting going on in the world, the inequalities and injustices in our own communities, the broken relationships in our own lives. The new future the prophet is offering his beleaguered people, however, isn’t dependent on their own efforts or abilities but on the faithfulness of God. This is the basis of the hope that Isaiah was articulating in some of the darkest days of his nation’s history. Regardless of where power seems to lie just now, the day is coming when God’s reign will be established for all humankind to see.

In the meantime, we, like the people of Judah, are called to live towards that day. We are called to trust that the future belongs to God, and to respond by walking in the light of God, one step at a time. This also is the message of St Paul in today’s passage from his letter to the Romans. He calls his readers to choose to live a God-centred life – to wake up from the darkness of their old lives, to peel off their night clothes of selfishness and ignorance and to put on the new clothes of Christ – the armour of light. And likewise Matthew’s Jesus, who warned his listeners not to sleep-walk through their lives but to be like Noah whose close relationship with God meant that he was watchful and poised for action when the Flood came.

Just as Christ came among us in the most unexpected way on that first Christmas, Christ comes to us again and again in our daily lives. He will often appear just around the corner, suddenly, like a sick friend, a neighbour in need, a refugee living in our midst. We have a choice to sit tight in the darkness or to respond by taking a step or two in God’s light. When we do the latter, we become light ourselves. We bring hope to others and the world is transformed.

As I set out our Nativity figures for our thirty-first Christmas together, I will look back with gratitude at what God has done in the life of our family and those memories will give me hope as I look to whatever the future may bring for us. I invite you during this season of Advent, to look back at what our faithful God has done for you, for God’s people and for God’s world, and I pray in the words of St Paul (Romans 15.12-13) that ‘the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.’

Jesus, light of the world bring hope to the dark places of this world.

Jesus, bearer of peace bring hope to people suffering from conflict and war.

Jesus, born in a stable bring hope to people who are homeless.

Jesus who fled to another country bring hope to all refugees.

Jesus who was hungry in the desert, bring hope to people who are poor and starving.

Jesus who comforted and healed, bring hope to people who are sick.

Jesus who rose from the dead, bring hope to people in despair.

Jesus, Son of God, Messiah, bring me hope this Christmas and use me to bring hope to others. Amen.