Sermon notes from the sermon preached by Katherine Salmon on Sunday 2nd December 2012 (Advent 1)
Isaiah 11 1-3
Luke 21 25-36
This may seem a strange reading with which to start Advent. It is apocalyptic, graphic and frightening, giving a strong indication of the difficult times through which Jesus would live. Historically, he lived under Roman occupation and this passage is full of references to Jesus as the one who would overcome the world, and eventually bring everything together in peace and harmony. Yet, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, we are conscious that our reading relates to the time before the crucifixion, and once again we are reminded that we cannot separate Christ’s birth from his passion and death.
This section of Jesus’ speech is generally referred to as the little apocalypse. It’s the last major speech by Jesus prior to the passion narrative in the Gospel of Luke. It follows the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, which in turn, Jesus states in response to a disciple’s admiration and delight at the wonders of the Temple. It also follows the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. In the time of the telling of Luke’s Gospel, that destruction happened only 10-20 years before the composition and proclamation of the Gospel. That is, major elements of the prophecies in Jesus’ speech have already taken place for Luke’s audience. They know that many of the things that Jesus prophesied in this little apocalypse have been fulfilled. Luke’s version of this speech is much more specific than that in Mark and Matthew. Jesus’ apocalyptic speech foretells both what has already happened in the lives of Luke’s listeners and what will happen in the future.
Jesus’ words are addressed to us as his disciples. This is Jesus talking calmly, objectively, and compassionately with his disciples, sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple. It is an opportunity for us as storytellers to present Jesus as one who both knows what is coming in the future, and who is utterly confident. The tone of Jesus’ voice is a voice of calm, setting all things in perspective. It’s quiet, confident, and strong. What he foresees is chaos and ultimate victory. That is precisely what happened for Luke and his audience. We can see parallels in the fragile peace in Palestine and Gaza.
The Jewish War of 66-70 A.D. was a time of unprecedented chaos in Palestine and among the peoples of the diaspora communities of Judaism all over the Greco-Roman world. It was a time of enormous stress and it was also a time in which the victory of the Roman Empire was virtually unqualified. The end of the Jewish war was an enormous defeat—the greatest disaster in the entire history of Israel. Thus, the promise of signs of the coming Kingdom of God were heard by Luke’s audience in the midst of what they experienced as impending chaos, as powers beyond their control. All these things that Jesus refers to—war, famine, mass enslavement, persecution—all of these things happened both during and following the Jewish War. The issue that Jesus is addressing is whether one can persevere in hard times and remain faithful to God.
The times of the Gentiles that Jesus refers to in this speech are the times of the victory of the forces of Rome. His prophesy is that the power of Rome will come to an end and the time of the Son of Man will come. The time of the Son of Man will be a time of justice and peace, of the establishment of love as the law of the land. Jesus’ way of nonviolence, of love and action, will be victorious over the powers of this world. That is the crucial message of Jesus’ speech here.
A new community was formed that was organized around non-violence and love. A new possibility was introduced into the world. We live in a time when the same dynamics are present as to what we will believe and whether or not we will persevere in the establishment of a new government in the world. Jesus’ speech is addressed to us as his disciples. The issue for us is basically the same issue that was present for Jesus’ disciples as they heard this address in the first century: How are we to understand the signs of the times, and how will we respond?
We have changed our Old Testament reading today to look at the O Antiphons from Isaiah where we are encouraged to seek the wisdom of Christ. The O Antiphons are the verses that introduce the Magnificat on the days between 17-23 December, by those who follow daily prayer in the office of the church. We do not fall helplessly into end times prophesies in fear, but we look and listen for that wisdom coming forth from the mouth of the most high, reaching from one end of creation to the other, bringing all things together. It is only in waiting, in listening, and in hoping that we can respond to that wisdom in a way that can bring ourselves and others nearer to the truth we have. In advent, the challenge for many of us is to make the time to wait, to slow the pace down, when everything around us is getting frenetic.
The reading from Isaiah reminds me to look for the signs of faith around me. I was privileged to share an interfaith day with Y8 in Leeds, and Steve welcomed us here to All Hallows. What I saw that reassured me greatly was how my Muslim students could connect with what they saw of Christ here. What saddened me was the apprehension of some of them going into the Mosque, even after Steve’s reassurance of how we work together. When we returned, one young Muslim girl shared that she understood her faith more deeply and had been inspired by what she had heard in Church and the Synagogue, as well as the Mosque, and was better able to explain to some of the others how she felt. In all three places of worship we had a time of silence-a bit challenging for 93 Y8s, but what struck me was their acknowledgement of being in a place of prayer, a place of wisdom, whichever tradition that gave it to them.
The O Antiphon O wisdom reminds us to be at peace with wisdom that comes from other traditions. It reminds us of the spirit of God resting on Christ, and, through Christ, on us. As we prepare for the coming of Christ anew, let us make time in Advent for that silence, that peace and that hope, but let us also not be fearful. May we be ready to dialogue with others about the hope we have- that hope that has come through creation, through the centuries, to us, individually, here and now, today. As we prepare for the coming of Christ anew, let us remember those who struggle to see where Christ is, or whose path of faith feels rocky and uncertain at this time. We are reminded that the wisdom of God may seem strange, unfamiliar, counter-cultural, yet we are reassured of the future by the words of this particular antiphon:
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
This verse is based on the words of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had prophesied:
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”
For me, these Antiphons, opening verses of the Psalms that take us through the final week of Advent, leading to Christmas eve, are very special because they were so much part of our prayer in the convent, and every year, there was that familiarity, though we usually had to be reminded how to sing them again! They are a wonderful reflection which can help us anchor to God and find times of silence in all our busy preparations for Christmas. Even if all we have is 5 mins, they are that small word of God which can bring us back from the hustle and bustle of shopping, or eating, or whatever may get in between us and God. I shall finish by reading our antiphon for today.