Happy New Year!
Seriously I mean it – Happy New Year.
Today is the start of the Church Year.
I’ve always thought that in the Church we really get the most of our new year celebrations don’t we. We have the fresh start of January the first. Then after Easter we can in a sense give ourselves another one after celebrating the real fresh start that Jesus bought us in his death and resurrection. Then after the summer wind down we get another fresh start as the schools go back and we restart our programme of events and services. Then come the end of November and the end and beginning of the next Church Year.
Of course from another point of few it could be considered typical of the national Church that is increasingly out-of-touch-with-society and insists on having it’s new year more than a month before the rest of the world!
But I think we are making an important statement – particularly in a country when the first Christmas starts to hit the shops in August.
In my house I am a notorious grump when it comes to the Christmas Decorations – to be fair I’ve mellowed over the years – I now just about cope with the tree and decorations going up around the 15th December but years ago I really tried to stay Dec free until at least the 20th. In fact I’d rather wait until Christmas Eve – not because I hate Christmas – I really don’t – but because I really struggle with the idea that the Christmas season starts at some vague date in December.
Most of us know that though they run into each other Advent and Christmas are NOT the same thing. But of course there is a connection. Advent is the lead up to Christmas, it is a time of preparation and a time of reflection on the back story. The bits that happened BEFORE the birth of Christ. Not just the whole Mary and Joseph bit but this bit (show OT) too.
Today we start on our Road to the Stable and we start at the beginning. The road to the stable doesn’t begin with Matthew’s gospel, it doesn’t begin with Mary & Joseph or even with John the Baptist. It begins, rather obviously at the beginning. In Genesis.
And it begins with the act of Adam and Eve taking a piece of fruit from a tree in the perfection of creation. It doesn’t matter whether you believe a literal translation of Genesis as the creation story or whether you are more circumspect about the way the world came into being. The truth is in what ever way it happened it was an act of God. The holy spirit was over the water and the world was bought into existence. Whether it took six days or six-ty billion years God brought our world into being. And it really was perfect. We were created as God’s stewards to look after the world. And with that sort of responsibility comes some power and some trust. God put his trust in us to behave as good stewards and to ensure that his perfect creation remained perfect. That meant always having a mind on the greater good and trusting God for his provision and his care.
When as Genesis puts it, we took the fruit from the tree of life, we stopped trusting God and we opened the door for evil to come into the world. Destruction, disease and death. We failed our first test as God’s stewards.
It was here that the road to the stable began.
The moment that door to the powers of darkness was opened it became necessary for there to be a plan that would allow us to close the chasm we had created between us and God.
And God starts on that plan right away – he goes about building a special people to bring the message of hope to the World – He start s with the fathers of our faith – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – they bring into being a nation through which God wants to reach the world.
You know the first candle on the Advent ring stands for different things in different traditions. It can stand for the Patriarchs, it can stand for Gods People, it can stand for a symbol of hope. It depends which tradition you follow. But actually these are not mutually exclusive symbols.
The Patriarchs were the Father’s (literally as well as metaphorically!) of God’s people. And it was through this chosen race of people that God was bringing hope to the world.
In Genesis 12 God says to Abraham (Abram) that he will be
‘blessed to be a blessing’
That through him and his descendants nations will be blessed and given hope. You know that’s not just a prophecy – it’s a command.
Yes, God is telling Abraham what will happen – but he is also commanding him and his family line to bless the nations. To share the message of a loving God.
Again and again we see God saying to the Jews.: “This faith is for all people” And again and again we see the Jewish nation say in return ‘Oh but God we are your chosen race we don’t need to share it’
Why were the Jews taken to Egypt? Perhaps it was to share their faith but they created an enclave.
Why were they over-run by the Babylonians and taken into exile? Perhaps it was another opportunity for them to share their faith with those who did not know?
The road to the stable unfolds as we journey through the old testament. The flood, the two Jewish kingdoms, the prophets, the Psalms of David, endless conquests, enslavements and god-gifted freedoms for Israel.
Until the point of which is the crux, the fulcrum, the pinnacle of all of history. Thirty-three years that see the birth, life, ministry death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In which God not only smashed the rule of death over human-kind but also once-and-for-all blows open the doors of faith to all people no matter what race they are.
The road to the stable starts right at the beginning and it’s effects are being felt and worked out today.
Each and everyone of us here today. We are here because of the plan God had to make sure it was possible for every soul to turn to him. For every man, woman and child to have an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel – the good news – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in order that he would die on the cross at Easter – and in doing so would take upon himself every single misdemeanour, mistake and sin that I commit. Just so I may have a place in his eternal heaven.
This Advent we have an opportunity to reflect on what it cost God to make that sacrifice as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas.
Perhaps you are not sure if there really is a God. Perhaps you were once certain but have begun to wonder if its true. Perhaps you are sure of the God you serve and are eagerly seeking him for the next thing he has for you. Whatever stage of faith you are at – I encourage you, even in the busyness of this season – to give God some space – give yourself some space to reflect on that road to the stable.