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Worship resources, prayers and Bible study

First Sunday of Advent

Liturgical Colour - Purple

Opening Verse

 

 
 
 
advent candle one

Advent 1

 

People of God:
Awake!
The day is coming soon
when you shall see God face to face.
Remember the ways and the works of God.
Christ calls you out of darkness
to walk in the light of his coming.
You are God’s children
Lord make us one as we walk with Christ
today and for ever. Amen.

Collect Prayer
First Reading:
Second Reading:
Gospel Reading
Post Communion Sentence
Commentary:
Meditation:
Hymns
Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead:
Intercessions from our Sunday worship
Sermons

Introduction


This is the first Sunday of Advent, and the first Sunday of the church liturgical year. It comes at a time of year when we are all looking forward to Christmas, which celebrates the unique coming to earth of God to live as Jesus in human history.

The reading from Isaiah today longs for God to come down to earth. We can all echo this longing, and we seek an assurance of God's presence in our world and in our lives. We live in a world which so needs the healing touch of God. Advent is a time when we think of light but it is an honest season in which we also acknowledge the darkness. The world is not a happy place, we are surrounded by evil and suffering and it is okay to be truthful Christians who recognise that we are weary of hoping and waiting and long for our Lord to appear to sort out the dreadful mess. Our minds are filled with all manner of apocalyptic scenarios from Ebola to terrorist attacks. Each Sunday we will be lighting candles, they remind us that we live in times of darkness in which the light of Christ is present with us.

The reading from the Gospel of Mark encourages us to 'watch and pray.' This is important for us as we go through this time of preparation for Christmas, we seek to create space for the presence of God. Advent is an opportunity to be able to stop our rushing and create that time to reflect. In four short weeks it will be Christmas and we will have to be filled with joy, but for now we can be realistic and think awhile before we rejoice. Christians are a joyful people but we are not supposed to head in the clouds people who have lost touch with the realities of life. Prayer is not meant to remove us from the chaos but rather equip us to be better able to serve in it. As Christians we know that ’All shall be well’ but this statement is a future assurance, in spite of the present reality.

At Advent  we remember that our Lord Jesus will come again and we look to be ready to welcome him. We also remind ourselves that Christ has come and is present with us. It is all to easy in the rush of modern life to become preoccupied with the hurry of day to day existence and we loose our spiritual awareness. Advent  is a good time to resolve to awaken our spiritual sight and to become conscious of God's presence. Wake up and watch, for it is in the darkest night that the light shines most brightly.

 

Opening Verses of Scripture  1 Corinthians Chapter 1:8-9

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light ,now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen   Common Worship

Almighty God, as your kingdom dawns, turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness, that we may be ready to meet you in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Common Worship Shorter Collect

Lord our God, keep us your servants alert and watchful as we await the return of Christ your Son, so that when he comes and knocks at the door he may find us vigilant in prayer, with songs of praise on our lips. Methodist Worship

First Bible Reading  Isaiah 64: 1-9

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people. 

Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

Gospel Reading  Mark 13: 24-37

But in those days, following that distress, 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky,  and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'
 "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!' " 

Post Communion Sentence

O Lord our God, make us watchful and keep us faithful as we await the coming of your Son our Lord; that, when he shall appear, he may not find us sleeping in sin but active in his service and joyful in his praise; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Commentary

We are supposed to enjoy Advent. In our services we will be lighting candles in a beautiful ceremony which counts down to Christmas. This is a time when we look forward to the coming of Jesus which we remember and celebrate at Christmas. Yet of course Jesus is already with us as a Christian community and this is some of the ambiguity of Advent, there is a sense of ‘already and not yet.’ It is the fact that Jesus is with his people now which gives Christians confidence and reassurance for the future. We are a people who can step out into the future knowing that God is in charge. When Jesus left his disciples physically, his presence did not in any way diminish, rather his risen presence pervades the whole world. This is why so many prophetic voices proclaiming the second coming seem to sound hollow, they look forward to a return of Jesus and somehow fail to look around and see that Jesus has never left. It is as if every person holding a billboard with ’the end is nigh’ is blissfully unaware of Jesus standing behind them.

Today, the first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the new church liturgical year. Advent is a time of watching and waiting, but this does not mean standing around with our hands in our pockets hoping that one day Jesus is going to appear on a cloud. Neither does fulfillment come on December 25 when we symbolically place the doll in a crib scene. Advent has been seen as this time of looking to the future to see if we can discern Jesus return. It is like one of those people taxi people at an airport by the arrivals holding a sign with the name of the person they are supposed to give a lift. This image rightly captures the Advent message of being alert, but it fails miserably to see that Jesus has already arrived, and now being ‘alert’ and ‘watching’ means ensuring that we are about his business.
In Luke today Jesus uses apocalyptic language to encourage the faithful to be participants with God in his purposes, even in the most difficult of times. Jesus’ tells us to “be on guard so that our hearts are not weighed down with... the worries of this life” [v. 34]. This might especially be true of Christmas but it is also for throughout the year, an invitation not lose the focus of our faith, but to be fully attentive so that we might not miss any opportunity for participation in God’s ongoing work of creative transformation. This is the work to which Advent and the new church year calls us.

Today on the first Sunday of Advent we see Jesus in apocalyptic preaching telling that the old systems, the old kingdoms are falling away so that God’s kingdom, with all of the power of Christ’s love can come in its place. This rebuilding is taking place now and we are a part of it, all who are not idly standing in the airport but living as citizens of the kingdom of God.

So, this is a time of reaffirm our trust in God’s promises and ensure that we are alive to seeing Jesus in our midst and ensuring that we are sharing in his work. If Jesus were to physically walk the streets of our community what would he see and say and do? What concerns are there on the heart of God for the people around us and are these our concerns? We Christians are supposed to be part of the Kingdom of God, going about this world as citizens living out the new ways to which we have been called.

It is unsurprising that we walk past Jesus in the street without recognising him, this is exactly what the Bible tells us characterised his birth and subsequent life. While a few Magi and shepherds came and worshipped and Herod tried to have him killed, the rest of the world got on with business as usual. The truth is that Jesus just didn’t live up to the expectations which people had of him, in fact for most he was a bit of a disappointment. They wanted so much more in the sense of fulfilling the human desire for excitement and power.

Around us over weeks of Advent we will be seduced by the trappings of Christmas and we will taste lovely food, see beautiful and tinsel and as it all grows and develops we will almost naturally start to sing ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.’ However Advent is a season of purple, a solemn season. The reason for this solemnity is clear, whilst we enjoy the festivities of the season, we are nevertheless mindful that the grown up Jesus is already Immanuel, ‘God with us.’ He is seeking to engage us in his work now, rather than just look back and re-enact the nativity. There is always a temptation to see Advent as a count down to Christmas, counting how many sleeps are left until we can enjoy ourselves, opening the doors on the calendar and eating chocolates one a day at a time before the big event. But Advent is not a countdown, it is a season in itself, a time of preparedness and reflection to ensure that we are a part of God’s ongoing work of redemption. If we are not ’on duty’ in the service of the Kingdom now, then Christmas is a fairy story and Jesus has no more importance than Harry Potter.
It is this solemnity which causes us to look past the mind numbing carols and Christmas trappings which beguile us to sing sugar coated songs about still silent nights with twinkling stars. The first Christmas was born out of human misery and pain in a land under military occupation in which human life was so cheap that babies could be killed without mercy, on the hunch that one might be a political threat. Of course little has changed and Christmas today will be a most difficult time for many people. Issues around relationships are thrown into much sharper focus and the pains of such things as broken families and bereavements can be at their most painful. This year the global economic and social challenges which we face are more acute and our welfare system is in a state of change and cutbacks which will inevitably bring problems which throw people back on their own resources or lack of them, without a safety net.

While Christmas preparations are unavoidable we need to work on living in the present and not let the season's preparations divert our attention. There is a story told which may or may not be true but which makes the point quite clearly. It is said that two hundred and twenty years ago the Connecticut House of Representatives was in session on a bright day in May, and the delegates were able to do their work by natural light. But then right in the middle of debate, the day turned to night. Clouds obliterated the sun, and everything turned to darkness. Some legislators thought it was the Second Coming. So a clamour arose. People wanted to adjourn. People wanted to pray. People wanted to prepare for the coming of the Lord. However the speaker of the House, who was a Christian believer rose to his feet. ‘We are all upset by the darkness’, he said, ‘and some of us are afraid. But, the Day of the Lord is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. And if the Lord is returning, I, for one, choose to be found doing my duty. I therefore ask that candles be brought. At which the men who expected Jesus went back to their desks and resumed their debate.

So this year as you celebrate and enjoy all the best that Christmas has to offer with family and friends, keep vigilant and seek of God to know what is your duty and where service might be found for a citizen of the new kingdom. Charles Royden

 

Meditation


I have to try and remember this year never to write Xmas, in the past it has caused zealous Christian to write me three page letters telling me that I am unworthy and selling out the real meaning of Christmas to Beelzebub. Of course ‘X’ is the Greek letter chi which together with ‘P’ the Greek letter Rho, form the first two letters of Christ used in the chi-rho monogram, a very ancient Christian symbol. In fact Constantine used it in the fourth century as a religious emblem placed on the shields of his soldiers as a conquering sign, not something which Jesus would have had in mind.
The Church has been using X as an abbreviation for the word Christ for centuries, especially since the invention of the printing press and Webster’s dictionary acknowledges that the abbreviation Xmas was in common use by the middle of the sixteenth century. It is not part of a secular plot to obliterate Jesus and we need to be lot less defensive around the whole season. We Xians are not the only ones who celebrate a winter holiday at this time of year, in fact we pinched it off a pagan festival around the winter solstice. Many people will come along to Church this year at Christmas time because they sense something special, we have to try not to put them off by being too precious and holy. If we really want to keep Christ in Christmas’ then the way to do that is to ensure that we are doing the kinds of things which Jesus spent his time doing, looking after the poor, the lonely and the sick. He was a really holy man who never bragged about what he did and would never have wanted his name up in lights however we decided to spell it. Perhaps that cross (X) is a way we can remind ourselves of the kind of life he lived for others and a cross (X) can also be a great way of us expressing our love for him by doing the same.

Hymns

 

  1. O come o come Immanuel (Veni Immanuel)

  2. The trumpets sound the angels sing

  3. Come thou long expected Jesus (Stuttgart)

  4. Jesus is Lord
     

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian, if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.

 

God who cares for us, the wonder of whose presence fills us with awe. Let kindness, justice and love shine in our world. Let yours secrets be known here as they are in heaven. Give us the food and the hope we need for today for today. Forgive us our wrongdoing as we forgive the wrongs done to us, Protect us from pride and from despair and from the fear and hate which can swallow us up. In you is truth, meaning, glory and power, while worlds come and go. Amen (Monica Furlong, version of the Lord’s Prayer)

Dear God, I have written the cards and packed up the presents, hung up the stockings and bought the mince pies. But somewhere in the bustle I lost You. Come and find me, Lord Jesus, as the shepherds found you in the stable. Draw close to me this Adventide. Amen
What I don’t want for Christmas: I do not want gadgets and junk mail, or hundreds of cards, nor mountains of waste paper and round robin letters from half-forgotten people.
What I want for Christmas: I want a bit of peace, time to spend with people I care about, somewhere warm to stay and things to eat. I want to know more about the coming of our Lord. (Robin Fisher)

Begotten of your love, O Father, we are made in your image. Cared for all our days, we are never beyond your sight. Enfolded in your heart, we are never out of your thoughts. To think of you is rest. To know you is eternal life. To see you is the end of all desire. To serve you is perfect freedom. To love you is everlasting joy. Amen. W E Orchard, 1877-1955


Additional Material

Commentary

Today we start a new liturgical year and our Sunday readings come from Mark’s gospel. It seems odd but we don’t start at the beginning of the Gospel, we jump straight to Mark 13. In this passage Jesus has entered Jerusalem, it is a short time before his death and he speaks to his disciples mindful that soon he will be killed and no longer physically present with them. He therefore warns them about what is to come and uses a story of a man going away and leaving servants in charge of his home. The master is leaving, those given charge of his household do not know when he wil return, but he will. What is also sure is that when the master does return he will expect to find his house in good order and his servants alert. They are charged to be constantly awake. This is why this reading is selected for the start of Advent this morning. Advent is about watchfulness and being prepared, believers are told to be vigilant.

So let’s take a look at this passage and consider exactly what it means. In my Bible chapter 13 is headed ‘signs of the end of the age.’ However if we start from the beginning of the passage in chapter 13 from verse 1, it is clear that the discussion concerns the Temple. We read
‘one of Jesus disciples said to him look teacher, what massive stone what magnificent buildings’,
Jesus replies   ‘not one stone here will be left on another’

So Jesus is speaking in these apocalyptic words about the Temple, not signs of the end of the age. This is just one of the reasons why I urge you when you read from the Bible in church, just stick to the text and don’t read out the introductions which are human commentary and not the original text! They are sometimes misleading, as is the case today. Jesus goes on later in the chapter to speak about his coming again, but first he has a warning about the fall of the Temple which happened in AD 70. Jesus urges his followers to flee. Jesus says,

‘let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountain,  Let no one on the roof of his house go down, or enter the house to take anything out, Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak.’

Jesus is giving a warning to his disciples to flee, if the end of time was envisaged there would be no place to which to flee! Sadly people did not heed Jesus warning and instead of fleeing to the mountains they crowded into Jerusalem.  We know why Jesus encouraged such a mass exodus because we can read about the events of the fall of Jerusalem. It is recorded for us by the historian Josephus. He tells the terrible tale of the siege of Jerusalem, people starved and ate their own babies to stay alive. There was terrible political infighting with more Jews being killed by other Jews than by the invading Romans. In the year A.D. 69 one Roman Emperor succeeded another four, Nero, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian each time with violence and murder. As Vespasian made his way to Rome to receive the crown his adopted son Titus entered Jerusalem burnt the Temple destroyed the city and crucified thousands of Jews. Josephus tells us that 97,000 were taken captive and 1,100,000 perished by slow starvation and the sword.

So what are the messages today 2000 years after these events have taken place? We should remember the awe and wonder which impressed itself upon the disciples when they saw the Temple and be aware that we can be caught up admiring or failing to challenge the wrong things. The Temple which Herod built was one of the wonders of the world. It was begun about 19BC and in the time of Jesus it was still not fully finished. Josephus tells us that some of the stones were forty feet long by twelve feet high and eighteen feet wide. It was these stones which the disciples found so amazing. The Temple represented the pinnacle of human endeavour, but not for Jesus. Jesus saw the Temple differently, he recognised it as a human institution which was corrupt. It had set itself up against god’s law, it had perpetuated deep injustice and oppression. Jesus was never beguiled by human power and prestige, he saw through it and recognised that it had little to do with the love and compassion of God. His disciples through all ages must do the same. We must refuse to be caught up and impressed by institutions which do not reflect God’s concern with each and every individual created in God’s image. God has no favourites, no special rewards, all are equal and beautiful in God’s sight.

The chapter concludes with a story with the message that we must keep awake and watch. The disciples of Jesus must not be lulled into any false sense of security, we must be vigilant and engaged in a state of preparedness. The judgement which fell on the Temple is a foretaste of the judgement which will be for the whole world. God’s people are called to be faithful and not to compromise with the standards and fashions of the present age, rather keep awake.

As Christians we keep alert and perhaps as an example this means challenging the diet of mind numbing stuff that is fed to us by our media. For example, our daily news focuses our minds on trivia such as the lives of celebrities, whilst in Africa there is apocalyptic devastation in countries like Zimbabwe, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan's Darfur, and especially the Congo. A 2008 study by the International Rescue Committee concluded that 5.4 million "excess deaths" occurred in the Congo from 1998 to 2007 — a staggering ten percent of the population and a death toll eight times greater than the Rwandan genocide.

Our Christmas cards will direct our thoughts to snowy scenes, robins and candles. The holy family crib scene depicting the perfect family. Our reading today is a warning that we must not sentimentalize Christmas. The real story is a foul stable with animals, a pregnant and homeless teenager, and a world which simply had ‘no room’ for our Jesus. Advent is about watching and waiting and recognising things for what they are. Today in our church we welcome Bechar and our speaker Rob Huddart, we are grateful to Bechar for the opportunity this Christmas to be able to give to the work of helping the homeless in Bedford. Advent is a time to wrestle with the unsolved problems of the world such as homelessness and also to come to terms with our unanswered prayers, and so many unfulfilled promises. In the words of the Christmas hymn, Advent isn't about pious platitudes but about our very real "hopes and fears of all the years."  The exhortation to "keep alert" and "watch" is not unique to Mark, it is one of the most common exhortations throughout the New Testament.  It has nothing to do with reading tea leaves in an attempt to predict  "the day and hour."  It is a time for discernment, when we look at the crucified Jesus and seek ways in which to serve him.    Charles Royden

 

 

Meditation

Advent is the season of waiting and watching and a season of hope. What do we see? A church in confusion and struggling to come to terms with a weakening influence. A world in which many live with extraordinary wealth well and in which many more die without the most basic food and medicine. There is growing uncertainty of how our nation will cope surrounded by economic difficulties. Advent is a time of hope and yet we struggle to see God at work in our world. In the reading from Isaiah the prophet captures our Advent hopes and fears with words full of impatience, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.”

Isaiah thinks God is angry at the people and this is what has brought about the current circumstances: “You were angry and we sinned…. we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” It feels to Isaiah like our pain must be God’s doing: God must be punishing us, withdrawing God’s presence, because we have gone astray. God is angry at us and God’s anger takes the form of apparent abandonment. Isaiah and his community are going through a severe case of “separation anxiety.” God’s is present with us moment by moment and yet he does not micromanage our lives, God gives us space. We assume that God is absent whereas our actions or lack of them have limited God’s presence in our own lives and our communities. God acts through us as we seek to be part of his Kingdom right now. If we want God to tear open the heavens we will wait a long time, if we ask God to allow us to share in the work of the kingdom then God might say to us ‘about time too’  Charles Royden

Hymns

  1. Come thou long expected Jesus
  2. (After confession) Be still and know that I am God
  3. Hosanna, Hosanna
  4. Tell out my soul tune:woodlands 
  5. To God be the glory 
  6. Hail to the Lords anointed —tune:cruger
  7. All for Jesus
  8. Christ is the world's true light
  9. Take my life
  10. O come o come Immanuel (Veni Emmanuel)  
  11. He’s got the whole world in his hands
  12. The race that long in darkness pined
  13. Lo! He comes with clouds descending

Prayers

Lord Jesus Christ, by your thorn-crowned head, receive the devotion of my mind. Lord Jesus Christ, by your nail-pierced hands, accept my daily work. Lord Jesus Christ, by your wounded feet, bless my faltering journey. Lord Jesus Christ, by your riven side, accept the adoration of my heart; for your love and your mercy's sake. Amen
After George Spencer, Father Ignatius, 1799-1864

God our deliverer, whose approaching birth still shakes the foundations of our world, may we so wait for your coming with eagerness and hope, that we embrace without terror the labour pangs of the new age, through Jesus Christ. Amen. Janet Morley

Holy and compassionate God: so direct our strength and inspire our weakness, that we may enter with power into the movement of your whole creation towards wholeness, justice and peace. Amen. Christchurch Cathedral Vancouver

Before I commit a sin it seems to me so shallow, that I may wade through it dry shod from any guiltiness. But when I have committed it, it often seems so deep that I cannot escape without drowning. Thus I am always in the extremities; either my sins are so small that they need not any repentance, or so great that they cannot obtain thy pardon. Lend me, O Lord, a reed out of thy sanctuary, truly to measure the dimension of my offences. But oh! As thou revealest to me more of my misery, reveal also more of thy mercy. Thomas Fuller 1608-61

Additional Material

Commentary

 

In Mark's Gospel today Jesus uses language in Chapter 13 which would have been familiar to Jewish thinking at the time about the Day of the Lord. Some have read this passage and said that Jesus got it wrong. Jesus said that these things would happen before some people died,

'I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.'

But this is to misunderstand the passage. The words of Jesus do not refer to the Second Coming, he is speaking of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish Temple. This occurred in AD 70. Jerusalem suffered a terrible destruction and it would have been wise for people to run. Josephus the historian tells us that people ate their own babies to survive, more Jews were killed by Jews than by the Romans. Jesus wanted his followers to escape that destruction which he foresaw. They would not be running away from the second coming, who could run away from that! No, they would run away from the dreadful times to come. In AD 69 there were four Roman emperors, one after the other with violence, killing and civil war. Nero, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. As Vespasian went to Rome to be crowned, his adopted son Titus entered Jerusalem, burned the Temple and crucified thousands of Jews.

Many people look at events today and comment that things are so bad, it sounds just like Jesus predicted. Not the case, it was the end of Jerusalem and the events of that most dreadful time which Jesus predicted. Not the events surrounding the end of the world, but the end of the world for the Jews as they knew it in AD70. So it would be that the Son of Man (Jesus) would come in clouds and glory, his words would be vindicated and proved true. 

As to the Second Coming - well that is quite a different matter and Jesus tells us that he does not know the timing of the event. However we do well to learn the lesson of history. We must heed the words of Jesus, amend our lives and be obedient to his ways.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent and it marks the beginning of the church year, when we remember Jesus' coming as a baby in Bethlehem. But we also use Advent to think about Jesus' second coming as king and judge. So the good news is, Jesus is coming back, the frustrating news is, we don't know when! Of course we are not supposed to know, instead we are told what to expect and how to prepare.

In the Gospel passage from Mark, Jesus teaches about second-coming preparation for his disciples. On his way to die, he is already talking about coming back. First of all, Jesus tells them, the times before his return will be difficult. Darkness will rule both the physical and spiritual world. But they (and we) are not to find reason for despair in this darkness. Quite the opposite, we are to be alert and watchful and we will see the signs of Jesus' return as plainly as we see spring turning into summer.

Not knowing when Jesus is returning gives us some choices for how to live. We can ignore his coming and get on with life as though he really didn’t exist or we can live as though he might return tomorrow and dedicate our gifts and energy to living and sharing God's Word right now. Our faith is not in the future, it is in the here and now. Jesus places a high premium on faithful discipleship in the midst of terrible trials. He calls for us endure and to be watchful. 

As look around us this Advent we might become aware of so much disaster and evil. Hardly a day goes by without news of more killing and terrorism. Do we still trust that God is in charge, is faithful to us and will finally draw us into a loving and lasting embrace? 

Our Advent liturgies and scriptural texts encourage us all to trust in God. They keep our hope alive, despite the news headlines. Advent faith isn't mired in the past, doesn't nostalgically relish a former time when things seemed better. Advent faith looks forward.

So what do we have to look forward to? God---that's who. God has not given up on us. The coming of Jesus shows us that God is eternally committed to humankind. Advent is a time of fear and apocalypse, but it is in the midst of fear that we learn to hope and trust. That is why we Christians should always be an optimistic people even if the odd star does fall out of the sky. Charles Royden