28 November 2021
‘There will be signs in
the sun, the moon, and
the stars, and on the earth’
Sunday 28 November 2021, is the First Sunday of Advent.
9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church
11.30 a.m.: Parish Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale
The Readings: Jeremiah 33: 14-16; Psalm 25: 1-10; I Thessalonians 3: 9-13; Luke 21: 25-36.
These readings can be found HERE
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
Our Gospel reading this morning opens with frightening, terrifying words from Jesus, who says: ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken’ (Luke 21: 25-26).
These are not the sort of comforting words that we might want to hear on Advent Sunday, as we begin the four-week countdown to Christmas.
My generation is a generation that grew up with muffled sounds of apocalyptic fear, developed through listening to the whispered anxieties of parents and teachers. I was still only ten when the Cuban Missile Crisis reached its height in October 1962, and I still remember asking, ‘Is this going to be the end of the world?’
The Cold War was at its height, and we were still less than two decades from the end of World War II. Of course, many people feared another world war was about to break out, with catastrophic consequences for the world.
The threat seems to have abated in the 60 years since, although the stockpiles of nuclear weapons continue to grow and accumulate.
Instead, a new generation wonders whether the world is facing apocalyptic catastrophe because of climate change and the destruction of the planet. And all of us must fret for the future when we hear about the emergence of a new variant of Covid-19, just as we all thought vaccinations were making our lives safer and we were looking forward to our booster shots.
These fears accumulate and they become:
● short-term fears: are we going to have a normal Christmas this year?
● medium-term fears: is our life ever going to return to normal?
● long-term fears: what faces us all for the future?
In our fears and anxieties, we try to read the ‘signs of the times’ and wonder how to respond to ‘signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.’
And yet, I realised mid-week how so self-obsessed I can be as I realised the terror of those 27 people – families, fathers, mothers and children – who drowned in that precarious Channel crossing between France and England. How they must have been oh so ‘confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.’
All their hopes of a better life for themselves and their children, as they fled wars and persecutions in Iran, Syria and Afghanistan, drowned in one horrific, apocalyptic moment.
But even then, had they arrived on the shores of the land they hoped to reach, would they have been met with the compassion and care refugees ought to expect, not only in terms of Christian love, but under the terms of international law?
The Christmas Gospel is a reminder that Mary and Joseph and the Child Jesus were refugees too: Mary and Joseph were forced to move from Nazareth to Bethlehem in the cold of winter, yet found no welcome at the inn; and then, when the Child Jesus was born, they were forced to flee Herod, and seek exile in Egypt.
Where do we find hope as we wait in Advent for Christ at Christmas?
In the verses immediately before our Epistle reading this morning, Saint Paul reminds the early church in Thessaloniki that in the face of troubles and persecutions he has sent Saint Timothy to ‘strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, so no one would be shaken by these persecutions’ (I Thessalonians 3: verses 2-3).
Our Gospel reading ends not in doom and disaster, but with the promise that Christ is coming. Our Advent faith is that Christ is coming in glory, and that with him he is bringing the Kingdom of God, with its promises of justice and mercy, peace and love.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Luke 21: 25-36 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
Liturgical Colour: Purple (Violet), Advent, Year C.
The Advent Candle, the First Sunday of Advent (First Purple Candle):
The Patriarchs and Matriarchs
O God of Abraham and Sarah,
we thank you for your faithfulness
throughout all time.
As today we begin our Advent journey,
may the light of your love
surround us and all for whom we pray,
as we watch and wait for your kingdom.
(A prayer from USPG)
Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
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 and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Introduction to the Peace:
In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)
Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:
The Post-Communion Prayer:
God our deliverer,
Awaken our hearts
to prepare the way for the advent of your Son,
that, with minds purified by the grace of his coming,
we may serve you faithfully all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us (CD 37)
126, Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding (CD 8)
509, Your kingdom come, O God (CD 29)
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.