Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 28 November 2021.
• First Reading: Jeremiah 33: 14-16 (I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land)
• Psalm 25: 1-10
• Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13 (May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other)
• Gospel: Luke 21: 25-36 (The sign of the fig tree: when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near)
It was around 1980, that I believe Christians in Poland started to pray seriously for their government. Their freedom had been snatched from them by Nazi Germany in 1939, supported by Communist Russia. They did not see it again until 1989.
In 1940, the French and most of western Europe also come under Nazi control and laboured under it until the liberation, starting in June 1944.
All of these and many others besides have had to endure long periods of occupation and suppression, all the while asking ‘How long, O Lord?’
This sense of delayed liberation and of earnestly waiting and trying to hold out morally and spiritually in the face privation is nothing new in human history.
The feeling of delayed answer to prayer, of wondering if it would come in one’s own lifetime or whether life would be cut short, is part of our lessons today.
In Jeremiah, God promises the exiled Israelites that yes, their trial would end. This trial was more than the deportation of the Jews to Babylon, but it covered the human desire to control, manipulate and abuse others.
Government regimes of any kind were still human institutions and open to the kinds of manipulation and betrayal that we see today. It has been said that elections are about throwing one set of sinners out and bringing another set of sinners in.
And so God’s promise is of more than another king, even a Jewish king in Jerusalem. It was about a king of God’s own making, given to fair and legal actions, without favouritism, and in an open and understandable administration. Justice would be done and be seen to be done.
Politics would no longer be about entertaining one’s supporters and penalizing the rest. It would rest on foundations set by God Himself in His holiness and justice.
Justice would no longer be whatever is meted out by one regime to favour its team and ignoring or worse, penalising the rest.
And so God promised a ruler of a different kind: founded on the promises of God to the line of David, and acting in the complete holiness and righteousness of God.
And this is a promise that the church also eagerly awaits for fulfilment. Our season of Advent is kept with this hope and expectation.
Yet when asked in more detail about the completion of these things, Jesus was careful to warn the church against false hopes. There would be false prophets and self-styled messiahs. They would play to the anxieties and prejudices of their audiences, and they would provide marvellous entertainment.
But they would not be of God. Jesus was warning of turbulent times ahead when even the settled order of a fairly turbulent and violent society, economy and politics would be disrupted by new and disturbing trends.
Yes, there would be environmental effects and the nations of the world would act against eachother like the raging of the sea as they sought to promote their interests and security.
But these would be pointers to what is to come. Yes, history has been littered with upheavals but now our technology allows both worldwide trade and worldwide conflict. The systems for serving trade are easily transferred to military use.
But this is a time for the church to take heart. It is a time to look up for the Salvation of the Lord is drawing near.
Those who have a stake in the existing order of life, culture and politics will be in no hurry to see this order overturned. It is easy to say that if it has not happened so far then why spend time hoping for it?
But Jesus also spoke of His coming again in power and great glory. The angels at His ascension from the Mount of Olives promised that He would return just as the disciples had seen Him ascend.
So yes, this would be a time to watch and pray. To watch the signs of the times and to understand them, without giving way to wishful thinking, hysteria and the plotting of dates and times.
It would be a time to make one’s personal stand on the gospel message when others were busy denying and ridiculing it.
It would be a time to steady and encourage the nerves and faith of those who were anxious or were young in their faith.
Paul’s prayer had been that the church in Salonica may increase in its love for its members and that as a whole it might be able to stand in the presence of God without being ashamed or guilty but may rather be confident in His provision.
What was true for the generation that read his letters and passed away remains true for us. The counsel of faith is not diminished. And yes, look out for the fig tree for this is also a symbol of Israel, and watch and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. When we cry ‘How long O Lord?’ the answer is still: ‘Watch and pray.’