Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 1 December 2019.
• Old Testament: Isaiah 2: 1-5 (The mountain of the Lord – the nations shall stream to it)
• Epistle: Romans 13: 11-14 ( Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light)
• Gospel: Matthew 24: 36-44 (Nobody knows the day or the hour – keep awake)
There are and were many names for it: Shangri-la, El Dorado, the Promised Land, and no doubt there are others. All point to a land of promise, where rule is just and social structures are fair.
All may work without exploitation, justice is accessible to all, leaders lead but do not dominate or abuse or exclude. Educators teach but do not indoctrinate, first responders assist but do not intimidate, and so on.
The vision of the just society lies behind almost all extreme political movements even when they dispute, forcefully and even violently of how it should be configured.
As we begin our Advent season we are looking not only towards Christmas and the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, but also at the eternal things of death, judgment, hell and heaven.
These are the things that go far beyond today’s arguments on trade and taxation, what alliances to maintain or to abandon, and so on.
In the lesson from Isaiah, the vision is of the mountain of the Lord. It is seen as a promise which points back to Sinai, the Mountain of the Law, and Carmel, the mountain when God’s authority was established. It points ore to Zion, the mountain of the Lord where He is worshipped and from where His law is dispensed.
It points to a place where the wisdom of God will be eagerly sought by all nations of the world, and Israel will be finally vindicated against all her enemies and occupiers and usurpers.
It is the place where in the Messiah, the peace of God will be the rule and where swords and guns will be melted down to make scalpels and syringes, where tanks will be made into ambulances and military logistics will turn to international aid.
The Anointed One would adjudicate between nations as they being their disputes before Him, and they would freely bring their offerings before Him.
No longer would Israel live in fear of her neighbours, whether smaller powers nearby of great powers afar off.
This is part of what defines the Messianic hope in today’s Israel and among today’s Jewry.
As Christians we certainly do not and will not deny it.
But Jesus had another word of promise. It was not only that He would indeed come again as King and Lord, but that meanwhile His disciples would spread the word, not only that the Messiah had already come and was coming again, but that in His first coming He had already defeated the powers of sin and darkness, of self-advancement and rebellion which separate us from the love and mercy of God.
Jesus had already overcome that deepest root of rebellion within the human heart and will, and without that victory, then no amount of administration, law-making, taxation, or any other of the perquisites of political office was ever going to have aby long term effect.
The revolution of today would become routine tomorrow and corrupt the day after, and this cycle of self-destruction would have to be changed, forever.
And so Jesus instructed two things: that as signs of His kingdom the disciples were to love one another as He had loved them, and secondly that they were to spread the message of His atonement in all lands and generations.
And yes, their love for one another would indeed be the visual aid to support that message.
And not only that, but they would have to stay with this task in all lands and eras and circumstances, in plenty and in famine, in peace and in war, under fair and just regimes and under dictatorships.
Jesus would indeed come back, but they would not know exactly when. They would only have the signs of the times to guide them, and so they must be alert for these things.
But then Paul gave this message an urgency as he wrote to the church in Rome, already living under sufferance and in danger of far worse.
The night of sin and darkness had already passed, no matter what the political outlook. Even if they faced persecution the victory of Calvary was never going to be undone or negated. It could only be denied or mocked or abused.
The task of the church was live lives of light, in their personal and corporate relationships and transactions. They were to continue in their worship and fellowship, and in loving one another.
There this looked impossible then they must put on Jesus Christ, like a cloak, and like inner clothing. Let Him lead their lives and guide their actions.
Let the Holy Spirit rule in their fellowship, bringing forth all the fruits of the Spirit and exercising the gifts and ministries of the Spirit.
Let Jesus continue to be seen and discerned in their lives for as times grew darker so the light of the gospel would shine the more brightly.
For the message of the gospel was never just a fair weather friend.
More like the lights of the street or of ships at night: it shines out more fully when the times are dark.