Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Hope. On this same Sunday one year ago we lit the first of the candles in our Advent ring, as we do every year, and could not have imagined that twelve months on we would not even be able to meet physically to do exactly the same thing, due to an unseen threat which had killed thousands of people in this country alone. Our government has asked us to be very careful in these pre-vaccine days, so our regular Christmas services are suspended or at the very least held in socially distant forms. Travel plans must be curtailed, and we are allowed just five days over the Christmas period for rather limited contact with family and friends. We have discovered this year that we can take nothing ‘normal’ for granted, and as 2020 draws to a close we are most definitely in need of hope.
We might be tempted to feel that because Christmas won’t be the same this year, we are somehow missing out – but the message of Advent is the same as it has been for generations, so even if our celebrations appear to be muted, they can be no less sincere. Advent reminds us that the church is waiting for the return of Christ in glory, so that He can finally bring into reality His eternal kingdom. In many ways we are in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament, when the people were in exile, remembering how God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, while also waiting and hoping for the coming of the Messiah. During Advent, we look back and celebrate that Jesus came to be one of us, while at the same time looking ahead to the time when He returns for us, his people. We know that Jesus was born in poverty, lived amongst us, died and rose again to overcome sin and death, that He lives with us today and that He will call us home in His good time, so we can still be glad because that message is unchanging regardless of our own ever-changing circumstances.
Our hope today lies in the truth that we are known to, and loved by, Emmanuel, God with us, so His church is as excited by Advent as it ever was. On this first Advent Sunday of this difficult year, we will meet, albeit virtually, with our brothers and sisters in our local Baptist cluster, and will worship together even though we are apart. We will remember again that we are the church of the risen Saviour, who gave everything that we might be forgiven and reconciled to the Father. We will be glad that we live in a generation where this technology is available, and rejoice that in spite of all we see and experience around us, we can live in hope because our future is secure with Him.
So let us pray the words we always use on the Sunday of Hope, when we light the first of the candles in the Advent ring:
O God of Hope, Emmanuel, God with Us – we ask you to send your light into our hearts at this time. Thank you that you were prepared to come into this world to rescue us. Help us to be ready for the day and the hour of your final appearing. Live in us and help us to live in you. By the power of the Holy Spirit, transform us so that our worship, our celebration, our time of preparation, may be pleasing to you – both now – and forevermore. Amen.Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline