St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (I Cor. 13:1)

December 2, 2007

Posted on December 2, 2007 in category: Advent, Sermons
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The congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon, was happy to welcome four new members on Sunday, December 2, 2007: Eva Anderson, Judy Chow, Reid Kirkpatrick, and Amanda Knezacek.

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

This is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent means “coming,” and it is a season of the church year that is focused on waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. In one sense, we are waiting and preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. But the Sunday scripture readings also emphasise the fact that we are waiting and preparing for the Kingdom of God. We are waiting for the Kingdom to arrive and to transform our world into a place where God rules, where peace and justice flourish, where there is no more poverty, war, or despair.

I spoke quite a bit about God’s coming kingdom last Sunday as we celebrated the “Reign of Christ.” I talked about the idea that whenever we live according to God’s laws and whenever we seek to follow the way and will of Christ, God’s kingdom is present and active in our world through us. Today, the theme of God’s kingdom continues with our reading from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had a vision of what the NRSV translation calls “the future house of God.” It is a vision of the future that we might also call “the kingdom of God.”

In the days to come, writes Isaiah,
the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established
as the highest of the mountains…
[and] all the nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,
“Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”

Isaiah has hope for a future in which God’s kingdom comes. People come to worship God. They come to learn God’s teachings. They come to commit their lives to walking God’s paths. Instruction and God’s very words go out to all the people, and the response is amazing. People’s lives are transformed. Relationships are reconciled. The many people who respond to God’s call allow God to get involved in their lives and their relationships. God judges between nations and arbitrates for many peoples. And the result is that they beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. War and hatred and jealousy and quarrelling are transformed into peace and justice and practical things like growing and harvesting food.

As I was preparing for this morning’s sermon, I was aware of the fact that we have a very full worship service today. Not only did we begin by lighting the candle of hope this morning, but we will also receive some new members into our congregation today, as well as celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I was trying to keep all of these aspects of our worship in mind as I was writing this sermon.

As we lit the candle of hope, we asked God to help us to share Isaiah’s vision of a kingdom in which swords are smashed into ploughshares. We prayed for a renewed sense of hope for the time when wars will end, when there will be enough for all God’s children, and when all people will go up to the mountain of the Lord’s house together.

In a few minutes, four people in our church family will stand up and profess their faith in God and their intention to live according to the ways of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord. And then, we will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

One of my favourite ways of thinking about the meaning and significance of Communion comes from a phrase in the communion liturgy. When we gather around the Lord’s table and share the gifts of bread and cup, it is “a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in the kingdom of God.” A Sacrament is a physical experience — the eating of bread, the drinking of wine or juice, and the pouring of water in baptism. A Sacrament is a physical experience in which an invisible reality of God’s love and grace becomes visibly present to God’s people. When we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we are fed not only physically, but also spiritually.

Advent reminds us that we are waiting for the day when God’s kingdom comes completely, when people will come from north and from south, from east and from west and sit at table in the kingdom of God. That day is still in the future. But when we respond to Christ’s invitation to come to the table of the Lord, we are welcomed and nourished and fed today. We receive “a foretaste” of the heavenly banquet in the kingdom of God.

And so, I think again of Isaiah’s vision of the future house of God. It is a vision in which many people will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”

Just as our celebration at the communion table is a foretaste of the banquet in God’s kingdom, I cannot help but think that when any one among us responds to God’s Word and commits his or her life to God’s ways, this is a kind of “foreview” of the kingdom that Isaiah predicted. Today, four people from our Christian community will make a physical response to God’s Word. They will come up to the front of the church, profess their faith in God, and commit to learning and following God’s ways as members of the church.

This is a sacramental experience, in that today God’s grace, which is already present and active in their lives, is being made visible as they publicly profess their faith and their intention to live according to the ways of God. For all of us who witness their response to God’s call, and for all of us who join in their profession of faith — this is a “foreview” of the kingdom of God.

Sometimes, we in the church, worry about our numbers. We wonder about the generations of people who seem to be lost, about those who have not heard or have failed to respond to God’s good news in Jesus Christ. Like the author of Matthew’s Gospel, we struggle with the reasons why some people are gifted with faith while others are not. We are challenged by the fact that so many people today are choosing other ways and other priorities.

But this morning, by God’s grace, we have some hope. This morning, by God’s grace, we are given a “foretaste” and a “foreview” of God’s coming kingdom. In as much as we come to worship God, in as much as we come to learn God’s ways, in as much as we commit ourselves to walk in God’s paths, in as much as we respond to God’s invitation to come to the table of the Lord, in as much as we do all these things, God’s kingdom is coming. God’s kingdom is here today.

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Amen.