Today is Advent Sunday, the first of four Sundays before Christmas. Already we are looking forward to celebrating that very special 'birthday' when Jesus came down to earth.
The word 'Advent' means 'coming'. Whilst we know that Christmas is coming, we are also looking forward to something more than a celebration of what has already happened. The time when Jesus will return to us and put an end to fighting, hunger, suffering and all those things that happen because of the badness of humans. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus speaks a little about what it will be like when this happens. He speaks about men fainting with fear, worried about what is going to happen to them. Paul, in today’s epistle, says that just as people say 'We have peace and security' then sudden destruction will come with no escape! Pretty scary stuff! So why are we looking forward to it?
The answer lies in the reason we are all here today. We are in church. We in fact are the church, the 'God Club' if you like. Jesus follows up his message of terrible things happening by saying when all these things happen look up, raise your heads, be happy for "your redemption is near". Redemption. I'll come back to that later. Paul says 'God has not destined us for wrath!' We, the 'God Club', Paul calls us the 'children of light', are going to be saved from all this. In fact we are already saved from it.
As well as this talk of terrible things the readings today focus on one other idea. Signs. Jesus told us to look for signs in the sun, moon and stars. I don't think he meant 'check your horoscope'. He said to notice what happens, look for the signs. Paul says, using Jesus words, 'That day will come like a thief in the night'. No one will know when. Jesus told lots of stories about being ready. You may know some of them. The story of the girls who waited for the return of the 'bridegroom', some that saved their oil and were prepared, and some that ran out of oil and were shut out. The story of many people who were invited to a meal, but made excuses. They were also shut out. The story of three men trusted with looking after their masters land while he was away. One that was successful and was rewarded and another who had done nothing and had everything else taken away. Read these stories; try reading Matthew 25 for a start.
Redemption. I said I would come back to that word. I think of it like this. A coupon or voucher is redeemed when you exchange it at the shop. The voucher actually belongs to that shop. As a piece of paper the voucher has no value. It wouldn't keep you warm for long if you burnt it. But when you take it to the shop you can understand its true value. When we get to the time of our 'redemption', when we will be taken to God's 'shop counter' we will then see what our faith, our membership of the God Club is worth. Being part of the kingdom of heaven. But if you take a Smiths token to Boots you will not get any value for it. The Boots shop assistant can tell by looking that it does not belong to them. Do we belong to God? Are there enough signs on us to show that we are God's vouchers, or will they say to us, 'No, try the other place down the road'?
Paul describes the signs of being in our club. We have a club uniform. Like an army uniform, he talks of the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation. Invisible armour. Faith, -believing in God and knowing we are safe with Him, love, -sharing Jesus love with each other, being friendly, and the helmet of salvation, -knowing we are in God's team and so we are already saved. The battle against all that is bad has already been won for us by Jesus. We must keep that armour on, in case the time comes while we have put it down. Paul says to us 'Encourage one another, build one another up just as you are doing.' We go back to the words of the song we sang earlier. "Our God reigns!” These words come from Isaiah, our old testament reading. We are the watchmen in this song. Through our actions the message of God's kingdom is spread. The signs of our membership of the God Club should shine out so that as 'children of light' we draw more people to us, to Jesus family, so that they also can be saved.