Once a month I go to Mass with my family and am just on the ordinary rota in the parish. This was today's sermon.
God has called you and he will not fail you.1 Thess 5:24
Last week I went to a meeting in the Bank of England about how to build trust in the financial services sector. The things I end up doing for the Kingdom! Whenever you make an investment there is the warning: ‘past performance is not a guarantee of future results.’ Now that may be true in the world of finance, but in our consideration of God and His care for us, past performance is precisely the guarantee of future results. The idea that God is faithful, that ‘He will do this,’ and that He acts consistently with His past actions and with His word, is central to our hope and to the way we live as Christians. God has called you and he will not fail you.
In advent we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Saviour in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. That moment is the centre of History: He was hoped for, the desire of the nations. The excitement and hope of those who look forward to the celebration of Christmas, the children wide eyed looking for presents, the shop keepers hoping that their profits will come in, the workers, looking forward to their holidays, the tired, hoping for a rest, those who are depressed by the dark nights and he cold looking forward to the turn of the year, the lonely hoping for a visit or a card in the post. All these in their different ways hope for Christmas. Even the scrooges who hope it would all be over soon. Even from our material and human centred desires the hope which lies at the centre of this season comes through.The people of Israel waited in hope for the coming of the Messiah. John seemed to be the fulfilment of that hope. Was he the messiah? Or was he the prophet like Moses who would lead the people? Or Elijah, who, it was said, would be the harbinger of the Messiah? His answer to all this was ‘no’. But who are you then? And the answer was amazing and more than all those other things. “A voice that cries in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.” Who is this John? He testified of himself that he was the fulfilment of prophesy. What had been spoken of was now happening. As Jesus would say later in the synagogue at Cana in Galilee, ‘now, in your hearing, this prophesy is being fulfilled’
When you come to the carols and to the Christmas masses you will hear in the gospel accounts of the birth of the Messiah, again and again, that this or that happened to fulfil the Word of the Lord through the prophet. God did what He said He would, and that past performance is precisely the guarantee of future results. Advent asks us to look forward. Because the Lord has done this in the past, therefore the future consummation of the world is assured.
|The pink vestments are 18cent|
|Close up of the fabric - made about 1760|
This assurance starts to address another question: who are you? They asked John. But who am I? Who are you? What is my purpose and vocation? So much that happens to us knocks us about. Our lives are full of change. The young people who work in the financial services industry which so many of our City Churches seek to serve will change their jobs two or three times a year; they move from one rented room to another a couple of times a year; relationships ebb and flow. And this is true of all of us in different ways, when the Council moves your flat or you get poorly and can’t do something any more or you lose your job. Who am I? If we define ourselves by a place or a role or even by our human relationships we are building on sand.
God has called you and he will not fail you. At the heart of the identity of the Christian is God’s covenant promise, that He has called us by name and made us His own; that He is sanctifying us by His grace and that when He comes to judge the Living and the Dead he will, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, count us as righteous and give us a place in glory. Who am I – I am nothing, and have nothing on which to rely except the call that I have had. And you may say ‘I have not been called’. But you have; and the evidence is simply this. You are here now to hear the scripture: God has called you and he will not fail you. and you are not here simply to hear the scripture but to participate in the Word made Flesh.
The Mass is the pledge of the life which we are to receive. Jesus said, ‘do this in memory of me.’ Just like the advent memory of what is past, the anamnesis, the memory of the Eucharist points us to the future, to what will be. But the Eucharistic memorial is like the memory of a computer: it makes present here what is remembered, and is a foretaste as well as a pledge, the actual living presence of Jesus with us: This is my Body; this Is my blood. Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread,’ and the altar is our Bethlehem, the church the stable in which we meet the Lord Emmanuel, God with us.
And so as we remember what once He did, we know Him with us now. And because past performance is the guarantee of future results, we look forward from the possession we have to the consummation which is to be given to us. Who am I? who are you? We are the ones called to Himself by the One whose promise dose not fail, whatever the world may bring to us.
And so we have confidence, the confidence of John, to be the voice crying in the wilderness: like John to tell the world that the pledge has been fulfilled and to call others to rejoice with us in the hope which is set before us. Christmas is a massive opportunity in this. Don’t come alone this Christmas: bring your friends and neighbours: tell your acquaintances, stand up for the faith, make sure that others hear is call and find themselves. Salvation is at hand: the Lord is coming. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do this