Thought for Sunday 5th December 2021
This week is our advent thought written by Steve Langton.
My life tends to be ruled by deadlines – work needs doing by a certain date, church services need preparing by Sunday, bible study needs preparing by Thursday, Callum needs taking to the bus by 8am, and so on. The problem with deadlines is they are addictive – we become so used to working towards them that when we don’t have an immediate deadline it is easy to relax and not achieve our goals.
The early church had an imminent deadline. One thing that comes through very clearly in the New Testament is that they anticipated the early return of Jesus. That expectation was a big driver of their behaviour, partly because they didn’t want to be found wanting when the time came, but also because the things of this world seemed less important in view of their imminent destruction. Thus they had a deadline to ensure they maintained their spiritual fitness.
For us today, the second coming does not seem imminent. We know Christ could come at any moment without us knowing the hour but, when it hasn’t happened after 2,000 years, we struggle to believe that it will happen in our lifetime, yet alone in the immediate future. And so we lack that spur to action that comes from a deadline, and this can lead to spiritual flabbiness.
Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas as the church prepares to celebrate Christ’s incarnation and we as individuals prepare for the festivities, but it can also be a time when we prepare spiritually, giving ourselves a spiritual health check. So my challenge for you (and indeed for me) this advent is to fight the spiritual flabbiness and get in shape for whatever God has in store for us. There are many aspects of our lives that could benefit from such a check, put the three themes I want to concentrate on are forgiveness, prayer and love.
We all know that we must repent of our sins to be forgiven, but as the Lord’s prayer teaches us, we must also forgive those who trespass against us. I read recently an atheist’s view of morality in a society that has largely abandoned its Christian roots. His comment was that forgiveness was something that tends to get forgotten in a humanist morality and yet it is vital to enable people to move on from the bad things that happen in life. So let us take the time this advent to consider whether there are any wrongs in our life that we need to ask forgiveness for – perhaps we need to ask God for forgiveness or perhaps we need to apologise to someone and ask them to forgive us. Or maybe there is some longstanding rift that we need to try to heal.
The second theme is prayer. In last Sunday’s reading from 1 Thessalonians Paul said that he prayed ‘night and day’, but I’m afraid that my times of prayer are a lot less lengthy than that, instead often getting squeezed by the other demands on my time. And yet, prayer is vital for navigating our way through life. So let us use this advent to consider whether we spend enough time in prayer, and what more we could get out of that time by seeking our heavenly father’s guidance for our lives.
And then my third and final theme for our spiritual check up is love. In the 1 Thessalonians reading St Paul prays ‘May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you’. The love for each other ought to be the easy bit – remember Jesus said that even the tax collectors loved those that loved them. However, people can easily get forgotten. All of us in churches could be doing more to support both our fellow Christians, and those outside the church who are lonely or in need. Let’s remember Jesus’s words from the parable of the sheep and goats “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 25:40).
So as we prepare for Christmas, let us also focus on our spiritual wellbeing, particularly those three themes of forgiveness, prayer and love. Amen