Faithfulness

The First Sunday of Advent

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As I was reading the November 18th edition of The Week this news item caught my eye:

An Iranian woman travelling with her husband and child for a holiday in Bali created such a ruckus on her Qatar Airways flight that the plane had to make an emergency landing in India. It all began when the woman, who'd been drinking heavily, took hold of her husbands hand and used his fingerprint to unlock his smartphone. She soon discovered from his texts that he was having an affair, and flew into such a rage the flight attendants were unable to calm her, and the flight was forced to land.[1]

Faithfulness, sticking to your word, following the agreed script--we all, in some way or other, have a hard time with that. It all flows from the human problem described in the third chapter of the Book of Genesis when, at the serpent's persuasion, humankind compromised its integrity by unfaithfulness to God's simple command not to eat from the tree (3.11).

 

St Paul knew that, of course, both for himself as well as in regard to those who were part of the congregations with which he had to do.

A few moments ago we heard some of his words from the opening of the First Letter to the Corinthians. His words are complementary. The believers in Corinth have been 'sanctified in Christ Jesus' (1.2), and they've been 'enriched...in speech and knowledge of every kind'; what's more, they're not 'lacking in any spiritual gift' (1.7) as they wait for the revealing of Jesus Christ when he comes again.

That's not the whole story, though. A few sentences on St Paul has to address the painful issue of divisions in the church community in Corinth. As the letter goes on he also has to tackle serious dissensions among them, their tendency to splinter into competing groups. Then he has to give guidance on sexual misconduct, and warn them about resort to secular courts to solve disputes. There were back-sliders resorting to the worship of idols, and there was insensitivity to the tender consciences of some in the congregation.

Good grief. Talk about unfaithfulness! If the intentions were good, resolve, even the ability to hold to the course, were seriously challenged.

Any and every honest person finds it so still.

I guess that's why, at the start of this letter, St Paul tells the Corinthians, and us, something simple, clear and important. We heard it in verse 9 of St Paul's introduction to all that follows: 'God is faithful'.[2] I like this translation: 'He will never give up on you'.[3] However much you and I veer this way or that, however much we lose the plot, whenever we might even give up on ourselves, God is faithful, he'll never give up on you or on me.

It's Advent. Alas, the season has lost its focus. 'To celebrate Advent means to live waiting for the fulfilment of God's promises, to renew our expectation of the kingdom which is to come'[4]--that's how a deeply informed and thoughtful Christian contemporary has put it. We can gain great benefit by paying attention to his words. Of course marking the promised birth of Jesus is part of the celebration of God's faithfulness, but only part.

In other words, the God we celebrate and worship through this season is the God who is faithful, faithful to his word, faithful to his promises, faithful to us now and as our years unfold until the very end of time. The Advent God, Father, Son and Spirit, is, in the words of one of our favourite hymns, 'glorious in his faithfulness'.[5] That's the joyful heart of our Advent preparation, and of our Advent song.

Amen.

~

Preached by The Revd Dr Charles Miller, Team Rector

December 3rd 2017, the First Sunday of Advent

St Helen's Church, Abingdon-on-Thames

 

[1] In the 'It Must be True...I read It in the tabloids' column, p. 13.

[2] A theme St Paul reiterates throughout his letters; see A Robertson and A Plummer, First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians [ICC], 2nd ed., reprinted (1983) , p. 8.

[3] So Eugene Peterson in his translation The Message.

[4] So Enzo Bianchi, 'Tempo di Avvento' in Preghiera dei Giorni {Monastero di Bose], sixth ed., revised (Edizione Qiqajon, 2011), p. 3.

[5] From Henry Lyte's hymn 'Praise, my soul, the King of heaven' (Common Praise, no. 555).