Judgement as love? A sermon for Advent 2 at Adel Parish Church
Isaiah 40: 1 – 11, Mark 13: 24 – end
Advent means a new church year. It also means a change in our Sunday gospel readings. Last year we mainly heard from Matthew – this year it’s Mark.
Today we heard the start of Mark’s gospel, and he starts as he means to go on – abruptly! This isn’t Luke’s beautiful nativity story or John’s soaring poetry introducing Jesus.
No, for Mark, ‘the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ’ comes through John the Baptist shouting in the wilderness, and a baptism of repentance…owning up to what we’re doing wrong…judgement if you like. Judgement – perhaps not the first thing we expect from ‘good news’.
In the past though, advent sermons traditionally tackled the themes of death, judgement, heaven and hell. In recent times we’ve moved to ‘softer’ themes: hope, love, joy, peace; so today you’re expecting love rather than judgement. But actually, in the good news of Jesus Christ, I don’t think judgement and love are that far apart.
For me, Christianity is all about love…since God is love. But it’s an active kind of love: not just a beautiful feeling for a baby in a manger; but the challenging sort of love found in Mark’s Jesus; who comes to shock us, to show us who we really are, and who we ought to be. Jesus who says that entering his kingdom involves facing the truth about ourselves and changing the direction of our lives.
A group of us have been using the ‘Pilgrim course’ to explore some of the foundations of our faith. We’ve reached the ten commandments, the traditional standard against which lives are measured. This week we were challenged by Jesus’ comments on them. ‘Never mind don’t murder…if you’re angry with someone that’s just as bad. Never mind adultery…don’t even look at another woman.’
This sounds very judgmental, almost impossible to live up to – and not much like love. But as we explored Jesus’ words, they altered our view of the commandments, from a list of remote ‘do nots’, to a framework that leads us into fullness of life. Judgement, yes; but judgement that helps us to grow.
‘Don’t murder’, ‘don’t commit adultery’, ‘don’t steal’, can be taken for granted. Of course they’re important, but for most of us keeping them doesn’t impact our lives much. They’re about what we don’t do, more than how we live. Jesus challenges us to go further, to judge our own lives, and address the anger, lust and envy they contain. And these are things that hurt us as much as they do others.
The Pilgrim course asked us to consider the ten commandments as ‘a firm and friendly arm around the shoulder saying, “this is how to live”’…that seems to me an example of judgement experienced as love.
Mark’s good news is that Jesus Christ is coming…that he’s coming to shock us, to show us who we really are, and how that’s not who we should be. But Mark’s good news is also that Jesus judges with love…that he loves us just as we are – but he loves us too much to let us stay that way.
So, our Advent love is a challenge. Preparing to welcome the Christ child into our lives involves having a good look at those lives. Christ’s judgement comes to us as love – but love that offers us some hard work as we try to become more like him. Advent love as tough love perhaps!
There are places in the bible though, where judgement is welcomed not feared. The announcement ‘Here is your God, he will come with vengeance’, is seen as an occasion for rejoicing in song and dance.
‘Your God will come with vengeance’, hardly seems like a cause for joy – unless perhaps it’s spoken to the oppressed, the wrongly imprisoned, the enslaved, the poor and needy. If you’re wronged or exploited by the system – then judgement is indeed a reason to rejoice, judgement might be felt as love.
American philosopher Cornel West says this about love: ‘tenderness is what love feels like in private; justice is what love looks like in public.’
We’re all individual followers of Jesus, who hope to feel his love tenderly working in our lives. But we’re also Christians citizens of this community…country…world, who are called to make his love known to others. ‘Justice is what love looks like in public’, so justice is also part of Advent love.
You may have seen on the BBC news this week a film of two vicars in Burnley almost broken by the burden of feeding the hungry and listening to desperate people. It put the problems of my job into sharp perspective. It also, I think, demanded a response.
One vicar said ‘I go into homes with families; there are children ripping open the bags to get at the food as I come through the door.’ This surely demands justice not charity. In a society as rich as ours, even a global pandemic shouldn’t result in starving children.
For me, sharing Christ’s love must involve actively working for a society where everyone has the right to food and warmth, even when jobs are scarce and some industries struggling. It must involve working against injustice wherever we find it.
We’ve been rightly proud of Adel’s response to our Advent Foodbank appeal, but I think we should also be doing all we can to bring about a time when such an appeal isn’t needed.
Today Esther/Joshua/Ted lit our candle of love. This Advent I pray that we all experience the tender, challenging love of Jesus who comes in gentle judgement to help us change and grow.
Today n lit our candle of love. This advent I pray that we share Christ’s love – working for the justice that is its public face. Amen