Sermons from St Faith's     

Hope for the Future
Revd Denise McDougall, December 9th, 2013

Matthew 3:1-12       
Iím so pleased to see you all again; it has been very different worshipping elsewhere and not being a part of the community here at St. Faithís. However what a perfect time to pick up some of the threads as we begin a new church year and as we prepare the way for the birth of our Lord and Saviour by sorting out our own hearts and minds for this great event. Advent is an exciting time, it is filled with the anticipation that comes from waiting, preparing and repenting or as the word means, Ďturning around.í As Fr. Paul told us last week it is a solemn season and todayís Gospel message is just as relevant today as it was over 2000 years ago and since then every age of Christianity has had something to learn from John the Baptist and his very powerful message about repentance.

Last week I was travelling home from Liverpool by train and as it pulled into the station I saw huge letters across the carriages which read
Hope is the future. It was referring to Hope University but for us as Christians Hope is our future.

This new season heralds new beginnings and fresh hope, and what huge strides we have already taken in this first week of Advent. Think back to last Sunday morning when so many generous people gave their gifts for needy children, then in the evening when members from our local Churches joined to worship and celebrate this holy season. Since then we have had maybe thousands of people young and old coming through our doors to see the Christmas Trees, to enjoy Rickís amazing pipe organ and to donate to the various charities; for some of them it was their first visit into a church. Many people commented about how they were warmly welcomed, inspired by everything and hopefully they were able to experience a feeling of spirituality in this holy place. Last week was a week which brought hope into lives and futures and never in our history whether it be locally or globally has hope been needed as much as it is now. Earlier we heard verses from Paulís letter to the Romans, how he wanted God, the God of hope, to fill them with so much joy and peace in believing that they may abound in hope.

Last Sunday we met Paul, Jennifer, Olivia and Sophie and today it is wonderful to welcome them and their family and friends as they bring Sophie Iris to be baptised. The water of baptism symbolises new life in Jesus Christ, a new sign of belonging and new hope and this is just what John the Baptist was offering to the hordes of people from all around the Jordan.

However donít letís confuse desire or optimism with Biblical hope; an optimist speaks of concrete changes, the expectation that things such asÖ.. the weather, relationships, the economy, the political situation and so on will improve or at least change in the way that we want them to; Nelson Mandela one of the greatest and most loved leaders of our times said, ĎI am not an optimist but a great believer of hope!í how he inspired others by his great words and acts of forgiveness after 27 years in prison and what hope he gave to millions of people throughout the world.

Christian hope is fundamental to our faith, the person of hope lives confidently in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands, Godís hands!

 And of course all the great spiritual leaders in history did just that, they handed their lives over to God, they were people of great hope! And no one more so than John the Baptist, the fiery preacher and recluse who lived in the wilderness, people travelled great distances to hear Johnís words and be baptised by him. John baptised with water from the river Jordan but he made it clear that the one who followed him would baptise with the Holy Spirit. And through the water of baptism today Sophie Iris will be filled with the Holy Spirit and become part of a much bigger family, the world wide Christian family. Baptism although only a once ever event is commitment to a life in and through Jesus Christ. Sophie like all of us, her baptised brothers and sisters is called to live as a child of God and member of one spiritual family with God as our leader.

John came on the scene when the people of Israel had been without a leader for a long time and they had lost their way, and he wanted them to sort themselves out and make a fresh start. John didnít mince his words and the aim of his preaching was to challenge people to mend their ways, to get themselves ready for the Messiah, to come back to lead them. At the heart of Johnís message is the call to repentance. Participation in the kingdom of God requires a change of heart and this means living in a new and challenging way.

Todayís Gospel reading is very powerful but it is also disturbing, are we so busy with earthly things that we fail to recognise what God is doing in our lives?  Like the Israelites do we need to get back on track, examine our consciences and reach out for divine grace and forgiveness so we can sustain the right relationship with God and with one another?

Through this past week we have seen lots of expectant and very excited children singing like angels, enjoying the trees and the wonderful music and all behaving very well. I suspect  that at home and school they are no doubt doing their best to behave as perfectly as possible for the next 3 weeks so that on Christmas morning all the presents they hope for will be there to be opened. If weíre honest I think many parents amongst us have probably been guilty at some time of a touch of bribery during the run up to Christmas. Behave yourself, change your bad habits, be kind to others and youíll get what you have asked for!

And arenít we as Christians hoping to receive a precious gift this Christmas the greatest gift of all; Godís own son, the word made flesh to enter our hearts afresh. But before Christís light can fully enter our hearts we first have to work at clearing obstacles in our minds.
It is imperative that we are prepared to turn around, use lessons learned from the past to help us shape the future and turn darkness into light and despair into hope.

Through our baptism and a way of life which shows repentance, compassion, generosity of Spirit and forgiveness we too can share John the Baptistís Advent mission. Then we, with Paul, Jennifer, Olivia and Sophie will be able to receive Godís Son, the best gift ever and live with joy, hope and love in our hearts and minds this Christmas.

And to borrow the universityís strap line

When we walk in the wilderness searching for meaning
May God baptise us with mercy and grace.
When we walk in the city thirsting for justice
May God baptise us with integrity and hope.
As we walk towards Bethlehem seeking a Saviour
May God baptise us with holiness and joy. Amen.


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