ADVENT SUNDAY - RECONCILIATION.

Our word 'Advent' means 'coming' or 'arrival’; and, at Christmas, we will celebrate the fact that Christ came into the world for a very definite purpose; to implement God’s will, in a particular way.
 
The thing most central to God's loving actions, in Christ, was the breaking down; and removal; of the barrier of sin, that separated mankind from him. Man's greatest need; and God's most loving action in meeting it, may be summed up in a single word - RECONCILIATION.
 
To the small, but spiritually-active, and growing church at Colossae, Paul wrote: ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, and, through him, to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth, or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross’.
 
There is a brief touch on what God did in Christ; but if we widen it out, and put it in more colloquial language; the meaning becomes much clearer.
 
‘Once, no matter how much you wanted to, you couldn't get close to God, because of who you were. The sin of the world, in which you shared, was an actual barrier: separating you from the Lord. God, who hates sin, but loves the sinner, could not destroy the one without killing the other. The Lord had a problem, which he solved at one brilliant and loving stroke ...
 
…‘In Christ, he took human flesh, and, at the cross, in his own body, he bore the sins of the whole world; past; present and future. He paid the price for that great weight of sin, with his own life. In so doing, he purchased redemption for all who would receive it into their own lives. Those who are redeemed; are no longer God's enemies, through sin; but God's children and friends, through the righteousness of Christ. Now they can draw very near to God, because of who they are, in the love of Jesus’.
 
To that understanding of what God has done in Christ; and how the spiritual growth of Christians is effected through him; can be added the very powerful meaning of the word 'RECONCILIATION', when used theologically.
 
In today's English, people speak of problems and crises in such terms as: ‘Things just aren't hanging together any more’, or ‘It sometimes seems as though my whole life is falling apart’. When they discover answers to their problems, and begin to make good progress in applying them, they might say: ‘I believe that things are coming together again’.
 
This colloquial language touches upon how divine restoration works, in an almost exact way. The usual dictionary definition of 'reconciliation' is: 'That which brings together again, after an estrangement ... that which reunites.. ... harmonizes ... makes compatible ... and restores to friendship'.
The word has three roots out of which it has developed. The first part is 'RE' .. which means ‘again’... the second part is 'CON' .. which has the basic meaning of 'together', and there is 'CILIA' .. which means 'call' or 'summons
 
In the special way in which Christians use the word: RECONCILIATION is the 'Again-together-call’ (or summons) of God to his people.
 
As Paul wrote to the church at Colossae: God took the initiative, and made togetherness with mankind possible, at great cost, through Jesus
 
There was a barrier of evil, sin and death, between God and man; and the need to remove that barrier once, and for all. Through Christ, God made an ‘Again-Together-Call’, that could not be mistaken. It was made to everyone; so that all could have the opportunity of redemption, and new life.
 
Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel; and the words that Jesus used, at the beginning of his earthly ministry, were, quite clearly, an ‘Again-Together-Call, - a message of God's love.
 
He said: ‘The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent, and believe the ‘Good News’...'Come follow me’.
'Repent' doesn’t mean 'be sorry', but 'turn back'...turn away from whatever separates from God; and go back to him, in deepening relationship.
 
True repentance; 'turning back', in response to Christ's 'Again-Together-Call’: never fails to deepen relationship with the Lord.
 
However, reconciliation between God and mankind cannot be effective, and fulfil its purpose, if, deliberately or otherwise, it is not allowed to touch every aspect of our lives.
 
Because reconciliation is ‘all-or-nothing’: the Lord Jesus warned people not to divide their lives into compartments; or try to keep certain parts closed, and secret. This tendency, and Christ's warning, relate to three areas of our lives: 1)- being reconciled with those from whom we have become separated, for whatever reason ... 2)- being reconciled with our own selves ... and 3)- being reconciled to the wider world in which we live.
 
At Matthew 5: 23. Jesus taught: ‘If you are offering a gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift in front of the altar. First go, and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift to God’.
 
The inference is quite clear. We cannot contain the reconciliation of God in one part of our lives, while keeping it separate from other parts.
 
Where we have become separated from other people; the mere passage of time is not enough to restore things. Its passing may dull the edges of a situation; and blur memories - but it cannot bring reconciliation into being.
 
Reconciliation is not a concept; but an event, or process, which has to be offered, and received, in its entirety: through words and actions.
 
Those Christians who need to be reconciled with themselves; who have one part of them believing in God’s reconciling love; yet, at the same time, have other parts disliking, distrusting and even despising themselves; actually prevent reconciliation taking place.
 
Failing to accept; to love, and forgive self; misguidedly, or through neglect or obstinacy; is not only harmful, but cuts against the will of God.
 
We find a warning about this in the 'Book of Acts': ‘What God has declared to be clean, let no man declare unclean’ - for to do so is to set God's word to one side, and to act as though we know better than he does.
 
To be unreconciled to self, or to others, is to rebuild the barrier of sin that Christ removed at the cross.
 
In his 'Vine and Branches' teaching (John 15) Jesus the Reconciler, said to his unlikely-looking, mixed-bag of followers: ‘You are already made clean, by the 'Word' that I have spoken to you’. Who would want to argue against that? Sadly, quite a number of otherwise sensible Christians, do argue.
 
At John 15, Jesus also said: ‘Now, remain in my love’. Christ’s love is offered fully: but it cannot hold, and bless all of a life; when some parts of it are separated, and hidden away. 
 
The last, brief point to be made relates to being reconciled to the world, and our place in it. Many people, for social, moral and religious reasons; distance themselves from the world; perhaps in the hope that none of its nastiness will rub off on them. To do that, is not only to distance themselves from the good that there is in the world: but also to disregard gospel teaching.
 
Christ remains fully involved in the world: as he ministers divine mercy, love and grace. He expects his followers to be active in his Name; and to undertake all that he gives them to do.
 
St. Paul, as a God-ordained, Christ-commissioned, servant of the Gospel puts the matter to us at 2.Corinthians 5: 14 end:
 
‘’Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  He died for all; that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.
So from now on we regard no-one from a worldly point of view…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!
 
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself, through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
 
And he has committed to us, the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God was making his appeal through us. We implore you, on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’’    Amen.