The Sunday before Advent – 2001

Next Sunday will be the first in Advent. During the four-week-long season, Christians can undertake self-assessment, and make mental and spiritual preparations for the celebration of Christmas.
Self-assessment can be positive, in appraising progress already made; and in being thankful for blessings so far received. It can also be filled with hope based upon assurance, as we refresh our vision of what still lies before us
John 1: 1-14 touches upon the Advent of Christ; and verse 12 gives a particular challenge to our thinking: ‘Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the power, the right, to become children of God’
God the Father’s gift of the power, and right; to belong to him in a very special way; does not automatically make us Christians. The divine bestowal of enabling power is wonderful; but a gracious giving requires an equally gracious receiving, in order to fulfil it, and begin to make it effective.
The receiving only begins to make the divine gift effective; because what is given is not an end in itself; but is designed to promote continuing spiritual growth and progress on the part of the one who has received.
We can be thankful that Christ did not come into the world empty-handed; but brought with him the Father’s love; the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, and his ongoing presence, to encourage and enable his followers.
If, in the coming season, we meditate afresh upon the precious things that God has given; and the ways in which we have, already, claimed them for ourselves, and shared them with others…
…then we might ask the Lord to help us to receive more fully, and to apply more effectively, what he offers.
Although we cannot work for the gifts of God; otherwise they would not be gifts, but rewards; we can work at them, through putting them to regular use.
Here are a few touches upon some of the gifts and graces Christ offers to his followers; about which we may give special thanks, in the days to come.
The most obvious gift; is new, spiritual life. Jesus said, and still says: ‘I came that you might have life; and have it to the full’.
He did not say: ‘I came that you might have existence’, but LIFE! Nor did he mean the old life, dusted off, and smartened up a bit: but new life.
Christ did not promise to give just enough to be going on with; but in such abundance, that it becomes both a joyful experience, and an effective witness.
In many ways, Jesus made it quite clear that the abundant life that he gives: is purposeful: as it builds a deepening relationship with God.
In chapter 17, verse 3 of the 'Gospel According to John'; Jesus prayed to the Father, about his followers, and said: ‘This is eternal life...that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’.
In the Bible: and in relation to God and his people: the word 'know' is not  used in an impersonal sense, of mere information. Instead, it indicates a very close, personal and enriching experience of the Lord.
Scripture teaches us that such a relationship with God, is never static; but on-going; leading to an increasing knowledge of him; and a deepening sense of ongoing life in his Presence.
But, as Christ taught, in many ways, eternal life in and with the Lord: comes into being, and remains, only when God's requirements are met. Jesus said: ‘If you would enter eternal life, then keep the commandments’. (Matt.19:17).
However, he not only gives an instruction: ‘Keep the commandments’, but also promises help in doing so; and offers us the gifts of his enabling Spirit. In effect; if we allow it; the indwelling Spirit keeps the commandments for us.
Jesus taught that, just as we need ordinary food to sustain our bodies; otherwise, we die, physically; so our spiritual lives need continual sustenance; or else we die, spiritually.

The Lord offers us his personal help; in nourishing and sustaining the spiritual life we received at the Father's hand. Using an image of his giving, and our receiving, he speaks of himself as being: 'The Bread of Life'.
Basing his teaching upon the Old Testament days of ‘manna in the wilderness’; Christ's image of 'bread'; betokens a fresh receiving, from the Lord, daily.
This particular word of Jesus; may be meditated upon during the coming season; to remind us that  the 'things of the Spirit' cannot be stored away, for future use; but must always be received afresh, day by day.
Another of Christ’s words to ponder, is: ‘A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’. (Luke 12:15).
If we know that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions; then, can we say, with equal conviction, just what our lives do consist in?
Another great gift, which the Advent-Christ brought with him, is a love that embraces fearlessness. Through the heart, mind and pen of John; at 1.John 4:18, Jesus says: ‘There is no fear in love; for perfect love casts out fear’.
Many Christians, still having fears of various kinds, get puzzled; and ask: 'If Jesus spoke the truth about perfect love casting out fear, but I still am fearful, for reasons that are quite understandable to me; then what has gone wrong?’
Without help, those same Christians are likely to come up with an unsound answer; that is of no use to them at all. Believing that their love is far from perfect; they are not surprised that it fails to achieve what Christ promised; and feel that they must improve the quantity and quality of their love.
Those who think and speak like that, miss the point.
We might be able to help someone to see that, the love that John was writing about is God's perfect love for us, and not our imperfect love for him; and encourage them to receive a new vision of what it is all about.
God's perfect love…by which we are which we live...and through which we are gradually brought to spiritual perfection; is one of the gifts that the Advent-Christ brought into our world.
Experience proves to us that, as God's perfect love gradually fills a life; there is less and less room for anxiety and fear, and all other unlovely things.
However, as we have so often heard, or said, in the past: we must watch out against the temptation to do things for ourselves, once more; and, instead, allow the Lord to do things his way.
But will we let the Lord do things his way? This is another matter that we might meditate upon, and pray about, in the coming weeks.
In our ordinary, daily lives, we do not attempt to pump up our car tyres, using a small, hand-pump, designed to inflate party balloons...
...nor do we try to open a can of fruit with a nail file; or set about painting a house with a pigeon's feather, instead of a proper brush.
We might, eventually, get work done in those ways; but we are too sensible to attempt such things; and so we use the right tools for each particular job.
However; sensible though we might be in such practical affairs; we are not always equally so, in matters of the spirit.
Too often, we try to improve our situations, and make desired progress, through relying upon our imperfect love for God; rather than allowing his perfect love for us, to effect all good and needful things.
Another gift of Christ, to the needy world, is the shifting of a particular responsibility from the shoulders of mankind; to God, in this way :-
In the Old Testament; Proverbs 4:20-22 points to how things were done, prior to Christ's earthly ministry. It says: ‘My word is life to those who find it’...
In that text, the onus appears to be on the shoulders of men and women: to seek the word, in the hope of finding it; and, when found; puzzle out how to apply it. There is a radical change in the New Testament way of doing things.
At John 17 we find Jesus saying; to the Father, about his followers; ‘I gave them the words that you gave me; and they accepted them’. In that same prayer, at John 17, Jesus also says to the Father: ‘I pray, not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their words’.
That is, the Word of God is no longer a hidden thing, to be searched for, and discovered; but an open-to-view thing, that is offered; and, when fully received; reveals the truth and meaning contained within it.
Christ brought many gifts into the world; and offered them to mankind. As the text from John 1 says: ‘To all who received him, he gave..’
He gave life itself; in its on-going fullness, in relationship with God; and also a share in divine love, that gives human life its full shape, and character.
Christ gave God's 'Word', to bring direction and purpose to bear, in that new, and reshaped life; and God's own peace, to give it depth of meaning, and joy.
Again, our own experience proves that meaning and joy touches, colours, and enhances all parts of Christian life:
This is because the Advent Christ; though given once, for all; on the grand scale; remains wonderfully individual, and personal, to each of us.
When we first accepted Jesus, and became 'Born-Again' of the Spirit, we received the gift of life from him, and began our personal journey of faith.
As we continue our journey; and Christ is offered to us afresh, moment by moment; do we gladly anticipate the challenges, responsibilities, enrichment and blessing that still lie ahead of us?
As said; next Sunday will be the first in Advent; a season, in which Christians can undertake self-assessment, and make mental and spiritual preparations for the celebration of Christmas.
But what of today?
Shall we; today; begin to prepare ourselves more fully: for the coming season of preparation? Amen!