A Guest Sermon preached at Yellowknife Alliance Church.
It is a real privilege to be with you this morning. My name is Alex Pryor, and I am a priest and pastor who works at the office of the Anglican diocese. My job is to help oversee the mission, ministry, administration, and educational work for all 51 Anglican congregations across the NWT, Nunavut, and the Nunavik region of Quebec. It’s great to be with you this morning to hear God speaking from his word together.
Our scripture passage this morning comes from St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Colossians, the first chapter, verses 13-23. If you’re following along in a paper bible, Colossians is one of those shorter books in the New Testament, it comes towards the end, after the letters to the Corinthians, but before you get to Hebrews.
Now, as I understand it, your in something of an in-between time. Pastor Steve has been preaching through the primordial history of humanity, the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, the tower of Babel, the calling of Abraham – that grand narrative of Creation and disobedience, of the first empires as people sought to enslave and lord over their brothers and sisters, all culminating in God making a covenant with Abraham: God’s promise and declaration that He will set things right, that it won’t depend on Abraham’s might or cleverness, but that God would call out a people, a nation, through whom all the warring nations of the world would be blessed. This was God’s plan to finally and ultimately accomplish what He said back in Genesis chapter 3: the Son of Man, a descendant of Eve, would crush the serpent’s snarling head.
You’ve been walking through this history week by week, but now the time has come to switch gears. Next Sunday, if you can believe it, is the 4th Sunday before Christmas. Time is just flying isn’t it?!
In many, even most, Christian churches around the world, those four weeks mark the season of Advent. So that means it’s time to switch the focus, right? Time to fast-forward from this ancient pre-history, and prepare our hearts to welcome the baby born in that little town of Bethlehem long ago and far away, right?
Or is it?
Or is it.
My task this morning is to, God-willing, suggest that there’s no shifting of gears required here at all. We are in an in-between time between seasons, but what if that actually echoes the “in-between-ness” that we’re living in here and now?
Some have described the Christian life, the Christian reality as one of “already” and “not yet”.
Christ is already on the throne, but that reality has not yet been revealed.
Christ has already won the victory over death, and the grave, and the powers of darkness, but the present battle of this rebellious world is not yet done.
Christ is already reconciling all things to Himself, and we have a sure and certain hope of our share in that new and resurrected life, but our faith has not yet been made sight.
God has, from the earliest days of humanity, already revealed his plan to undo the disobedience in the Garden, to crush the serpent, to topple empires, and to partner with faithful people to rescue and bless a fallen world, but that eternal purpose is not yet accomplished, at least from our human perspective.
So we live in this in-between time. We live as people expecting the Advent.
…So, just a little aside here:
What is the season of Advent all about?
Going back centuries, it’s been marked as a season of preparation. But… preparation for what?
This is where we, as modern, consumeristic, Western Christians, as Christians who have the Amazon app and the Bible app side-by-side on our phones, really need to be careful.
Many would say that Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas.
But let’s stop to think about that for even a second. What does the word “advent” actually mean?
…the word means “coming”.
So, yes, of course, we know that Christ came into the world, that he was born to Mary and laid in a manger in Bethlehem over two millennia ago, that he lived and died as one of us – but without sin – and was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day.
So if Advent is a season of preparation, and the word itself means “coming”, what exactly are we preparing for?
How do you prepare – today – for last summer’s vacation?
How do you prepare – in 2022 – for your high school graduation back in 2006 or 1996 or 1976?
We don’t – we can’t – prepare for something that already happened. Sure, we can reminisce about it, we can look back and evaluate and learn lessons, but let’s not fall into that modern, Western, consumeristic trap, and certainly not in our worship.
Advent is not a season of preparation for Christmas. It’s not a time of looking back.
Advent – which means “coming” – is a time of preparation, but it’s a time of looking forward.
It’s a time of preparation because we know, it’s the Gospel truth, that the king is coming; that the Word through whom all things were made indeed became flesh and dwelt among us, but that the story didn’t end with the Resurrection, or his Ascension, nor even with the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the Church at Pentecost.
No, Advent is a reminder that we are in this in-between time, that Christ is already on the throne, that the battle is already won, and, sure, it’s not yet revealed for all to see… but – and here’s the kicker – it will be.
Advent is a time of preparation for that coming, for that culmination of that great and awesome plan that God set into motion from the beginning of time, that although we sinned, in spite of human disobedience, God, through Christ, would show His preeminence, his supremacy over the world, the flesh, and the devil, by presenting a redeemed humanity, holy and blameless, without spot and free from accusation, by the blood of the Lamb who was slain; that Christ, the Son of Man who crushed the serpent’s head, who trampled down death by death, who – as death’s mighty jaws tried to swallow up God in the flesh, showed forth His glory and destroyed the power of the grave, would come again, yes, as a righteous judge, but as Paul writes to the Colossians, ‘to reconcile all things to himself’. To set things right. To bring back together that which was separated and divided by sin and pride and disobedience and empire. Amen?
But this is no new plan. This, my friends, isn’t even a New Testament plan. This is God’s eternal purpose, set in motion from before the foundation of the world.
All of scripture is united in this message: the rightful king is coming.
Think about it: God gives Adam and Eve a job to do, along with one pretty clear instruction. Adam and Eve are to have dominion – they’re to rule – but they abdicate. They hand their authority over to the serpent. They’re supposed to rule over all creation, but, in their disobedience, they become enslaved.
But what’s God’s message. Serpent, you’re cursed. Man and woman, you did this: life is going to be hard, and childbirth isn’t going to be pretty. … But that’s not the end of the story.
What is God’s message? Don’t worry. Have faith. The world is a mess, but the rightful king is coming.
Or Noah: The whole world is evil, gone to hell in a handbasket as my grandmother would say. God makes it clear that He alone can save, as one righteous man and his family are called out and carried over the rushing waters of judgment in the ark of salvation. God makes His covenant with Noah, but, it’s so poetic: just to make it absolutely and perfectly clear that our hope is not in men, that our salvation is dependent on God’s grace alone, Noah gets off the ark and what’s the very first thing he does?
He plants a vineyard.
Seriously, man cannot live by bread alone… Noah is more interested in the grapes.
He reaps his harvest, and, you can’t make this up, here we have the new patriarch of humanity, and what does he do? He curses his own son.
And what’s God’s message in all of that? Don’t worry. Have faith. Don’t put your hope in rulers or any mortal man. The world is a mess, but the rightful king is coming.
Then what happens? People start building empires, they start lording over one another, enslaving one another, building great monuments to themselves, a tower so they can reach up to God on their own terms. Babel has set itself up as king. And yes… the world is a mess. But what’s God’s message? The rightful king is coming.
And then God calls Abraham. A man who walked by faith, and whose life is chock-full of proof that he didn’t earn his righteousness by his works.
And, as darkness had spread out over the face of the earth, as the dominion of darkness had spread out horizontally, like the serpent slithering across the ground, like the judgement of the waters of the flood spreading out to cover the land, as peoples and languages and nations vied for pre-eminence and supremacy over their brothers and sisters, God revealed his solution:
“I will make you a great nation”.
But you won’t be like any other nation. You’re not building an empire. You’re not to be enslaving your enemies, you’re not to be making a name for yourself.
No… “you will be a people to bless all nations”.
From this nation, from this family called out from within the dominion of darkness, comes the saviour of the world.
But it’s not the solution we expect. We see a horizontal problem: we see sin and darkness and despair and bondage spreading out like a thick fog over the face of the earth.
We have a horizontal problem. We’re mortal beings, we’re held down by gravity, we experience life from the perspective of five-and-a-half or six feet off the ground. We expect a horizontal solution.
But here’s the thing: horizontal is predictable.
You roll a ball across a table, you know where it’s going to go. You kick a soccer ball across the gym, it’s not going to take off, orbit the earth a few times, stop for a visit in Baghdad, and eventually make it’s way into the net. No, horizontal is predictable: things roll forward in the direction we expect.
But God is not limited to that human, horizontal perspective.
We have a horizontal problem – sin – spread out over the face of the earth… but God gives a vertical solution.
Remember: it’s throughout scripture, cover to cover. The midst of the Garden isn’t a lawn or pasture, it’s a tree.
When the poisonous snakes slither into the camp of the Israelites, the solution isn’t a horizontal one, to scatter. It’s a vertical one: lift the snake up on a pole, and don’t run, don’t spread out, don’t scatter. No, look up, and live.
When the Lamb of God is slain once and for all for the sins of the world, crushing the serpent’s head, taking the venomous sting out of death, that’s no horizontal movement. No, “and I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people unto me”, the solution to a world covered with sin and death isn’t something to be repeated in every city and place, no it’s a once-and-for-all vertical solution, concentrated in one place, operating on a different plane, as God gives a vertical solution to a horizontal problem. Seriously, there’s only two horizontal parts of the Easter story: a rolling stone set in motion, and those first joyful witnesses running to spread the good news to those who need to hear it.
And, where did Christ go when the 40 days were over? Did he wander off into the sunset in the west? No, he was lifted up, and “if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back…”
What’s the message of God? Yes, the world around you is a mess, but the rightful king is coming.
My friends, there’s no question, the world is dark. Even when it looks its’ best, it’s built on empires that lift some up by pushing others down. Even today – inflation side-by-side with record profits: even if you’re doing alright, we know the whole world is broken. And if it’s not money that enslaves us, it’s something else: despair, illness, addictions, a history of trauma, broken relationships, or even just the devil’s tool of busyness, keeping us too distracted to devote any time to the things of God.
The world is dark.
But the message in Colossians is exactly what we need to hear. The rightful king is coming.
It’s not that Christ will be the head of the body, it’s not that Christ will have dominion over all things, it’s not that he will one day hold all things together, it’s not that he will one day, maybe after we’re long gone be pre-eminent.
No, Christ is.
We’re stuck on this horizontal plane, shrouded by this low-hanging fog of sin.
But, don’t be fooled – Christ is already reigning, and, to God be the glory, that reign is breaking in from above, and it will be revealed.
You’ll remember that, in Abraham, God had concentrated his solution to humanity’s problem. That’s a very vertical thing to do. Not to dilute and spread out the solution, but to choose one family, one nation, one people, from whom would come forth the one saviour of the world.
But Pentecost is part of that same story.
The glory of Pentecost is that, just as the Spirit of God rested on a few prophets priests, and kings in the Old Testament, you and I, ordinary people making our way through the dark fog that shrouds our human, horizontal perspective, are now called, like them, to be agents of that coming kingdom.
Not by any right or merit or righteousness of our own, but only according to God’s good pleasure, God’s plan is for his solution to be concentrated in us. God isn’t rolling in over the horizon, guns blazing. That’s what the Israelites were expecting with the Messiah; that’s the horizontal solution we’d come up with.
No, God’s vertical solution is to be present, really present, to take up residence by the Holy Spirit in his faithful people. Not to blast away the present darkness with an all-consuming blinding light – “O Lord, who could stand?” – but, as we await that coming, for each of us to be Spirit-filled points of light, not drawing people in to ourselves… but pointing people up.
The world, the flesh, and the devil enslave us by weighing us down, keeping our eyes fixed on a dark world full of problems.
But God’s solution is amazing. It’s subversive. It’s straight-up sabotage.
In a world filled with empires, in a world built on strength and pride, God’s solution is to choose the humble and meek, and to win the world, “not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord”.
You and I are called to be agents of that coming kingdom. We’re the agents of the rightful king, working behind the enemy’s lines, shrouded by the fog of war, but not losing hope, because in spite of whatever we see around us, we know the plan! We might see gates of shame and addiction and despair and pain around us, but will they prevail?
No: gates are a horizontal problem. Gates don’t stand a chance against a vertical solution!
You and I are agents of the coming kingdom, those who have pledged our faith to the rightful king, and although the land is dark, we know our citizenship in the coming Kingdom is secure. That doesn’t make it easy. No, as the Psalmist says, the earth reels and rocks, the mountains quake: but do we fear? No… the rightful king is coming. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountain fall into the sea. Why? Because God is our refuge and our strength. The Lord Almighty isn’t far off over the horizon, no, though the darkness is all around us, he’s with us. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, and the solution is entirely vertical: we don’t run and hide, we don’t scatter. No, like the Israelites facing the snakes, we stand firm. God’s solution is vertical: so be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, says the Lord, I will be exalted in the earth.
So, my friends, in this in-between time, let’s remember that God’s story, the story begun in Genesis, is still playing out. We know the ending, but our preparation isn’t to look back at the baby in the manger, in spite of how much the empires of the world want to bog us down with a consumeristic Christmas. Let us prepare for the Advent, the coming of Christ as the rightful king.
May God give us the grace to live as his agents in this world.
May God give us the faith to reflect that glorious light from above out into the darkness around us.
And may God, by His Spirit, strengthen us to live into that calling to bring this good news to a world that so desperately needs to hear it, that they, too, might stop running, be still, look up and live.
To God be the glory now and forevermore. Amen.
 John 1