Christ comes many times

Advent Sunday
Isaiah 64.1-9; Psalm 80.1-7, 17-19; Mark 13.24-37
Scots Kirk, Paris, December 3 2023

Advent means coming, and Christ comes many times.


In the book of Isaiah, we read:

“We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

In my home congregation this morning, your sister congregation in Geneva, my friend Peter Tulloch is reading these words and the other words from Isaiah 64 we heard a little while ago.

Over dinner on Thursday, he grumbled about the passage: it was, he said, just depressing.

Well, I’m a minister, so naturally I said, “It depends how you read it.”


There is a long tradition of reading the Bible as all about you and me, and even more, perhaps, about him or her. It may be time-honoured, but it doesn’t do justice to what our Bibles say.

The world in which the book of Isaiah was written and complied and edited was a world in which the empire of Assyria came down like a wolf on the fold on the northern kingdom of Israel and led its defeated people into captivity, never to be heard of again. It was a world in which a little later the empire of Babylon did the same thing to the southern kingdom of Judah and led its great men into captivity for half a century. It was also a world in which the kings and ruling classes of Israel and Judah were no better than they ought to be.

To know God is to do justice, said that other great prophet Jeremiah. For the most part, however, the kings and emperors of the ancient world and the societies they led hadn’t got the memo. And it is this above all that exercised the prophets of Israel and Judah both great and small.

This is not to say, obviously, that they didn’t care whether you or I served God or thumbed our nose at the Almighty. But their primary concern was not with individuals, but with the states, societies, and cultures that were doing the nose-thumbing.


Mary Oliver, who died four years ago, was an American poet. She was something of a modern-day prophet.

In 2008, she published a collection of poems called Red Bird.[1] It contained this fine example of a prose poem:

“We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.”


This is our world. To recognize that is not depressing, it’s just realistic.

This is the world into which we were born and in which we have somehow to live. It is a world where we must ask ourselves whether our own hearts too are small, and hard, and full of meanness.

This is also the world into which Christ was born, to save us and our societies from ourselves.

It is a world into which Christ comes many times and in many ways.

Right now, we are looking forward to celebrating Christmas, and shopkeepers and others with things to sell are looking forward to taking our money. But if that is all we are doing between now and December 25, we are rather missing the point of Advent.


Archie Craig was a minister of the Church of Scotland and a notable preacher. Born in 1888 and ordained in 1920, he was old enough to be my grandfather.

Five years after I was born, he delivered four Advent addresses on the BBC. He began by saying that “a course of Advent sermons is always in danger of running aground in shallow water unless it looks far beyond Christmas – past Bethlehem to Calvary; past Calvary to Easter morning; beyond that to Pentecost; and beyond that again to the coming of Christ in power.”[2]

Christ’s coming in power to gather up all things in himself and complete the new creation that begins on Easter day is, of course, the particular theme of this Sunday, Advent Sunday, the first of four Sundays in Advent.

But this coming too is just one of many ways in which Christ comes to us.

If we must look forward beyond Christmas to the climax of creation in new heavens and a new earth – in a new Jerusalem very different from the Jerusalem of the first century or the 21st – we  must also look back, far beyond Christmas, to the dawn of creation.

The little child Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew tells us in the opening chapter of his Gospel, is Emmanuel: God with us.

God is always with us, from beginning to end; and because this is so, Christ is always with us, from beginning to end. And that, fundamentally, is why we should not allow ourselves to be depressed.


Ten days into Israel’s cruel war on Gaza, resumed two days ago after a brief and tantalizing pause, Irwin Keller, a Jewish rabbi in Sonoma County, California, wrote this poem:[3]

Today I am taking sides.

I am taking the side of Peace.

Peace, which I will not abandon
even when its voice is drowned out
by hurt and hatred,
bitterness of loss,
cries of right and wrong.

I am taking the side of Peace
whose name has barely been spoken
in this winnerless war.

I will hold Peace in my arms,
and share my body’s breath,
lest Peace be added
to the body count.

I will call for de-escalation
even when I want nothing more
than to get even.
I will do it
in the service of Peace.

I will make a clearing
in the overgrown
thicket of cause and effect
so Peace can breathe
for a minute
and reach for the sky.

I will do what I must
to save the life of Peace.
I will breathe through tears.
I will swallow pride.
I will bite my tongue.
I will offer love
without testing for deservingness.

So don’t ask me to wave a flag today
unless it is the flag of Peace.
Don’t ask me to sing an anthem
unless it is a song of Peace.
Don’t ask me to take sides
unless it is the side of Peace.

Irwin Keller is, as I say, an American rabbi. If I were to suggest that Christ is with him, he would probably be offended.

But perhaps we may say that God is on his side.


Christ comes many times and in many ways; and today he comes to us in word and sacrament, speaking good news to us and gathering us around a simple table to share a simple meal of bread and wine.

At one level, the most obvious level, the Lord’s supper is something we do: we take bread and wine and give thanks and share the bread and wine.

But at another and more important level, the Lord’s supper is something our Lord himself does: it is the risen Christ who takes bread and wine and offers them to us as signs of our union with him and our communion with one another – signs that transform us all.

Christ comes to us in the sacrament as he comes in so many other ways, to save us from the ways of the world and to strengthen us in working with him to do what little we can to transform that world.

We lift up our hearts to God this Sunday and every communion Sunday so that we may be part of that effort.


Advent means coming. But it doesn’t mean just one Sunday or even just four Sundays. Christ is always coming to us, and God is always coming to us, until Christ is king and God is all in all.

[1] Mary Oliver, Red Bird: Poems (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2008).
[2] AC Craig, God Comes Four Times: Advent Addresses (London: SCM Press, 1955), 5.
[3] Today, I am taking sides.

One Comment

  1. the most powerful sermon I’ve been presented with for some time!

    thank you!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *