Isaiah 10:33-11:10 & Matthew 1:18-25

What time is it?

What time is it? What date is it? What century is it? What about the geological epoch? Anyone know? There is some debate about this – the question is, have we left the Holocene and entered the Anthropocene? The debate centres around the question as to whether humanity has had such an impact on the planet that geologists (if there are any) looking at the rock strata of the planet in a million years would be able to identify this time as distinct from others. Will the residue of fallout from nuclear testing, the change in carbon levels, and the layers of plastics be a lasting indicator of humanity’s impact on the rock record?

What about the theological age? What age are we living in? Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been reflecting on this time between times, the time between Jesus’ incarnation and his return. We’ve thought about us preparing the way of the Lord, and about us walking in the way that the Lord has prepared for us. We are in this time of waiting, we’ve seen the Kingdom of God come near, break through, but have not yet seen it in all its glory. We are in a time of now and not yet.

We live in the age of the new covenant, made in Jesus’ blood on the cross, a covenant promise of God that we will remember and celebrate at communion this morning. There are many different ways of answering the question, what theological age are we living in, but this morning I’d like us to focus on one particular answer that it seems to me is suggested by today’s readings. We are living in the age of the Holy Spirit.

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that I’d got my church year mixed up a bit. Hold on a minute, you might say, we think about the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, not in Advent. I was at a gathering of church leaders a month or so ago, and we were thinking about the possibility of a Pentecost event next year, and trying to work out what the date of Pentecost is in 2022. I said to Leslie Burke, pastor at Telford Elim, you’re a Pentecostal, you should know when Pentecost is, and he said, “For Pentecostals, every day is Pentecost”. And I’d like us to take that on this morning. Not just for members of a Pentecostal denomination, but for every Christian, there is a sense in which everyday is Pentecost, because we live in the age of the Holy Spirit.

This is not to say that the Holy Spirit suddenly sprang into existence at Pentecost, but that the ministry of Jesus on earth was the introduction to a change in the way in which the Holy Spirit works in the world.

We know that the Holy Spirit was there at the creation of all things – in Genesis 1 we read of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of chaos, intimately involved in the creation. Throughout the Old Testament we read of the Holy Spirit working in and through individuals to bring about the purposes of God. And we read prophecies of what the Holy Spirit is going to do in the future.

One of these is in our reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah this morning. I do feel like a bit of a stuck record, because once again we are in a portion of Isaiah in which the writer is sharing hope with God’s people, a rose between the thorns of judgements and warnings of destruction. Again, in the historical record we see that some of these prophecies were fulfilled. Assyria was cut down to size, and the exiles did return.

Later on Jesus, the son of David, on offshoot of the stump of Jesse, did rise in righteousness and faithfulness, but we have not yet seen the “knowledge of the Lord filling the earth as the waters cover the sea” or lions eating straw like the ox. We live in the now and not yet – the between times.

And how does Isaiah describe the one who will bring about this change? He is the one that the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon.

Now, let’s skip forward to our reading from Matthew’s account of the eyewitness testimonies of Jesus’ life. This morning our advent candle was lit to remind us of the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, obedient and willing to do God’s will, and be the Mother of God. In these few verses, we read of Jesus’ conception – and who appears twice as the agent of conception? The Holy Spirit. “She was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit”. “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”.

This link back to Isaiah is made more explicit by what Matthew writes in verse 22, “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord said through the prophet.” – All this, including the Holy Spirit’s role in Jesus’ conception, took place to fulfil the prophet’s words.

As we go through Jesus’ life, we see this theme repeating. We see the Holy Spirit at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, and we see the Holy Spirit at the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus goes to his cousin, John, at the Jordan and is baptised. All four of the gospel writers describe the way in which at his baptism the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, to equip and empower him for his public ministry. After his baptism, Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be tested, and then returns to Nazareth. Luke records one of his first sermons. And the very first thing Jesus says in his public ministry, in the synagogue, is a reading from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,….”

Jesus is clearly presented as the one who fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah of the one who will rise up from the stump of Jesse to judge in righteousness, and bring peace to the world.

Part of this is his teaching and call to people to follow him. Part of this is his death and resurrection on the cross. And part of this is the inauguration of the age of the Holy Spirit. He explains to his friends and followers, in the final days of his life on earth, that the Father is going to send another helper, and advocate, to help them and be with them forever, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit.

When he comes to speak to them after his resurrection, Jesus tells his followers to remain in Jerusalem and to wait for the gift that had been promised. They do so, and then, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes on all of the believers, equipping and empowering them to tell the wonderful acts of God. Then comes the accounts of the growth of the early church, the book of Acts. This is often called the Acts of the Apostles, but at least one major commentator suggests that it would be more accurate to say that it is the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Throughout this book, we read of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of those we encounter, furthering the Kingdom of God, pointing to Jesus, equipping and empowering the people of God. We now live in this age, the age in which the Holy Spirit is active and working, present in every Christian.

So, what does this mean for us in Advent? As we prepare to celebrate the beginning of this age, and as we wait for it to end? We’ve seen how the Holy Spirit was there at the beginning of this age. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve thought about two ways of Advent. The way that we prepare for the Lord, and us walking the way that Jesus has prepared for us. In both these areas, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes it possible. With our own strength and resources we can’t level mountains or raise valleys – physical or spiritual, but with the Holy Spirit we can. Left to ourselves we can’t follow the way of Jesus, the route, the road, or in the manner of his walking. But, we aren’t on our own, we have a travelling companion, the Holy Spirit. It is only by the Holy Spirit’s presence, his equipping and empowering that we can prepare the way of the Lord, that we can walk the way of the Lord.

The same Spirit that was on Jesus gives us the wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord. As Jesus said in John – we must be born again of the Spirit- it is the Spirit that brings us to new birth, so that we can live in this new age, and on into the age to come.

Come Holy Spirit.

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