St Andrewís Croydon

7th December 2003

Bible Sunday: Advent II


This Sunday, the Second Sunday in Advent, has for many hundreds of years been called Bible Sunday. The reason for this will become obvious in a moment, but it's appropriate that my sermon this morning should be about the importance of The Bible.

First what do the words The Bible mean?

Well, the words are the English translation of two Greek words, TA BIBLIA which means literally "The Books" or "The Library". And that points us to the fact that the Bible is in one sense not so much a book as a collection of books such as you might find when you go into the Central Library in Croydon.

Now youíve probably visited a such a library as Croydon, but if so, try and remember what it was like the first time you went in there. The sight that met your eyes was that of thousands upon thousands of books stacked up on shelves all around, and, somewhere in the middle distance a desk or counter-top with a number of rather forbidding-looking people sitting behind. These people are called the Librarians and they are trained to help people find their way around.

But the Librarians look rather fierce, and you donít want to make yourself look silly. So you decide to have a look at some of the books yourself first. Well in that case you will waste a whole lot of time looking at books which are of no interest to you at all: because unless you know what youíre doing you wonít realise that the books are arranged by groups and all the books in any particular section will be on the same range of subjects. There will be reference books, books about history, books of poetry, books on science, books on travel, legal books, medical books, besides novels and detective stories and books about people.

Now the Bible is just such a Library; and if you try and find your way about it on your own without any help the probability is that you will get bogged down sooner or later in a bewildering mixture of books which seem to have no relation to each other.

So let me take you on a guided tour of the Bible lasting every bit of ten minutes. Like the Librarians we mentioned a few minutes ago I have had a training in helping people find their way around the Bible, but I hope that since you know me quite well by now you wonít find me too daunting.

The first thing to explain is that the Bible/Library is divided into two sections, called the Old and the New Testament. Now thatís a rather unhelpful title, suggesting as it does that the Old has somehow been superseded by the New. It would be better to call them Part One and Part Two and explain that the division is roughly between those books written before 150bc and those written after 65ad. Of course that means that Part One and Part Two are separated by that all-important moment in history when God became Man in the person of Jesus Christ, that is between the year he was born (about 3bc) and the year he was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven which we know for certain to have been 30ad. So Parts One and Two of the Bible were written from a different perspective, just like books about life in England written before the First World War are very different from those written afterwards. But the fact is that they are all books about England and the Old and New Testaments are both about God.

Part One, the Old Testament, can be subdivided into five main sections: Legends, History, Poetry, Wisdom and Prophecy. Part Two, the New Testament divides into four sections: The Gospels, the Acts, the Letters, and the Endgame which is a special book called Revelation about which we shall not be dealing any further this morning because itís in a class by itself called Apocalyptic.

Letís begin then with Part Two, the New Testament. The three sections which concern us here are:

The Gospels or four Good-news Books, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John which describe the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. These were written between 65 (Mark) and 90AD (John).

The Acts of the Apostles written about 75AD which is the continuation of St Lukeís Gospel and describes how the Church spread throughout the Roman empire between the years 30Ė60AD.

The Letters or Epistles most of which were written by St Paul between 35 and 60AD and so are in some instances by far the earliest of the three sections.

Now I would suggest that you should begin by reading the Acts. Partly because itís what might be called a "ripping good yarn", and partly because itís written in a style which is very easy to follow. St Luke who wrote it was a trained writer and a poet and was therefore able to put things clearly. From there itís an idea to read St Lukeís Gospel, another easy read, and one or two of the Epistles or Letters which St Paul and others wrote to newly-formed churches. 1 Corinthians and 1 Peter are both good starting points. The former gives a pretty good idea of the sort of difficulties which the Young Churches had in keeping recently-baptised Christians on the rails; 1 Peter was written for the benefit of a group of people who were about to take the life-changing step of being baptised.

Then, for a change Iíd suggest that you read some of the Psalms. This is the hymn-book of the Bible and it covers all of human life, from the cradle to the grave, in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy.

Then take a look at some of the history books Ė try 1 Samuel for example. This is the beginning of the story of how God prepared his people, the Jews, for his coming to earth in the Person of Jesus.

Move on next to one of the prophets, Micah or Amos perhaps, and you will see how God raised up these remarkable men to be his spokesmen when his people turned their backs on him as they were always doing.

Next take a look at the Book of Wisdom or Proverbs. Youíll find there a great storehouse of ideas for how to cope with lifeís challenges.

Finally, by way of light relief, take a look at two good detective stories: Susanna and the Elders and Bel and the Dragon Ė two more "ripping good yarns".

In all of these cases donít be afraid of skipping if the going starts to be too hard for you. Some books appeal to certain kinds of people rather than others. Itís quite possible to find that what failed to mean much to you when you were twenty will suddenly "come alive "when you are forty.

Now you may have noticed that Iíve left the most important question till last: Why read the Bible at all?

That question is best answered by quoting to you the Prayer Book Collect for today, Advent II. It reads:

Blessed Lord who hast caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may in suchwise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them; that by patience, and comfort of thy holy word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which thou has given us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Hearing, reading and learning holy scripture is the way that we discover the hope that is offered us in Jesus Christ. That faith, if it is to do us any good has got to be embraced or hugged. Now you canít really hug something that you canít see and reading the Bible is the way in which people come to see the truth as God has revealed it to us.

But that hope has to be held fast. Itís only too easy when one fails to keep up with reading the Bible to forget half of the things that one learnt from it. Thatís the point of learning and inwardly digesting it. The Bible is like food. Itís not something you can take a fortnightís supply on board all at once. That will not only give you indigestion but by the end of the fortnight you will be starving. You need a regular and balanced diet to benefit from it.

Well, there it is Ė a lightning tour of reading the Bible. The next step must be up to you. Nobody can make you do it, least of all God himself. Itís one of those things which, like working, sleeping and taking exercise needs us to be disciplined. And in the end thatís something which nobody else can do for us but ourselves.

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