Haven’t worked out yet how to set up the blog so that the curate I live with can post entries herself! I know it can be done, but for this week I’m posting her sermon from yesterday on her behalf. Apologies for the delay in case after my advertisement for the blog in church on Sunday meant you’ve been desperate to read her sermon. Here it is.
Isaiah 2.1-5; Romans 13.11-end; Matthew 24.36-44
Imagining a better future can be very powerful. As most of you know my Monday to Friday job is with Welcare, where we are often working with parents who are in distress or beset by overwhelming problems. One of the ways we work with them is to say “if a miracle happened overnight and you woke up tomorrow morning and your problems had disappeared, what would it be like?” It is important then that they describe this miracle future in great detail, so we ask “and what else” and “what else” and “what else”. From this picture that they build, we can then say “what one thing could you do tomorrow to bring you nearer that future”. There is a miracle future and a practical realism and between them they can begin to change lives.
Our reading from Isaiah this morning gives us a wonderful vision of the world’s miracle future, where God teaches us his ways and we walk in his paths. The weapons of war are beaten into agricultural implements, and the nations of the world wage war no more – a miracle future where the world’s resources are used to feed the world not create armaments, where the whole world walks in the light of the Lord.
So I might turn to you and ask – if that is the miracle future of God’s world, what one thing could you do tomorrow to make a difference, to bring that future one step nearer.
In our reading from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, it is almost as if Paul has asked that miracle question that we ask when we’re working with families – you wake up in the morning and ….St Paul says “now you know it is the time for you to wake up from sleep, for salvation is so near.” A miracle has happened, you are so near now to being saved from all the things that oppress you. Often with parents they do want to lay aside “the works of darkness” – that may be shouting at their children, quarrelling with each other, the chaos of their homes, it may be drinking heavily or drug taking. When they describe their miracle future it can be as if they have put on “the armour of light” as Paul describes it, so that they live honourably as in the day, not in drunkenness, quarrelling, jealousy and the like. In Christian terms Paul is telling us that the miracle of Christ has come and is coming. The day is near, so look at how you are living. We may not all have had to turn to someone, a therapist, a counsellor, a priest or social worker, to help us sort our problems, but it doesn’t mean we haven’t got them. We all have things we struggle with, would rather others didn’t know about us, things we would not want Jesus to know, things we hide and may not even face in prayer.
Isaiah has given us a vision this morning of what it means for nations to walk in the light of the Lord; St Paul gives us a vision of what it is like for us as individuals and families to put on the armour of light, to live in the full glare of the light of Jesus Christ. What one thing could you do tomorrow to bring you nearer to the life that you know Jesus wants you to live? What one thing could you do tomorrow to bring you nearer to the life that you know Jesus wants you to live?
And then we come to our rather complex gospel reading, where the vision is not of how God’s world could be, nor of how we might live our lives in the full light of Christ, but is a vision of how it will be when Jesus comes again – his second coming to earth, when as we say in the Creed “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” I don’t want us to get too literal about what this will be like, but the vision in our gospel reading, the miracle to come is that we will all be going about our ordinary lives and suddenly it will happen. And the vision is only terrifying if you think you might be one of the ones who will be left. It is a wonderful vision if you think you will be swept up in the glory. This is the vision of judgement and the end times.
Now the very first Christians thought this would be very soon – in their lifetime. But it didn’t happen and it went on not happening and we still wait. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, only that it hasn’t happened yet and as our gospel today said “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
So with that vision, that miracle in mind of the second coming of Christ, I ask you “what one thing could you do tomorrow to make you one little bit more ready for it happening, because it could happen tomorrow. What one thing could you do to be that bit more ready?”
From very early in the church, instead of focussing always on being ready for the second coming of Christ to earth, teachers like St John Chrysostom in the fourth century, have focussed instead on being ready to meet Christ at our death, because they realised that whilst you can’t have any certainty that the second coming will be in your life time, you can be one hundred percent certain that you will die. We can’t know the hour or the day, but we do know it will happen to every single one of us – there is no avoiding our death and it could be tomorrow.
You may have heard, or just read on your notice sheet, that this last week the wonderful Dean of our Cathedral, Colin Slee, died. I was with him in a meeting on October 12th, he seemed vigorous and well, contributing to the debate about women Bishops in his forthright, passionately committed way. That was but days before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and five weeks later, on Thursday of this week, he was dead. We never know the moment that a speeding car, a bomb on a bus or a fatal illness can strike. What one thing could I do tomorrow to make me more ready to die tomorrow? A vision, a hope, for the future of nations, for this world. A vision, a hope, of how we should live our lives now. A vision, a hope, of how it will be when Jesus comes again or we meet him at our death.
This is Advent. A season of hope in the church, of looking forward with hope to God’s vision of this world as it should be; and a vision of meeting his glory in the world to come. But we do this looking forward with hope by thinking of the big questions – What is the point of life? What are we here for? What will happen when we die? Advent is a season we in the church regard as penitential – a season when we think of God’s vision for his world and how we have caused it to fall short – a season when we think of how Jesus taught us to live our lives but how we always seem to fall short – a season when we think of what it will be like when Jesus comes again, that day when he will come and judge the earth and us, and we will have fallen short – a season when, because for us and for generations of Christians who have gone before, that second coming of Christ may not happen in our lifetime, so a season when we think about how we will instead meet Christ at our death, how it will be when we see him in glory. So in this season of Advent we think about the way we will die and our readiness to meet our Lord and live in his light and glory for ever. The church dons purple in penitence, in recognition that corporately we have fallen short. There are no flowers, there will be no weddings, no singing of the gloria in this season of advent – signs that we are in different mode, in reflective mode, thinking about the big questions of life and death. While the world parties and thinks Christmas has begun, we in the church reflect on life and death, light and dark, good and evil.
So, isn’t this all a bit gloomy – I can almost hear your minds ticking over – “this is gloom and doom, I thought she said it was a time of hope and vision”. Well it is. Life, light, good, glory – these are the vision. Living life in all its fullness now and living life in all eternity in the future. But how ready are we to embrace the light, the good, the glory and life in all its fullness? In Advent we can face our inner darkness and reflect on those big questions of life and death, because we can look forward in hope to the vision of the miracle future; the light that Christ brings both to the world here and now, and to the life everlasting that awaits us all. Amen.