Merciful Father thank you for your many blessings and I pray that my words will be acceptable in your sight and fruitful for those who hear them. Amen.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent, which is always the Sunday closest to the feast of St Andrew the Apostle on November 30th, and this can mean different things to us depending upon our point of view. If we look at this only through the lens of the fallen world it can mean Christmas is around the corner, time to put up the chocolate advent calendar; time to be nice to people you wouldn’t normally be nice to. So, I believe, even from a secular viewpoint, Christmas is one of God’s gifts to the world. Once a year, every year, humanity takes its foot off the accelerator and touches the brakes in its frantic rush to a bigger house, a better car, better phone, better trainers.
Imagine the world without Christmas! For me Christmas means God loves all His children; those who visit regularly and those who never even call on the phone. If we look at advent through the lens of our faith journey it can be a reminder to practice waiting; to practice preparing for the coming of Christ because advent means ‘to come to’ to approach. For Christians, Christmas is the anniversary of the first coming of the Christ, who will come again and advent is about thinking of the second coming. Now nobody except God The Father knows when that time will be. Even Our Lord Jesus tells us that He does not know when it will be; indeed, the first verse of today’s Gospel reading is the only time in Scripture that Our Lord Jesus states “I know not”!
We can see in today’s reading that on the day of the second coming there will be, essentially, two groups of people. Those who are ready and those who are not ready. Now, until I did my studying for this sermon, I always found this reading to be a bit frightening, a bit off-putting. Am I supposed to sleep in my coat, with a go-bag under my bed, waiting for the big earthquake like some people do in California? Am I supposed to never sleep? Am I supposed to drive myself insane, waiting in fear of not seeing some sign and missing the bus? A quick study of what the season of Advent means tells me I’ve been reading this passage through the lens of this fallen world and so misunderstanding it entirely. We should always try to remember, Matthew 11:28-30. We should, I believe, try to make this the foundation of our studies of Scripture and of our Lord Jesus who tells us. Come to me all you who labour and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is wholesome, comfortable, gracious and pleasant, and my burden is light and easy to be borne.
Always try to keep this lesson in mind when reading and thinking about Scripture on your journey of faith. There will always be those who try to tell you that we must struggle and we must suffer for the Lord; usually while trying very hard to hide their smile. The control freaks, the wolves in sheep’s clothing whose only interest in our faith journey is in how far it can get them. Our Lord Jesus warns us in Matthew 24:11-13. And many false prophets will rise up and deceive and lead many into error. And the love of the great body of people will grow cold because of the multiplied lawlessness and iniquity, but he who endures to the end will be saved. Our Lord Jesus loves us and wants us to try as hard as we can; wants us to succeed as well as we can, so He probably doesn’t want it to be a punishment or too difficult. I would assume He doesn’t want it to be too easy either because we don’t value the things that come cheap, do we? But our Lord Jesus does state that the life of a Christian is a yoke. Note that term, a yoke. You can only wear one yoke at a time. Living the life of a Christian may well be a punishment if you’re stuck in the fallen world around you, worrying about what others think. Being a Christian is probably going to be harder than it needs to be if you’re looking for likes and not for our Lord Jesus. You can’t ride two horses at the same time. We cannot serve two masters.
We have to watch where we’re going or we’re going to trip up and you have to decide where you’re going before you can look for it. So, we have to decide which group we want to be in. those who will be ready or those who won’t, and if you want to be ready you need to get ready. But how do we do that? Let me make a suggestion. The Lord our God is a wonderful God and wants us to succeed in our journey towards Him. He really, really, wants us to get there; to be ready. So, He gives us a timetable for our studies; a system to help us on our journey towards Him. The Lord our God has not, does not, will not, expect us to be perfect at all times or indeed at any time. The Lord our God knows us completely; how we think, how we learn, and through the church, the Body of His Dear Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ He has given us many things. He has given us a community in which we can live and support each other through, note that word through, the trials and tribulations of this fallen world. He has given us a safe space in which we can praise and worship Him through our Lord Jesus. He has given us a platform upon which we can practice living a righteous life and get it wrong time and time again and try again, knowing we will never get it right but hoping it will always be better than the last attempt. The best sermons are lived not preached; a lesson I struggle with daily if not hourly.
Through the body of Christ, He has given the world islands of peace and love where anybody and everybody is welcome to come and shelter from the storms and tumult of this fallen world. Through the Body of Christ, He has given the world an example and a set of laws by which humanity has gone from the iron age to the space age in 2000 years after hundreds of thousands of years of almost zero progress. He has given us a school where we can learn about Him and use that learning to make our journey, our getting ready, easier. And like every good school we have terms and a timetable and Advent is where we are on that timetable. Advent is where we learn about, and practice, being ready. Being ready like Mary and Joseph who heard the Archangel and obeyed at great personal cost; like the Magi who travelled so far on the basis of their faith and studies; and the shepherds who abandoned their flock, their livelihood, to go and see this miracle instead of dismissing the angels as a dream because they all knew it was going to happen sometime through their reading of and belief in scripture. They were all ready when the time came because they had studied the scriptures with faith and they believed in their hearts in the Lord our God. Now notice this, they had all studied but not all to the same extent or effect. Did the shepherds study as well, as effectively as the Magi? No, and we should be encouraged by that, because it proves that there is no exam at the second coming, no pass grade to be achieved. Each had studied as best they could with faith. Each had studied as best they could with faith. There is our lesson. Not being unready like Herod and the innkeeper and the Sadducees and the Pharisees who were all completely focused upon the world they could see; the world they could control and manipulate for their own benefit, for what they perceived as their safety, because they did not trust in The Lord. Being ready by prayer and study and worship and thereby recognising God in everything we see. It’s going to happen; we know it’s going to happen; we just don’t know when. Your preparedness will be brought about through your trust and belief in God, which will grow through prayer, study and practice.
There are three times our Lord Jesus will come to us. The first coming has already happened, we celebrate it every year and call it Christmas; it is an integral part of human history and of our faith. The third will be the Second Coming and even our Lord Jesus and the Angels don’t know when that will be. The second time our Lord Jesus comes to us is at the Eucharist and when we say the lord’s prayer. The line ‘give us this day our daily bread’. If you are looking at that line through the lens of the world around you then that line means please make sure we get something to eat and that’s ok as far as it goes. But if you are looking at that line through the lens of faith then you must remember that our Lord Jesus is the bread of life. So, we ask the Lord our God to give us each day our daily bread, our Lord Jesus, into our hearts. And we have to pray for that daily, because we cannot hold more than one day’s ration of our Lord Jesus in our hearts at any one time. We can only carry so much ammunition for the fight at any one time.
So, advent is when we get ready for Christmas and or when we practice getting ready for Christ. We remember and celebrate the first coming of our Lord Jesus and we remember and prepare through the readings for the second coming of our Lord Jesus. You can only be ready if you get ready. I don’t believe we are expected to live every minute of our lives waiting like a sentry for the sound of an enemy approaching. The quickest way to fall asleep as any soldier will never tell you. It surely makes more sense if we look upon being ready as being trained, being educated, about what to look out for and recognising it when it comes. And the lessons are all there in the examples of Mary and Joseph and the Magi and the shepherds. They are there in the parables of our Lord Jesus. The parable of the ten virgins and their lamps; the parable of the servants and the talents; the parable of the wise and the wicked servant. It is all there in Scripture if you look for it. It is all useful if you practice it regularly. Remember, train hard fight easy. Mahatma Gandhi said “live as if you die tomorrow, learn as if you will live forever”. If we apply that teaching to our life of faith then we could do worse and it is especially apt in the time of advent. Live as if our Lord will come tomorrow and study and pray as if we will live forever, with Him, eating at His table in the garden of The Lord our most wonderful God. May it ever be so.