1st Sunday of Advent

December 1, 2019


[Jesus said] “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:36-44 ESV)

Like the swinging kissing gate in the countryside, we stand on the otherside this week. Last week we ended the Church Year hearing fromLuke’s account of Jesus’crucifixion and this week we hear from Matthew’s account of a few days earlier than the crucifixion where Jesus was talking about the destruction of the temple and the events to come leading up to his visible return for all the world to see and the consequences that happen among humanity –the taking and the leaving – those in the heavenly realmand those not there. We closed the year with the King on his throne offering Paradise to the criminal and we open the new year with the Son of Man – an ambiguous term but one associated with God and with power and authority – suddenly interrupting lifeand its patterns and plans with a ‘time’s up’.  And at this gate we can look back and look forward, like in orienteering getting direction from landmarks past and looking to another landmark ahead, or sailing using the night sky, to help us live in the moment. We need direction, it seems, to know where we’re headed and we need assurance that we are not alone on the journey. Welcome to the First Sunday of Advent – to the God who comes to us – and to a new Church Year and to the continuing direction of our living – that we are always going home – but when we don’t know. So whether by death or by Jesus’return, we are taught by Jesus to be ready.

How do you hear that message from Jesus?

Are our answers affected by our age? By our health? By the circumstances of our lives? By love? By fear? I think the answer is most likely ‘Yes’. Generally I think we’d agree that the older we are and the more health issues we have, the more we are not as concerned by Jesus’return. The younger and healthier we are, the more we’d expect people to say, ‘Not yet please, Jesus’. I wonder, however, whether there isn’t also a fear / love tension here as well because the older person has more experience of God’s faithfulness, grace, and help and is perhaps drawn more, soothed more, comforted more by the Gospel – God is with me – God does love me. While the younger person is more consumed with the here-and-now, hopes and dreams and fears they will miss out on living if Jesus comes too soon.

Conversely I have also encountered people older than me facing their mortality and expecting death or Jesus’ reappearance and still uneasy about meeting Jesus because they are concerned, troubled, haunted by their past and whether they are ‘good enough’. I have also met people much younger than me who don’t expect to die for decades and don’t think often of Jesus’ reappearance but who seem unfazed by Jesus’‘turningup’ because they are confident in the Gospel, in God’s forgiveness and mercy and that he does know best.

Jesus’ call to readiness is a call to the mirror and a look at oneself –not to scare us –but to orient us and remind us that we are loved by him today, served by him today, and we can live with him today. The call to stay awake is a call to watchfulness – keeping one’s eyes open – to both the Word and the world. Again this is not a threat or meant to scare us but is a call to remember who we are – baptised in Christ – and where we live –as aliens in this world which is important now but is not our home.

But it still can be scary or worrying all this talk of endings, just as much of living each day has its pain and frustrations. Where do we go for help? What or whom gives us hope? What happens when the fears grip us?
Therapy encourages us to talk ordo something–maybe helpful, sporting, artistic. Drugs might help us forget for a while or simply calm us. Will power might strengthen us to soldier on. Relaxation might still the angst or rage for a while. But such things, useful at times, have limitations in time and longevity. Where can we go for help for all time?
And the answer, it seems to me, is ‘love’. Here I am not talking about love as friendship or amorous, erotic love or love of pleasure – chocolate or pets– or love as service to country perhaps – but I am talking about faithful, constant, sacrificial, undeserved love which is a gift to us. When we are loved by this love then we find a security and also an identity – a relationship with the person loving us in this way, loving us not to get anything from us but simply to give us love and all that it entails. This is the love that drives out fear and this is the love that wraps us securely – like armour – so that we can live with ourselvesand in the world.
And the Christian Church,for nearly 2,000 years,has been saying that in Jesus and only in Jesus will you find this love. As we read particularly the Gospel accounts – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – we encounter Jesus living with others, serving others, loving them and giving them what they needed while calling them to follow him and to live life in all its fullness.And Jesus gives us an identity with him – disciple – and an identity with God – child – and promises to love us always. Our lived experience is learning this to be true even as we might rail and struggle when Jesus doesn’t do what we want. A gift that comes with age is learning the truth that Jesus does love us and does what is best for us. And this love –seen in the crossand received through words, water, bread and wine – and part of regular reading of the Bible and prayer and meditation is the best part of following Jesus – for today –even if today Jesus reappears.
We can be watchful when we are so loved.

Bible References

  • Matthew 24:36 - 44