This Sermon was delivered at St Mary’s Diss at the Eucharist on the 1st Sunday of Advent, 1st December 2019. This is part one of the advent sermon series. Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-end, Matthew 24:35-44.
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last Sunday we reached the culmination of the Church’s liturgical year by celebrating and praising Christ the King.
Jesus, having lived amongst us, having told parables and performed signs and wonders, went to the cross for our sake. He died our death and was laid to rest. Our Heavenly Father’s love for his Son, and indeed for us whom Jesus died for, raised Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit not just back to life, but to a life which endures eternally beyond death. Never again will Jesus die. He saw his friends. He ate with them and told them to proclaim the good news to all people in every place. They stood with him and saw him ascend into the heavenly places where we believe that he stands before the throne of God the Father even now, his eternal presence acting as a living prayer for our salvation, for our well being, and for our courage to faithfully witness to all that he has done and continues to do for us. Jesus Christ is our living God who is Lord of lords and King of kings.
That is what we celebrated last week.
That is the conclusion of our faith – Jesus is King.
Today, though, we begin a new year in the life of the Church. Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. We’re using a different coloured order of service, we’re using our advent hymn book. The altars, priest, and deacons are now clothed in purple.
Does this somehow mean that we no longer remember that Christ is king?
By no means!
However there is something of an oddity to basing our patterns of worship on a cycle of remembrance. Each year we come to advent and look forward to Christmas, we remember the nativity of Christ. As we move toward spring we observe lent and remember, again, the life of Christ and focus on his death upon the Cross followed by his resurrection and glorious ascension. The year continues on, we reflect further on the scriptures and joyfully celebrate the conviction of our faith; that Jesus is King.
We could say that we then proceed to do it all over again. Perhaps that’s how we think of it? A pattern which is repeated, which we remember and over time we come to a point where we know the stories, we know the plot twist of Judas’ betrayal, we not only know but expect that Christ will die upon the cross.
What, then, are we to do as we begin another cycle, another year? Are we to pretend that we don’t know what’s going to happen? Should we allow ourselves to be blinded to the events we’re remembering by our familiarity with them?
You can probably guess that the Curate thinks “No.”
We should not allow ourselves to grow complacent or to let our faith become stagnant water which goes nowhere and becomes obscured by algae. Faith which lives should live like flowing water which refreshes the mountains and valleys on its path to the sea.
Jesus says to us both:
“my words will not pass away”.
And: “…you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”
His words shall never pass away. These are the words which we read, proclaim, ponder and remember year in and year out.
And these are words which remind us that our faith is not limited to simply remembering the past. Nor is it constrained to remembering the past as a lesson or an encouragement for the present. For as much as our faith is defined by looking back through history to see the Holy Cross of our salvation, and for as much as our faith is lived through our commitment of encountering God in the Eucharist, our faith is also and always shaped by our anticipation of the future – of our hope and expectation that someday Christ, the Son of Man, shall return. That we and all the saints who have died in the faith of Christ may live that same live which is no longer tainted by the sticky shadows of sin and death by living with Christ face to face in his kingdom which knows no end.
These are not options to choose between; and if we must choose, then we should choose a rich feast of faith by selecting all of them together.
So in moving from Christ the King last week to the First Sunday of Advent this week we find we do not have to pretend to forget everything we’ve learned from the last year now we begin a new year.
More than this, we shouldn’t forget! Both our Gospel passage and our reading from Romans counsel us to be vigilant and ready for Christ’s return. Jesus uses two short stories to highlight this point. The first is that of the flood. At that time life continued on much as it always has. People were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the rain began to fall, Noah entered the ark, and they were all swept away.
The second is of a homeowner who was robbed in the night – if he had known when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.
Each of these scenes impress upon us the unexpected nature of Christ’s return. We may well believe and trust that he will return, but perhaps we find ourselves inclined to assume that it’ll be sometime in the future long after we’re gone. I think that there’s an all too human tendency to procrastinate the serious reflections on whether or not we’re ready to come face to face with God, either by our death or by his return.
And Jesus himself cautions us to be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Paul echoes this theme, reminding us: “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night has far gone, the day is near.”
This brings us squarely into the atmosphere of the season of Advent. There’s this sense of patient urgency, or as one military phrase puts it: Hurry up and wait.
During this advent I have the privilege of being your preacher each week here in Diss and so I would like to invite you to come on a journey with me; let us take a kind of pilgrimage through this advent season.
Before any pilgrimage can begin, though, there’s always a moment of inspiration which provokes our desire to leave where we are to travel to a place. I believe that there is such a call towards a holy pilgrimage in both our Isaiah and our Romans passages.
The prophet writes: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established… many peoples shall come and say “come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths…”
The prophet writes “O house of Jacob”, but we could say, “O Church of Christ, come, let us walk in the Light of the Lord!”
Even as the autumn days grow dark around us we are called to walk in the Light of the Lord.
Therefore, says Paul, let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day… Put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh.”
This is the advent call to cling to our faith so that when we come to meet our God we may be ready for him.
Let us be inspired by his Spirit to come and receive the Eucharist as we embrace this tension of patient urgency; recalling the past, worshipping in the present, and hopeful for the future.