27th November 2016
Matthew chapter 24 verses 36 – 44
with Maggie Cogan -reader
Here we are. The unexpected hour is at hand. This is Advent Sunday. When we prepare to celebrate the coming of our Saviour over two thousand years ago, to remember his life and the Word of God, and to prepare ourselves as faithful Christians for the different missions God has set upon us.
This is the start of a special time. Our consumer culture tries to drown out the real meaning of this time. For many it is simply a season of buying and receiving. Commercials on television focus our attention on the more material aspects of this season – especially food. The spiritual message of the season is hard to get through. In the midst of all those commercials selling the latest must have toy–will there be another message this Advent season
In a world so torn apart by war and violence we need to always be reminded that our God is a living God that still speaks to us. God still wants for us the things God sent Jesus to preach: a world without war, a world without discrimination, a world where we put the needs of others ahead of our own self-interest.
As a child I really enjoyed playing hide and seek.
I loved it no matter if I was the one hiding and trying not to get caught, or if I was the one seeking; ——-trying to catch those hiding – unexpectedly.
Although I have not played it for many years, I do remember that the seeker- was called the “It”.
The “It” would close their eyes and count to 20 – giving time for the others to hide.
Now sometimes the seeker would cheat a little bit -I must admit I did -and would peek around through the gap in my fingers to see if I could spot anybody entering their hiding place
Then you would heed the cry, Ready or Here I come.”
Four things were always certain in the game:
The “It” was surely coming
The “It” was coming when they were good and ready and not before
The “It” was coming whether we were ready or not
Fourthly —— And If we were not ready—— then we would pay the consequences.
Little did I realize as a child just how much this game of hide and seek seemed to parallel the return-The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
And so we have begun a new church year today. In beginning a new year, we are entering a new year in the revised common lectionary, the three year cycle and set of readings that we follow mostly for the church year. We enter today into Year A, which focuses mainly on the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew is known especially for its stories and the gospel’s story telling. Perhaps more than the other gospels, it is made up of story after story and that is a central part of the writing style and the gospel’s explanation of the good news.
As this is the beginning of the church year, and also the beginning of Advent. We hear in today’s readings the call to be ready and be awake. This is primarily for the coming of the Son of Man, and is part of the dual theme of Advent- of preparing and being ready for Christ’s return and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, as well as the preparation for his original incarnation in his birth which we celebrate at Christmas.
One way to describe the Season of Advent—– is to say that Advent operates in three tenses all at once.
In Advent we await the birth of the Christ child as the recollection of a past event, of a birth that happened over 2000 years ago – and a celebration that will happen – is beginning to happen – right now.
This past event has great significance in the present. In Advent we once again await the birth of the Christ Child into our lives, into our families, into our church community. We await this Christmas – and a Holy Evening, not 26 days away, where – bathed in candlelight – we will rejoice in his presence, his having come among us as a babe, a child, a man, a human like us – to love us.
And as we wait we savour those things that remind us of all the good Christmas’s that have passed. We savour them and make them part of this Christmas – songs and carols, special dinner dishes and treats, candle lit worship, visits and phone calls, prayers and readings, and cards and notes, and the wonderful smells of the season.
We await a past event and indeed we prepare our lives for it. And the preparation we do — enriches our lives and makes this time a very special time.
And, in Advent we await the future – a special future: we a-wait the unveiling of the reign of God, something which is continually being revealed, but is yet to be fully realized.
Advent is not just about preparing for Christ’s coming as a child from the past. Nor is Advent just about preparing for Christ’s coming as the righteous king in the future.
Advent is also – and primarily – about preparing for Christ’s coming in our lives – right now.
For his light to be around us and shining from within us – today
For his spirit to be dwelling in our hearts and our minds – this minute
For his living presence to be seen all that we say and do and all that we see and hear every second by precious second.
In this sense advent memory and hope are joined together – together our past experience and our future expectations about the reign of God and about the Christ, the Messiah, are realized now, not simply because of our preparation for it; but because of the divine truth about God’s past and God’s present and God’s future: the truth that God has been with us – and will yet be with us – and even now is with us.
Advent as a season of the church year helps us to be prepared, it reminds us to keep our ears, eyes and our hearts open, open for the in-breaking of the saving presence and power of Almighty God.
These are indeed times like the times of Noah as we heard in our reading. Ordinary times – times when men and women marry and are given in marriage – and children play games and go to school – and adults go to work or to the Farmers Market in St Peter’s on the last Friday of the month.
These are ordinary times with our wars and our rumours of war – ordinary times with our good – and with our evil – with our love and with our hate—- the ordinary times – when it is easy to forget the extraordinary – and to forget to be ready for it.
Look around us.
I think we know and I think the church knows how to embrace the coming of the Christ Child. How to be ready for the celebration- How to decorate that which is outside – and how to decorate and to hallow, that which is inside – and to pray for God’s kingdom to come and for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We are longing for peace as we hear the news from the middle-east about terrorist bombings, and as you think of the children who go hungry and of the earthquakes and floods that afflict the world.
We all hope for the time of eternal blessing
We hope for us—- and we hope for the world for the Christ to return in power and in glory.
But what about the here and now— What about the God who is here now?
The Christ who is here now? Is our house completely ready for him?
Do we let him live with us – and own us completely?
Are we able to invite him into every nook and cranny of our homes- or are there beds we hope he will not look under – and rooms that we hope he will not enter.
The room where we hide our anger and resentment at someone -The room which we often disappear into when it seems that doing the right thing might cost us more time, or more comfort, or more money than we care to think about; That area where we separate out people – one from the other; that place where we make judgements about people and what they need and what they deserve.
Advent speaks to us about God’s coming to us, about Christ coming to us about light shining into the darkness and about judgement coming upon the earth – and salvation to the people of God.
This evening we will be holding our Advent Service of Light at 6.30pm —- and all are welcome to join us for this beautiful reflective service for the beginning of Advent, as we re-dedicate ourselves —– and receive again the light of Christ at the beginning of a new church year
Tom Wright in his book “Matthew for Everyone” writes
“Who knows what will happen next week, next year. It’s up to each church, and each individual Christian to answer the question: are you ready? Are you awake?