A new year in the Church’s calendar begins today, so Happy New Year. And what a New Year’s Eve party there was the night before last in St Andrew’s, in honour of our patron saint (whose day it is on Wednesday). I heard that there was lots to eat and drink, quizzes, party pieces, a right old knees up.
We’ve now arrived at “Advent” which comes from a Latin word means ‘coming’. But whose coming are we talking about? Obviously we’re beginning to think about God coming as a human being among us, with us and like us, in the person of Jesus. But although the readings today do mention the coming of God, they don’t mention the coming of Christ at Christmas. So we need to learn from that, that Advent isn’t just about Christmas, it’s rather more far-reaching than that.
In Advent there are in fact three comings of God. The first, is when Jesus, the Son of God came to be born in the stable at Bethlehem. But today we focus more on the final coming of Jesus at the end of the world. But there’s a further coming we need to be aware of, namely, when God enters our lives every day. Every single experience can be an opportunity to make engage with God. And we’re reminded of that day-to-day contact with God in our services and especially in the celebration of the sacraments, as today in our Eucharist.
The lovely first reading from Isaiah invites us to go with God. It says,
“Come, let us go to the house of the God of Jacob”Isaiah 2:3
Remember that Jesus himself is the real Temple of God. And, because the Christian community is united with Him, doesn’t that make us a part of God’s Temple as well? To be God’s Temple in the world – a awesome responsibility. And so we go to him and with him
“that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths”.Isaiah 2:3
He’ll show us the paths – to follow in our lives, the way that will lead us to meet him on that last day and so that along the way we may lead others to that path, principally through the way that we live our lives.
The Second Reading and the Gospel emphasise the need for preparedness for that final coming of Jesus, whatever form it may take. The first coming of Jesus in Bethlehem also helps us to prepare for that final coming. These readings are a warning and we really need this warning. On the one hand, you probably don’t like to think too much about how or when you’ll leave this world. But it’s a fact.
Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said that there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes. In today’s world there are many people who’re very afraid of death and who don’t want to talk or even think about it. Today’s readings don’t allow that.
Given the extent of the threats to our climate and our world from our reckless exploitation, I can’t help feeling that humanity in general is very like the people mentioned in today’s Gospel:
“Before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing till the flood came and swept them all away”Matthew 24:38-39
People were doing very ordinary things. The things that we all do. But they were so busy doing them they failed to give any thought to where their lives were ultimately leading and what the goal of their life was, except perhaps an endless and often fruitless search for happiness – whatever that may mean. They were very busy, just like us. Maybe they were very successful, maybe they made a lot of money, maybe they had wonderful marriages, and lots of exciting experiences… But, they weren’t ready for God’s call at the end of their lives. The question is: how ready am I right now?
Maybe you think: “I don’t have to worry. At my check-up the other day the doctor said I have the heart of a teenager.” (I wish) But how many teenagers end up as statistics in the death toll on our roads every year, or committing suicide? Maybe for them, death is something that happens to other people, to old and sick people, though the Climate Change protests suggest that it’s the teenagers who’re the ones taking notice.
We live and work for today, for tomorrow, for next month, for next year, for our future, for our children’s future… But what about our real future in eternity? Our future with God?
So today’s Gospel says,
“Of two men in the fields, one is taken, one is left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.”Matthew 24:40-41
This could mean that one is taken away by a natural or personal disaster (an earthquake or a heart attack) and the other left untouched. Or it could mean that God takes one away to himself and abandons the other. In either event, the meaning’s the same. Two men, two women who appear to be the same, doing the same thing. But there’s an important difference. One’s prepared and the other isn’t.
The trouble is we don’t know the hour or the day when the Lord will come.
“If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into”Matthew 24:43
And, in many ways, that’s a blessing. On the one hand, if we did know, just imagine the anxiety of knowing what the time and the day, on the other hand, imagine the temptation to let our lives go completely to pot knowing that we could straighten everything out at the last minute. So it’s a question of always being ready.
“Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”.Paraphrase of Romans 13:11
The obvious question is, How do I prepare? St Paul writing to the Roman’s has some advice.
“Let us give up all the things we tend to do under cover of darkness and live decently as people do in the daytime.”Paraphrase of Romans 13:13
Are there dark areas in all of our lives? Things we do, things we say, things we think, indulging in self-centred behaviour; things which we wouldn’t like other people to know about because they do harm to us or to others.
Instead, we need to develop our relations with God and with our brothers and sisters based on a caring and unconditional love for all. That of course includes future generations and those living in areas of the world threatened by the Climate Change going on as a result of excessive consumption. We need to learn how to find God, to find Jesus in every person, in every experience. We need to respect every person as the image of God. We’re to love our neighbours as ourselves, to love everyone just as Jesus loved us.
If, in our words and actions, our daily lives are full of the spirit of Jesus, then we’ve prepared. We don’t need to be anxious about the future or what’ll happen to us. Concentrate on today, on the present hour, the present situation and respond to it in truth and love and the future will take care of itself. Then we don’t have to fear no matter when Jesus makes his final call. Because we’d know he’s was going to say:
“Come, my friend. I want to call you now; I want to share with you my life that never ends.”
And we’d respond:
“Yes, Lord, I am ready. I’ve been waiting for you all this time.”
It’d be an encounter, not of strangers, but of two old friends.