Advent – Longing, Judgement and Hope

Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44

Today is both the first day of Advent and the first day of December.  I wonder how many Christmas trees you have seen up already?  We counted quite a number just in Church Road two weeks ago when we delivered the Christmas Bazaar leaflets.  Maybe you even have yours up in your living room.  And if so, I don’t blame you.  The weather has been vile, the politics depressing, the state of the country uninspiring and so why not have a little colour and bling and sparkle to escape from a dismal and despairing world?  I don’t blame any premature Christmas tree decorators at all.  But, I want to suggest to you that Advent is not a season when we try to escape reality, grim as it sometimes can be, into dreams of tinsel and gifts, but a time when we stay awake, look at reality face on, but with hope.  Hold that thought for a bit while I try to unpack our readings for the day…

Our gospel begins: However, no one knows that day or hour when these things will happen.

The first question to ask therefore is what exactly are “these things” – the things that Jesus says will happen with no warning?  Our reading today comes from a much longer section of Matthew 24 in which Jesus talks about the future.  We heard some of that two weeks ago when Jo explained to us how these predictions were to do with the destruction of the temple, which to the people Jesus was talking to at the time would have felt like the end of the world.  Jesus then continues warning people not to be distracted by new Messiahs who will claim to be the answer to times of tribulation – it will happen (both the false messiahs and the tribulation) but they are to be steadfast in following him.  When I return he says, it will be blindingly obvious – like lightning that lights up the whole sky.  Trust me, you won’t miss it.  There will be clues and signs that the end of the world is nigh, but no one knows exactly when the end will be.  And it will happen before their generation passes away.

The end of the world doesn’t sound like an attractive prospect does it?   But this is God we are talking about.  Our first reading tells us what that day – the end of the world, the second coming of Christ, Judgement Day or the day of the Lord – will be like.  People will stream back to God, gathering from all nations of the world, wars and conflicts will be resolved and everyone will walk in the light of God.  How amazing does that sound?

I started by saying that I didn’t blame those who put up their Christmas trees early for wanting a bit of light and joy and hope in their lives.  And, I don’t know if you can relate to this, but I think many of us are weary and longing for the day of the Lord. How many of you long for a day when families in Syria and Yemen and the Congo can live in peace, when families are not torn apart by war?  How many of you long for a fairer world, where we can buy goods without worrying about who made them and how they were treated? How many of you long for a day when you can walk around the town without seeing people begging, homeless and caught in the throes of addiction?  How many of you long for the day when children will be safe from abuse and harm from those who should be protecting them?  How many of you long for a day when we close our Foodbanks because people have enough to feed themselves and their children? How many of you long for the day when leadership is about duty and integrity not power and lies? 

Judgement Day is not a day out of a Bruce Willis blockbuster action film, but a day when justice will be restored to God’s world.  Yes, we may have to face up to our sins and wrong-doing, and that will have its pain, but we will do it in the company of the God we trust has forgiven us in Jesus.  It will be a day when all Creation is as God intended it to be, when all is restored to right relationships with God, each other and the world around us.

The Second Coming, the return of Jesus, the Last Judgement, when put in that light sounds something we should be hoping and praying for. Jesus using picture language of burglars and sudden disappearances doesn’t sound so positive, but I would argue that Jesus is emphasizing the need to be ready for this day when it arrives.  Jesus isn’t interested in people living exactly as they choose, selfishly, greedily, dreamily unconcerned for others, then tidying up their act when the deadline approaches.  Of course, Jesus being Jesus, there is still hope even then as our thief discovered last week.  But Jesus wants his followers to be living as children of the Gospel now, awake to the needs of the world, awake to God’s purposes and presence already in the world, awake and ready to work for peace and justice and reconciliation.

So the question for us is, whether we die an earthly death or are there when the sky splits open and we see Jesus in glory, will we be ready to meet Jesus? Will we be preparing ourselves and those around us for Jesus’ return?  Will we, as much as we are able, be clear-sighted about the reality of the world’s brokenness and sin and, as much as we are able, be doing our part to work for peace, for justice, for reconciliation?

If we are, if we can, it will be because we are people of hope, that great advent theme. People who will not just accept that “this is the way the world is”. People who dare to live differently, like kindness and justice and love and truth mean something, and are willing to work for a different future. People who face up to the hard realities of the world as it is, but dare to live as the world might be.  People who know that God works in topsy turvey ways and things the world regards as insiginificant can change everything.  Things like a tiny baby, born to nobodies who had nothing in a nondescript corner of the Roman Empire – a baby who was to be the answer to the brokenness of us all.

So, if Jesus were to return tomorrow, if he were to interrupt our ordinary lives as he vividly describes in our reading today, would you be ready to welcome him and to live in the world of justice and peace he will bring?  Or do you need a bit more practice, a bit of time to sort out a few last things?  Advent is a hopeful invitation to get ready for another visit from our God of justice and peace and love.  Don’t ignore the world’s troubles this Advent, don’t get lost in festive dreams, but stay awake to the presence and purposes of God and in all things have hope – the sort of hope that begins to change the world into what it will one day be, by the grace of God. Amen.

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