May I speak and may you hear, through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Today we enter a new season in the church calendar. Our old church year has ended and a new one has begun. The colours around us have also changed, there are purples and pinks and candles to light – one at a time – increasing light coming into a time of shortened days and winter darkness. A feeling of anticipation and rising excitement. Yet we have to wait!
Waiting… the action of staying where one is… time passing… expecting something to happen… until one day it does! Advent, a time of waiting, of hope, of anticipation. We hear in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians, ‘when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son’
Advent is the church in waiting… the church’s annual reminder of what Christians worldwide anticipate in the days leading up to Christmas. We wait for Christmas as Israel waited centuries for a Saviour. Waiting for God to fulfil his covenant, for a virgin’s son of Abraham’s line, a descendant of Isaac, Jacob and David, for a branch from the root of Jesse, for a baby born in Bethlehem called Immanuel.
For generations, God’s people waited for the fulfilment of countless Old Testament prophecies of a Saviour, who would light up this world brighter than any Magi’s star. A Saviour, who was to be called Jesus, the long-awaited hope in a dark and sinful world. The true light, that gives light to every single human, was coming into the world.
As Christians wait for the light of Christmas, the four advent candles are lit with each week’s passing, but we know that our hoping and waiting doesn’t stop at Christmas, because he will return at the last day, a second advent.
Today, it is that second advent that we are thinking about. A time of waiting that equates with that of Israel. Waiting and not knowing when these prophetic events will take place. We can image that it is unlikely to happen in our lifetime, or without knowing it, it could happen before I get to the end of this sermon…. ‘Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.’ So, if you all disappear before my very eyes, I’ll know I wasn’t fully prepared!
It is from the Old Testament that we hear of what will happen in the last days, perhaps a more leisurely climax to the end of time and spoken in the beautiful prophetic language of Isaiah.
On a mountain higher than any we might have stood on and from which caught a glimpse of the awe and wonder of God. A mountain whose peak brushes against the thin veil of heaven, ready at any moment to tear a hole through which the Saviour can return.
From the very beginning of humankind there was but one nation, the nation of Eden. However, human rights, economic disparities and land disputes forced the people to spread to each and every corner of the world, creating nations that forgot the principle of working together for the common good or acknowledging their divine creator.
Then, on a mountain that will stand so prominently above all others, on which the gathering place of the people of God will be built, the nations will stream towards it. I was once given an image by one of my lecturers, Mark Chapman at Cuddesdon theological college, of a smooth sphere spinning in space out of which streams of people, like spumes of gas were escaping and forming new spheres, that bumped and grated against each other, but that how, at the end of time it would be as if the image was being rewound and those streams of people would be sucked back so that eventually the original sphere would take shape, not so smooth, but one single spinning object in infinity.
And the reason that people will want to climb the mountain and will encourage others to come with them, is so that the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, Peter, James, Paul, Augustine, Francis, Theresa, Luther, Sacks, Mohammed and of you and me, can teach us once more to walk in the ways that He intended us to.
A time of preparation, before Jesus, the Word of God, undertakes his role as the final judge of the people, settling disputes and bringing the nations back into harmony, so that there will be no need of wars, no need for the machinery and weaponry of conflict, no need for military tacticians or economic masters.
Instead, for those who have re-turned to, re-tuned into and re-stored the one true faith, the light of God will shine on them so that they will appear like beacons of hope in the darkness.
It’s a beautiful picture, and one we might dismiss as poetic licence, an Old Testament allegory designed to give hope to the peoples of Israel and Judah who were in dispute, and who had been subjugated by the Babylonians. Yet this same image of a gathering of the nations and the formation of a new earth and heaven is given to us by John in his vision in Revelation, ‘I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple… The nations will walk by its light and… the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it,’ and for each and every person, ‘they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’
Yet, none of this calls for complacency. Today, tomorrow, next year or whenever… we can’t just simply wait… the things that are foreseen are also the things that we should be striving for each and every day, to work together as individuals and as a global nation, to do all we can to bring about peace between the nations on earth, to teach people the way of God, so that all can be restored
So, this year during Advent, as we continue to watch and pray for our Saviour to come again let us also make plans, whether in the long term or short term… who knows… to prepare ourselves and our world for the smoothest transition and be truly ready, ‘because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’.