Introduction and Call to Worship
As we move into Advent, let us take time in our worship today to think and pray about what it means to prepare to meet our saviour.
First Reading Isaiah 2:1-5
A vision of all the nations streaming to the Lord’s house, and of peace reigning.
Second Reading Romans 13:11-end
This is the moment to wake from sleep, for salvation is nearer to us now than ever. So let us live well, in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Gospel Matthew 24:36-44
Matthew looks back to the time of Noah, when the terrible flood took people with little warning. So it will be when the Son of Man returns.
“About that day and hour no one knows… only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)
Keep awake therefore for you do not know what day your Lord in coming
After leaving school, I spent 11 years working in a shoe shop. Now despite being a committed altar server with a reasonable faith, I always struggled with the build-up towards Christmas. Each year it was the same: come the first week of November, I would trim up the shop and dig out our dodgy collection of festive CDs. Then I would paint a lasting smile on my face, as over the next two months, every other customer came in and said those immortal few words: ‘These slippers are a Christmas present...if they’ re the wrong size can I bring them back?’ As you will imagine, by the time Christmas Eve had arrived, not only was I dreaming of fluffy slippers, I had almost forgotten what Christmas was all about. I say almost, for thankfully, help was a hand. As you will see from our newsletter, the Church offers everybody the gift of Advent as a useful tool which ensures we’re all spiritually awake, alert and truly ready to celebrate with others the coming of Christ at Christmas.
Although our Gospel deals with a different arrival of Christ, namely the Second Coming, or to give it its proper title, ‘Parousia’, it still contains some helpful pointers that can feed into our Advent preparations. Context is one of those words, which are always used when we start to seriously reflect upon God’s word recorded for us in Scripture. Given Matthew’s intended Jewish audience, his reference to the Second Coming, when God would finally bring about a lasting peace for the whole of humanity, would have struck a chord in the hearts of all those who first heard this passage. And if we think about it, a desire for peace and joy to be spread across our world is not a million miles away from the underlying themes of many of our popular Carols. But we must remember that this passage is not some ancient, wishy washy text, that naively dreams of an idyllic world, for as we continue to unravel this rich passage of Scripture, we soon discover walking with Christ can be an eye-opening experience.
Sometimes, people say that the Bible is all made up. Well, if this was the case, we would need to ask ourselves: ‘why does a work of fiction contain so many contradictions?’ Surely, if you wanted somebody to believe a story, you would try and make it as simply as possible to follow.
Take for example our opening verses: Jesus clearly tells us here that some present now will not die until they have witnessed first the Second Coming taking place. Well, unfortunately we only need to pick up a newspaper to know lasting peace has not been established. To shed some light on this apparent misguided prediction of Jesus, it has been said by some scholars, that Jesus was in fact referring to the fall of Jerusalem, which as the history books tell us did happen. However, if we continue to explore this passage we will see amongst other things, Matthew is emphasizing the humanity of Jesus. We know from other passages of Scripture that the Father and the Son are on one equal footing, yet in our opening verse Jesus publicly acknowledges that nobody, not even the Angels or indeed he himself, knows the complete workings of God’s mind. This declaration of Jesus is not, I believe, a sign of weakness; rather it is a powerful reminder that none of us are God. If you think about it, it also ties in with the image so often portrayed on our Christmas cards: Jesus came into the world not as an all-powerful and conquering superhero, but as a child, who like you and me was fully dependent upon God.
All of which feeds into the second half of our Gospel text. You will recall how in my introduction I described how the hustle and bustle of pre-Christmas shopping had caused me to lose sight of the fact that Christmas was a time to celebrate the gift of Christ to the world. Scripture doesn’t say that Noah’s neighbours where busy buying slippers when the floods came – but it does tell us that, like me, they had become so immersed with the normal everyday pastimes such as eating and drinking, they had not realised that over time they had become spiritually blind to the signs of the times. I apologise now to any animal lovers, but this situation reminds me of a quote from C.S. Lewis who apparently said that, if you put a frog in a pan of boiling water, he instantly notices the immediate danger and straight away jumps out; however, if you place him in a pan of familiar pond water and gently warm it up he sits there quite contentedly and completely oblivious to the fact that frog soup might be on the menu. And so, one of the questions for us today, as we enter the season of Advent, might be this: Is God using this passage from Matthew’s Gospel as a way of inviting us to re-examine our conscience and to take a serious look at our world today? Are there global situations, which deep down we know are wrong, or are we perhaps struggling with the direction the Church is taking on a whole range of issues, but just like the frog, up until now we have merrily been swimming around in the lukewarm water, not really thinking too much about the pending danger that is waiting for us just around the corner?
A friend once told me, it’s always good to end a sermon on a positive high, for as she correctly pointed out the word gospel means good news. Now, as we have seen, while Scripture can be deeply challenging and extremely thought provoking, it is certainly never boring or irrelevant, and so if we spend a few moments each day unpacking its treasures during this Advent season there is a real chance that we will all be much more spiritually alert, awake and truly ready to celebrate the coming of our Lord and Saviour, baby Jesus, this Christmas.