This is a copy of my talk for our Annual Toy Parade/Service at Emmanuel Billericay on Sunday 1 December 2019 – the First Sunday of Advent. The Bible reading was Matthew 24:36-44.
The collect (prayer) for the First Sunday of Advent says: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life …
These words from speak to us of the urgency that should mark our faith and life at this special time of the year. The prayer encourages us not to get lost in all that is happening in the Christmas season. The prayer also encourages us to stay alert and avoid drifting into a kind of spiritual hibernation.
The Season Of Advent
The Season of Advent is the beginning of the Church’s New Year and it is designed to be a time of waiting. For the rest of the world, the New Year starts with a bang and fireworks on 1 January but the Church, deliberately, starts its new year with two important words: ‘Coming’ (which is what ‘Advent’ means) and ‘Wait’. So, I want to say Happy New Year to you all.
In Advent, we celebrate the coming into this world of Jesus, Son of God – our Rescuer, our King. We look forward to Christmas when his first coming in poverty is our focus. But in Advent, we look ahead with hope to his Second Coming, with ‘great power and glory’.
The Advent season, is a time of preparation, expectation and hope. But what are we getting ready for? What do we expect will happen? Are we thinking about the end of the world or are we simply wondering how we will get through the next four weeks?
Are we happily anticipating the Birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace? or are we preparing for excessive shopping, the predictable economic disaster of December, and all the other crazy things that can take over our lives at this time of year. So many people are running around frantically preparing for the festive season. Black Friday, Panic Saturday and Manix Monday or Cyber Monday as they are calling it nowadays! The question many people ask this time of year about Christmas is: Are we there yet? And we respond, there’s only 24 days to go.
Are We There Yet?
Are we there yet? Have you ever been on one of those very long car journeys with a very young child when they keep asking that same question? Are we there yet?
Questions like ‘are we there yet’ remind us of our own impatience. None of us like waiting, for anything. We want what we want, and we want it now! And some people have that view about Jesus’ return.
We Don’t Know
And just as we didn’t know the answer to some of the questions, I asked earlier, the Bible teaches that we won’t know when Jesus will return. 36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Jesus gives lots of examples about what happened in the day of Noah, people working in a field and a thief breaking into a house. Then he says 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Do We Listen?
As a vicar I am often asked how God could stand by and watch the world tearing itself apart. But God isn’t standing by! Thousands of years ago he gave us a simple list of 10 rules by which to live – we call them the 10 Commandments. They included some pretty simple stuff – “don’t kill each other, love God, love your neighbour, and don’t go after things you don’t need or can’t have”. But did we listen?
So he sent us a whole load of prophets, like Zephaniah, who kept on reminding us that peace and justice will only reign when people listen to the teachings of God. But did we listen?
So he sent us not just a prophet, but his only Son, Jesus, who repeated the message of thousands of years before. Summarising the Law of God, he said, ‘Love God, and Love your Neighbour as Yourself’. But did we listen?
God has done anything but stand by. Having sent his Son, God established the Church who would carry on calling the people of the world to live by God’s laws and pray with their those words in the pray Jesus taught us: ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.
Thy Kingdom Come
And while we wait for the completion of the Reign of God, there is a very real sense in which God is already among us, already coming, in fact already here. That by his Holy Spirit, he is already among us.
- Every time a lonely person finds a friend in church, Jesus comes.
- Every time a family is fed by the Billericay Foodbank, Jesus comes.
- Every time a young person receives a shoebox filled with love, Jesus comes.
- Every time a family is raised up out of fear by Changing Pathways, Jesus comes.
- Every time a homeless person is treated like the human being they truly are, Jesus comes.
- Every time an exhausted and confused mother finds support and help on a Thursday of Friday morning here, Jesus comes. As he will do next Saturday when ‘WLTDO? meets.
- Every time a young family learn more about the love of God through Messy Church, Jesus comes.
And so I could go on.
Keep On Keeping On
And that is what Jesus calls us to carry on doing, until the time that Jesus returns and His reign is completely established. Jesus reminds us that we cannot know when that day will come. Only God knows when the Kingdom will be finally and fully established. But, God gives us a task to carry out until that day finally comes. We are those who, in the words of the Gospel, are to ‘keep alert’. We are to be alert to every sign of the Kingdom.
And Finally …
And so, we are entitled to ask: ‘Are we there yet?’. The answer, as every car-driving parent knows is ‘nearly’. We are nearly there! Signs of the kingdom are all around us. Our task, like an alert house-owner, is to keep awake. To see the signs of the kingdom with open eyes and join in with the activity of God, wherever it is found. Amen.
A Special Prayer for Advent
God of love, who brought love into this world,
be the love that dwells between us.
God of peace, who brought peace into this world,
be the peace that dwells between us.
God of joy, who brought joy into this world,
be the joy that dwells between us.
God of hope, who brought hope into this world,
be the hope that dwells between us.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is the Light of the World. Amen.