St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

Ready Aye Ready

Ser­mon preached at Enmore, Advent Sunday, 27th Novem­ber 2016

Read­ings: Isai­ah 2.1–5, Romans 13. 9–14, Mat­thew 24.36–44

One of my favour­ite beaches for swim­ming is North Bondi. Every time I go there I notice the motto of the North Bondi Surf Life Sav­ing Club which is writ­ten on their front wall: ‘Ready Aye Ready’. It’s a good motto for an organ­iz­a­tion which came into being for the pur­pose of sav­ing people from drown­ing but it strikes me that it is a rather good sum­mary of what Advent Sunday is all about because the theme of read­i­ness, pre­pared­ness is prom­in­ent in all the read­ings. It is easy to fall into the trap of think­ing that Advent is simply the sea­son for get­ting ready for Christ­mas and pre­par­ing to cel­eb­rate the birth of Christ. Advent then becomes the sea­son of busi­ness; the sea­son of Christ­mas shop­ping, send­ing Christ­mas cards, bak­ing pud­dings, dec­or­at­ing the house, attend­ing end of year cel­eb­ra­tions etc. the list of things to be done seems end­less. But the Advent sea­son is about much more than get­ting ready for Christ­mas. Advent invites us to wait and hope for more than the birth of the Christ child, pivotal though that is for our faith. Advent invites the church to place the birth of Jesus in a wider cos­mic con­text as the fore­taste of the dawn­ing of God’s new age. So this morn­ing I want to attempt to answer two ques­tions: the first, what are we get­ting ready for? And the second, what does being ready actu­ally mean?

Part of the answer to the first ques­tion is that we are to be ready for what is often called the second com­ing of Christ, when as the Creed puts it, “He will come again in glory to judge the liv­ing and the dead.” The early Chris­ti­ans expec­ted this to be soon and lived in the almost daily expect­a­tion of Christ’s return. Two thou­sand years later it is dif­fi­cult to recap­ture that sense of imme­di­acy and nor should we. A pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the return of Christ and the man­ner of that return has led Chris­ti­ans into all sorts of unhelp­ful atti­tudes and beha­viours. The long dis­course in Mat­thew 24 a por­tion of which we read this morn­ing is giv­en by Jesus in response to the dis­ciples’ ques­tion, ‘When will these things be and what will be the sign of your com­ing?’ Jesus tells them that mak­ing pre­dic­tions and look­ing for time tables are the very things they are not to do. Their focus is to be on liv­ing in the light of his com­ing, not on dis­cern­ing the move­ments of his­tory. All that they need to know and all that we need to know is that with the com­ing of Christ into the world a new age has already begun. As we hear of wars and rumours of wars and see the ter­rible things described in this chapter we will be temp­ted to think that the new age is an illu­sion and that we will nev­er see its ful­fill­ment but Jesus says our task is to stay alert and be ready for the long haul. The apo­ca­lyptic images we find in Mat­thew 24 are not designed to make us fear­ful but to encour­age us to be faith­ful.

An unhealthy pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with Christ’s return in power and great glory can also blind us to the com­ing of Christ among us in the here and now. Through the pres­ence of his Holy Spir­it we are assured of Christ’s pres­ence always. We can meet him every day in the unex­pec­ted events. Some of you will be famil­i­ar with Leo Tolstoy’s fam­ous children’s story, called Papa Panov’s Spe­cial Christ­mas. In the story the aged shoe­maker, Papa Pan­ov, has a dream one Christ­mas Eve that he will be vis­ited by Jesus the very next day. He wakes on Christ­mas Day with a great sense of excite­ment as he anti­cip­ates this spe­cial event. He pre­pares soup and bread and wraps up a small pair of beau­ti­ful leath­er shoes he once made think­ing they would be a suit­able present for Jesus. He has a num­ber of vis­it­ors, the road sweep­er, and the vil­lage beg­gars whom he feeds and shel­ters for a while and later in the day he sees a young moth­er passing by with a small baby who looks cold and under nour­ished. He feeds the moth­er and child and decides to give them the present he has set aside for Jesus as he is begin­ning to doubt that Jesus will show up. At the end of the day he goes to bed dis­ap­poin­ted that Jesus hasn’t come and think­ing that it was all just a dream. That night he dreams again and sees Jesus stand­ing before him and asks, ‘Why didn’t you come?’ Jesus replies ‘I did come, for when you took in the cold and hungry and gave them food and warmth you did it to me.’

So to say that we are pre­par­ing for Christ’s glor­i­ous return to estab­lish new heav­ens and a new earth is true but we are not just look­ing for­ward to some future real­ity. We are also  pre­par­ing to cel­eb­rate Christ’s com­ing among us in great humil­ity, the baby born in Beth­le­hem, and to acknow­ledge that in this com­ing God’s new age has already dawned. Advent reminds us afresh that in the com­ing of Christ, God is with us- in the past, the present and future. At the start of the Chris­ti­an year the sea­son of Advent offers us the chance to begin our life with God and his new cre­ation anew.

So how do we pre­pare for the com­ing of Christ? The Gos­pel read­ing uses the expres­sions, ‘Keep awake’ and ‘be ready’. Paul exhorts the Chris­ti­ans in Rome to ‘wake from sleep’. Sleep­ers are unaware of what is going on around them, they are not engaged. We are called to wake­ful­ness, to engage with the world and to be act­ive in it look­ing for the signs of God’s king­dom. One way of being involved in our world is to fol­low Paul’s injunc­tion to love our neigh­bour. As he explains this involves keep­ing the Ten Com­mand­ments, includ­ing unfash­ion­able ones like not cov­et­ing- which our soci­ety has for­got­ten. It also involves those prac­tic­al acts of giv­ing food to the hungry, shel­ter to the home­less, wel­com­ing the stranger, vis­it­ing the sick and dis­tressed and vis­it­ing those in pris­on. The Christ­mas Bowl appeal which runs through advent gives us the oppor­tun­ity to par­ti­cip­ate in some of those things through the work of Act for Peace, the wel­fare arm of the Nation­al Coun­cil of Churches in Aus­tralia.

Being ready also involves being patient and stead­fast in times of uncer­tainty. We eas­ily become weary in well doing and become dis­cour­aged. We look at the huge prob­lems in our world and are temp­ted to des­pair. Advent lifts our eyes and helps us to see the big­ger pic­ture. We catch the vis­ion of God’s new age and our hope is renewed. That is one reas­on we come to church – Isai­ah says, “Come let us go the moun­tain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jac­ob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For Chris­ti­ans, Sunday wor­ship should refresh us and encour­age us for the week ahead. It should remind us that we are not alone but are part of a great com­pany of believ­ers and that His Spir­it is indeed with us. As we wor­ship togeth­er and share in com­mu­nion togeth­er we exper­i­ence the real­ity of his pres­ence.

Paul also talks about lay­ing aside the works of dark­ness and put­ting on the armour of light- which is reit­er­ated in our Advent col­lect. There are things which impede us in our Chris­ti­an walk, bag­gage that should be left behind or atti­tudes and habits that are crip­pling. Paul also uses the expres­sion ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ What does he mean by this? It means to fol­low Christ’s example of self giv­ing love for oth­ers. It means to be patient with the slow and weak and to imit­ate his example. It means to let his light and life be seen in us. An impossible stand­ard? Per­haps, but to encour­age us,  John tells us that one day we will be like him for we will see him as he is.

So this Advent let us pray that we will be ready when the Son of Man comes at an unex­pec­ted hour.

 

Philip Brad­ford