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Advent Sunday

Sunday 1 December 2019        

Time and Eternity – two of the great themes of Advent. But perhaps I should more accurately say one of the great themes, because of course they are inextricably intertwined.

On Thursday I attended the funeral of a friend. Andrew was a year older than me and had been suffering from a very painful form of cancer for the last 18 months. His day job had been in computers, but he was also a singer, and he was a horologist. His house was full of clocks, some working, but others with their innards displayed, being worked on on every available surface in every available room. He had just been appointed Master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers when the cancer struck. Time thus played an important part in his life, but it has to be said that he himself was not the most accurate of timekeepers! Sadly his time on this earth is over and he has now entered the realm of God’s time, eternity.

I tell you this because of our gospel reading and how it resonates not only with Andrew being struck down but with the events in London on Friday. None of us know what awaits us in the context of this life as we live day by day, or at what moment we will be facing eternity. Or why it should be one person rather than another who should be struck down, or swept away, or taken. I’m sure we’ve all known people who have died too soon, too young, and we’ve asked ourselves, why her? Or why him? And not me. Jesus said “But about that day and hour no one knows”, which we can take in reference to our own lives; but in the context of the gospel narrative he is referring to the latter days when the Son of Man will come to end all things. Advent is about the now and the not yet, but as we follow the journey through the Sundays of Advent we come to understand that in God’s coming Word made flesh, Jesus himself is the point of intersection with our time and with eternity.

We tend to think of time as linear, but perhaps in this context, we can consider time as a circle, for we have come from God our creator and we are living out a journey back to God, our final destination.  So the Advent wreath is a good expression of this circular journey of life, from God at the beginning to God at the end.  For the starting point of a circle is also the point of its completion. During the next 12 months, our gospel readings on Sunday will be taken from Matthew’s gospel, which tells of God’s promises in the past, present and future.  The gospel begins with the past, the genealogy of Jesus, tracing his ancestry right back to creation; and then comes Joseph’s dream in which he is reminded of the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘a young woman shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us’, the present.  Matthew’s gospel ends with the ascension of Jesus, and his last words to his disciples, the very last words of the gospel, are about the future: ‘Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ 

How do we make the connection to the overall story?  Only through the person of Jesus, for the intersection of God’s time and our time comes most fully in Jesus. Jesus’ coming is the great wake-up call, showing how God is faithfully, persistently moving the work of redemption forwards. We have to prepare for it, praying for grace ‘to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light,’ as our Advent collect puts it.   Advent is a vital time when we have to prepare to make life and death decisions. Keep awake, choose how to live life in the context of the last things, the latter days. It’s a call not to be ignored, for life is not a dress-rehearsal, it’s the performance. The clock is ticking for you and for me, and for our planet, and time, how we spend it, how we live it, matters.

There is an urgency to our Advent liturgies and readings which we would do well to reflect on in relation to our national life at the moment.  None of us know what the political landscape will look like after 12th December, but surely it is not only our right but our duty to demand of our politicians how we can best live well together in the light of our gospel imperatives of love of God and neighbour, of truth, justice, peace, and fullness of life for all members of society.

This is the society that Isaiah longs for in his vision of the days to come. Yes, Advent is a time of preparation, of acting on that wake-up call as the gospel bids us, but Isaiah reminds us what it is all for. The people who gather to go up to the house of the Lord have learned the hard way about the aftermath of wrong decisions made. They long for peace out of conflict, they yearn for a new way of living. Isaiah places himself in their company, God’s people who long for what God is offering: “O house of Jacob, come let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  We hear his voice from a time long ago, but it resonates down the centuries to this intersection point with God’s time for all people.

This evening, the whole Cathedral will be in darkness before the Advent Carol service begins, and then candles will be lit and the light shared.  Our darkness in time is pierced with the light of the promise of Christ’s Coming, God coming to meet us as we are, entering our time and linking it to eternity. And at the same time we are being urged to get ready to choose between darkness and light.

Jesus urges us to stay awake, to be on our guard, to be on watch. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from answering Advent’s wake-up call. And our gain is to receive once again the great gift of God’s love, the light that comes to us out of darkness.  God gives us his Word in Jesus. That Word, our Emanuel, God with us, is the basis on which all our hope rests;  Christ is both the fulfilment of God’s promise in the present and, through his inauguration of the new order we call the kingdom of God, he is also the fulfilment of things to come. He is both the now and the not yet, the still point of the turning world, where time is caught up in eternity and eternity inhabits time.   Amen.

Canon Celia Thomson

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