Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 24:36-44
We pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
Today we are going to talk about time! Time – the mathematical representation of our days, our weeks, our years. It is a concept well represented in our language and our social interactions. We talk of generations or decades; the swinging sixties, the millennials; and we talk of times of social identification such as the renaissance, the dark ages, the enlightenment. Time is also colloquial, active and imprecise; time flies when you’re having fun; I’ve been waiting ages; I won’t be long.
Time can fly, especially when you are really enjoying something and time can drag when you are waiting for that thing to happen.
Advent is a time of waiting. Waiting for the birth of a baby, the story that, I hope never loses it wonder and promise no matter how many times we hear it. We especially see the wonder on the faces of our children at this time of year and, if any of us feel we have lost that sense of amazement, perhaps this Advent we might seek to recover it. Actually, at the Community Advent service here on Wednesday I got to ask everyone how many of Jesus birthdays they had celebrated. When I said 10 years most of the school children’s hands went up, but I would say their sense that 10 was quite old was shattered as we got to the hands going up for 90+ years. It was fascinating to watch the children’s faces realise a new sense of time.
And today our readings are about time – God’s time. And especially us waiting for God’s fulfilment of time to come around.
In the Hebrew scriptures, we have the remarkable picture that Isaiah paints of God’s promise to the people of Israel and the vision of the new Jerusalem – not just the glory but also the peace – swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, no war, no conflict; wisdom and light shall flow out into the world as people walk the way of God. It’s a vision of hope is it not, for a people who have had more than their share of struggle and despair?
And then comes the arrival of the Messiah, the time when all would be put right. But no, it wasn’t quite the way some expected – we heard last week of the trials and tribulations that will await the followers of Jesus – and the whole apocalyptic hell that will come before the end of the age, that new heaven and new earth. And we of course ask the obvious question which is: ‘When?’
And the sub-text is ‘how are we to prepare for it?’
Because we would really like to know thanks, God. We’d like to be ready. We like straightforward answers to these things, if you don’t mind. Just in case you didn’t know it, its very difficult to live in this ‘in-between-times’ waiting but not knowing when.
At Advent we anticipate the coming of God’s son in human flesh, the Emmanuel come to this world. But we are also asked to anticipate the return of the risen Christ to finally fulfil the vision of God’s peace, love and grace present in every part of the kingdom. We live out our faith between these two times.
What are we to do? How do we follow the path of Jesus in this
Left to ourselves, we find several options.
Picture this: a waiting room – not busy, just one other person in it when she arrives. ‘Been waiting long?’ she says to the man as she takes a seat. ‘Oh about 2000 years, give or take’ he responds and then seeing the look of disbelief ‘Well, he said he was coming soon, so I’ve just been hanging around, sort of.’ ‘For 2000 years!’ ‘Well it’s actually gone by quite fast. I wanted to be ready. Actually made a cup of tea for him – see, right here, waiting, prepared.’
‘But haven’t you ever given up hope?’ she says. ‘No, no, he said he’d be back and he will be. All good.’
‘Look, my friend, I don’t quite know how to say this but there has been a bit of a change in thinking since the early church – everyone expected Jesus back as soon as to rescue them from all the terrible stuff that was going on. But now we think of the kingdom of God as something here, now, among us. Jesus’ ministry was the beginning of this idea that the rebirth of the world is happening now. Its even got a name – its called realised eschatology!’
‘Realised e – esk,,,,what? Anyway, sounds like a bit of a cop out if you ask me’ replies the man. ‘What about being prepared, being ready?’
‘Oh we certainly need to be that’ she said ‘but should we let this world, this beautiful creation of God simply go to rack and ruin while we wait, eyes on the door? What about the people who are suffering, the earth that is struggling for survival, justice and peace – should we just not care?’
‘Actually,’ said the man a little bit shamefaced, ‘I have wondered about that while I’ve been sitting here. I’ve often wanted to ask God why no action on all the poverty and hunger, all the bad stuff going on.’
‘So why haven’t you,’ she asked quietly.
‘Because I’m frightened God might ask me the same question.’
Sitting, waiting, prepared with cup of tea in hand is not what Jesus is asking of us. He is asking instead that we get on with bringing the kingdom of God to fruition in our ordinary and everyday living, working in the field, grinding meal, travelling on the bus and chatting with our neighbour or the stranger. Alert always to the working of Jesus in us and through us and to us, we spread the light of love and grace and help shape God’s kingdom in the here and now.
Our God is one who holds all time – past, present and future – in creation. We wait, we wait without knowing and we instead focus on living today in a spirit of wakeful and watchful activity - in Jesus name. The light of Christ is to shine in our world both now and to come. In watchfulness and wakefulness we remain alert to the needs of the world around us now, as, in our ordinary lives, in our every day, we walk in the light of Christ. And let our hope be strong that in this time of waiting, the vision of a world full of light and love is to be fulfilled by a baby - born in Bethlehem – 2000 years ago – for us. Amen.
Let us hear these words from Shirley Murray as they lead us to creed and communion:
God of all time, all seasons of our living,
Source of our spark, protector of our flame,
blazing before our birth, beyond our dying,
God of all time, we come to sing your name,
Here in this place, where others have been building,
we come to claim the legacy of faith,
take in our turn the telling of your story,
and, though we tremble, speak your hope, your truth.
Spirit who draws our fragile selves together,
Spirit who turns a stranger to a friend,
Be at this table where we greet each other,
Be in the peace we pass from hand to hand.
Let us not die from poverty of caring;
let us not starve, where love is to be shared.
Come, break us open to receive your healing:
your broken body be our wine and bread
words © Shirley Murray AA 49