Todays readings for: First Sunday of Advent Year A 2017 Isaiah 2:1-5 Psalm 122 Romans 13:9-14 Matthew 24:36-44
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton
“Longing for light, we wait in darkness.” We began this morning singing those words. Today we enter the Season of Advent and Advent is a paradox. We, who are already in the light, know that we are still in the darkness, we who live 2,000 years after the incarnation, wait for the baby to be born, we who live in the Kingdom, pray that God’s kingdom might come and we call out, “Come, Lord Jesus!”. In Advent we examine the realities of our faith and the circularity that somehow pervades the linear nature of time. Both things are true simultaneously. Judgement has come and we wait for judgement!
“Wake up, O People, get ready for the Lord!” Viva Voce will exhort us in a few minutes! And yet, are we not awake? Are we not God’s people now? Are we not already in the Kingdom of God? We are, but the reality is that we do not always live as if we are, and sometimes the drowsiness of long waiting overcomes us. We didn’t read the parable of the “Foolish Virgins” as it was always called- you know those poor girls who, waiting for the bridegroom to come, fall asleep and let their lamps burn up all the oil! We are sometimes like them, aren’t we? Or else we are like the householder, who not thinking about a thief in the night, goes comfortably to bed and is burgled. Jesus says that he is like the thief that comes in the night when we least expect him.
When First Isaiah is writing the wonderful words we read today, it is way back before the coming of the Messiah. The context is an invasion of Judea, the Southern Kingdom by Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom, helped by Syria. The Southern Kingdom asked for help from Assyria, a move that First Isaiah warned against, quite rightly as the Southern Kingdom then became a vassal of the great Assyrian Empire. When Isaiah talks about peace, Shalom, it is in the context of great fear and the promise of war. Isaiah is bringing a word of hope that will not be fulfilled for a very long time, and that, in one sense is still waiting for fulfilment. The “Prince of Peace” that Isaiah will talk about in Chapter 9, is nearly a thousand years away, and yet in this same circularity of time, or perhaps I should say “timelessness” it is already a reality for Judah and Jerusalem, and indeed, even in the midst of current conflict, remains a reality, because it is not a promise about the temporal world but rather a promise about the kingdom of God.
When we go up to the mountain of the Lord, figuratively the “highest mountain”, we who have walked in God’s paths, in the Word of God, will be judged. I am going to talk more about judgement in a minute but here, in Isaiah, we see the results of that judgement- PEACE. “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2:4 This is one of the most significant promises of the whole bible, isn’t it? The United Nations have chosen this as their defining image. World peace is something we all desire but also despair of, particularly we who have lived through the bloodiest century ever.
“O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Isaiah 2:5 Isaiah calls us into the light. I don’t know about you, but I am a real lark. I wake at first light in the morning. Indeed living in the UK was difficult because when the days were at their longest in early summer I was often awake at 4:30am. For me, the light says, ‘Wake Up!’ Jesus exhorts us not just to wake up, but to “keep awake”. Jesus wants us to live all the time in the light, and the reason is that if we go to sleep in the darkness we will be like the unsuspecting people caught in the flood. Jesus makes no mention here of the people’s sinfulness. He describes a group of people living a normal but unaware life. However, the flood swept them all away. The flood is the metaphor for judgement, which is the coming of the Son of Man. ‘Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding meal together and one will be left.” It isn’t clear, I don’t think, which is the fortunate one, the one who is taken or the one who is left, but the point is that, if you are not awake you won’t be expecting the judgement. We do not know when this will be, like the thief in the night, Jesus will come when we least expect it. But the judgement is to be welcomed. Isaiah says it will bring us peace. Yesterday I saw on my facebook feed a post about the murder of a paedophile in prison. This man, who had been sentenced for a particularly horrible crime, which I won’t go into, had been killed by the other inmates. The person who had posted described it as “justice”. It made me think about the book I am reading on forgiveness written by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. It makes very clear the difference between judgement, which may result in justice and the kind of revenge or retaliation that prolongs the conflict and makes peace impossible. An eye for an eye, and a life for a life removes the opportunity for redemption, the possibility for rehabilitation or and even reconciliation. The offender who was killed had already been judged, but his peers obviously felt that a gaol term was not enough and took a kind of revenge on him. Perhaps they felt that they were in no way his equal and yet they all were locked up together? Perhaps the culture of violence is so endemic that it was a natural response, or perhaps they were frightened for their own children? It is not an uncommon phenomenon, but in killing him he lost all possibility of rehabilitation or of reconciliation with his victim. It made me think that I would rather be judged by a merciful God, than by my peers. If I stay awake and live by God’s law of love I have nothing to fear from the judgement of God.
Paul encourages us to wake up because our salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. That’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? That salvation is both here and coming? Another one of our paradoxes. And that is why we must wake up and begin to walk in the light of love. “Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law,” Paul tells us. We are growing all the time by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. We who walk in the light of Christ can put on the armour of light and do good rather than evil. Paul gives us some examples of behaviours, which can be transformed by living in the light of Christ. We are to clothe ourselves in him. Isn’t that a wonderful image? ‘Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.’ Romans 13:14
We have clothed our own weakness in the robe of light and Paul, in the next chapter of Romans, tells us that we are not to pass judgement on our brothers and sisters. We are all equally under judgement and each of us will be accountable to God, so we are in no position to judge. It is by the law of love that we will be judged, so we must walk in the light and love one another. Of course, we are not perfect and we all fail to live by that law of love on occasions and that is where God’s mercy comes into it. We are promised salvation in Jesus, as are these people that Paul is talking to. This is another kind of paradox, isn’t it? That we are saved, and yet we will be judged. Some of us are delighted at the prospect of others being judged and their iniquity coming to light, but naturally not so keen on our own judgement but let me remind you that judgement is according to Isaiah, the precursor to peace.
If we long for the light we must be glad that the judgement is coming.
“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Matthew 24:44 Let me encourage you, as we approach Christmas and think about the incarnation, think also about the parousia, or second coming, and live your lives dressed in the armour of light.