Sermon First Sunday of Advent
I suspect that there are few other passages in the mouth of Our Lord that are harder to understand, to feel our way into, to know how to respond to, than these words of Jesus about His advent. He is speaking about the end of the world and about the coming of the Kingdom of God as the climactic last act of history and he is speaking in words and images as foreign to our whole way of thinking as the subject itself. It is a way which can become dangerous when such words are hauled into to defend the power of Zionist Israel. If one abandons it all, then one is dropping something of basic Christian faith; if you just throw out first century expressions of hope because of they are a bit odd, you risk ending up with mere generalities. The Gospel writers knew about suffering and horror and they can identify with what many endure today and invite us into solidarity.
However, there is nothing here which allows us to become pundits of the last things; if your chums think that the second coming is happening next week, then if you are being faithful, if, there will be nothing to change save perhaps to intensify and if the Lord isn’t coming then likewise. Luke, by the way, is wary of those who do predicting. Indeed he seems to see that all live in a situation of great uncertainty; earlier Jesus has said to the church the kingdom is among you and here as He faces the passion, it is coming with a range of things in precedence. It is not the kind of thing which is so rare in this world. Things are not suddenly going to get worse as a precursor to the end. Things are horrible right now.
Is that not the rub? Because of what already has been done for us, the power of these things to break the faithful from our Lord has already been hurled down ‘spooling in the vacuum like albumen’. These things are with us; they ever surprise and shock but our response is to wait, not to act as if they set our agenda. That agenda is set by the Christ whose words have a far better shelf life; the Christ of whose second coming in glory we know very little, save what is most important that it will be of the same stuff, same quality, same carat as His first and that He does not come alone. The One who comes leads the beauteous files as the poet has it and is the same as the one born in the manger.
Because something evil has been done, it will never be right out of insecurity to do or to risk the doing of evil. To stamp one’s foot and with Etonian twang to say something must be done is not Christian. To sound resolved does not turn stupidity into courage and to blow legality and innocents apart, not at all. That is an abiding mark of the inadequate rule, the kingdom of this world – how often in recent days has one heard something must be done; usually said by people who can act tough but whose morality does not rise above that of the playground scrap.
If the world looks like it is going to come apart, it is quite a common reaction to try to take cover or, indeed, to take refuge in worry. As we hear from Luke, this is precisely when courage is to be shown; to hope. Pray never confuse optimism and hope; if anything it is in the words of the late Vaclav Havel, "the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out", the certainty that Christ will make sense and does so regardless. Christ is what in the last day gives sense to our sense making.
We look to one who comes to judge and to save, the one Who comes as light, we who like to live in works of darkness; a light which saves because it puts an end to the dark violence of our best and judges because that darkness, that violence has suited us for long and we do not see the hope that already set before us. Christ comes not as a stranger but as one known from before - as Eckhardt said as a friend: it is we who are estranged.
The coming of our God is as sure as anything that can be; so let our hope be also. One of the most signal graces which belongs to that of priesthood is to confect the sacrament of the Eucharist; many of you already look forward to being in that position of Christ, yet that will bear poor fruit unless you know that One you are privileged to hold in your hands is the One who comes; you will do so in the knowledge that here present and eternity meet, not so clear in our western ways but it is clear in the prayers of the East. I quote from the liturgy of John Chrysostom:
this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the
cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven,
the sitting at the right hand of God the Father, the second and glorious coming.
Thine own of Thine own we Offer unto
This is the remembering we do presently