READINGS - Isaiah 2:1-5 Psalm 122 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin verb advenire, which means "to come toward, to draw near, to approach."
If we are young (or young at heart), the first Sunday of Advent is exciting because it is a reminder that Christmas day is drawing near, Christmas is approaching, Christmas is coming towards us, and if we have our own advent calendar, the first little window has been opened and the first little chocolate has been eaten.
From a slightly more religious perspective, during Advent, we remember and celebrate God's drawing near to us in the person of Jesus Christ, as we celebrate his birth on Christmas Day.
Traditionally on the First Sunday of Advent, it has been an opportunity to reflect on the theme of the second coming of Christ and that wonderful hope of the final victory of God’s love when God will be All and in all and when all things will be made new.
The Lectionary Readings for this Sunday all pick up this theme. In Matthew’s Gospel the key verse for today is verse 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
In the reading from Romans 13, Paul picks up the same theme “You know the time has come: You must wake up now; our salvation is nearer than it was when we first came to believe. The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon. Let us give up the deeds of darkness and live as people of the daytime, as people of the light.”
The Apostle Paul clearly believed that the second coming of Christ would happen any day in his own lifetime… In a literal sense, we need to admit that Paul was wrong. But in a mystical sense, his words still ring true. Whenever we choose to live as people of the day, as people of the light, Christ comes again into the world.
It reminds me of a saying of a Jewish saying: “Do a good deed, for every time you do a good deed, the Messiah, the Christ, comes one step closer to the world.”
It is a little saying that reminds us that however we may interpret the second coming of Christ what it is ultimately about is the victory of God’s Goodness and Love and every good deed that is done in the world is another small victory for Love.
In our passage from Isaiah today we get one of the earliest Jewish visions of the Victory of God’s love in the world. The passage was written in the period 750 – 700 BC. It was a time of great uncertainty for the people of Judah. The Great Assyrian Empire had already destroyed and devastated the Northern Kingdom of Israel, perhaps a little bit like Putin’s Russia has devastated Eastern Ukraine. And the Assyrian Empire remained a constant threat to the little Kingdom of Judah in the South that was left. In the midst of these dangerous and uncertain times, the Prophet Isaiah has a vision of a world of the future in which God’s love and goodness is victorious. He imagines a scene where the small vulnerable and threatened city of Jerusalem has become the great centre for the outpouring of God’s love and goodness in the world.
In the days to come he says: The mountain of the Temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills. All the nations will stream to it. Peoples without number will come to it and will say, “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… that he may teach us his ways.
...Swords will be hammered into ploughshares, and spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation. There will be no more training for war.
And with this vision of the future, of a world that has been healed and made whole, the prophet Isaiah encourages the people into a new way of living in the present as he concludes with these words:
“Oh House of Jacob, come let us walk in the light”.
The vision of the final victory of God in the future is meant to inspire us to walk in the light of God’s goodness in the present to do our little bit to bring light and healing in the world.
Some Christians don’t feel we should be caring about the environmental crisis because with the second coming of Christ everything will be sorted, and so they say is doesn’t really matter how we treat God’s gift of the earth in the present. I think there is a great danger in such attitudes. I would be far happier with the approach of the first century Jewish sage Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai who once said: “If you should happen to be holding a sapling in your hand when they tell you that the Messiah has arrived, first plant the sapling and then go out and greet the Messiah.”
In other words, from a Christian perspective, be careful about getting too quickly drawn into claims that the second coming is just around the corner. Go and plant a tree first and then go and greet the Messiah. Let us be careful of being so heavenly minded that we end up being of no earthly good. Let us nurture with love and care the life and the world that is here in front of us for this too is the work of God, and with every loving and caring action towards each other, and towards God’s creation, with every sapling that is planted, the Messiah, the Christ, comes one step closer to the world.” Amen.