Isaiah 2: 1-5 ; Romans 13: 11 – end; Matthew 24: 36 – 44
You’ll never guess who I ran into last night. Michael Fox, our former curate, and his wife Ginny. I was up at the Royal Northern College of Music, where Ginny, who is a member of the St George’s Singers, was singing the wonderful Brahms Requiem.
Brahms’ requiem is a magnificent affirmation of faith and hope in Jesus Christ, and of an eternal future in the comfort of his presence, and so it reminded me of our readings this morning – the longing which St Paul had for the second coming of Jesus, and his joy and utter confidence in Christ’s eventual return.
There is a line in the requiem which quotes Jesus from the gospel of John. It runs:
‘You now have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you.’
I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.
What a wonderful promise! And of course, that is what Advent is all about – the coming of Jesus. Or the ‘adventus’ of Jesus, if you want the Latin.
So it is little wonder, then, that Advent is the season of Christian anticipation and hope.
For as we look back to that First Coming of Jesus, born so humbly in a manger in Bethlehem, so we look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus, when He will come in power and authority.
Our readings this morning look forward to that Second Coming of Jesus, at the end of time. Together, the readings spell out several things the Bible urges us to remember.
Firstly, we are reminded that as Christians, we are citizens of two countries. We belong both to this present age on earth, with its pain and evil, and also to the age that is to come, when Christ shall reign in power. We live our lives at the intersection of these two ages. Hence the ambiguity of Christian experience. We are not what we were, but equally, we are not yet what we shall become.
So, if you like, the two ‘ages’ of history overlap. With the birth of Jesus, the kingdom of God has come, but not in completeness. Paul likens a Christian to a child who one day will come into a great inheritance. We Christians are waiting for that – for the Second Coming of Jesus, when the present age will finally disappear, and the new age of God’s kingdom will be consummated.
So Advent is a time to remember that world history is not just a tale of on-going gloom and doom. It has a story line. In a sense, world history is His story. God’s story. He made this world. He came and lived in it. He calls us to follow him. At the end – the second Advent – He will return and wind up history. That is the great Christian hope which we remember this morning. That history is moving steadily towards that amazing day of Jesus’ return.
And this time it won’t be in an obscure manger in Bethlehem. When Jesus comes back, this Second Coming will be the most public event in all history. It will come like a bolt from the blue, and be like sheet lightning, from one side of the sky to the other.
The return of Christ will be the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
It will be a time of judgement, a time of restoration
As our reading in Isaiah put it:
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
It will be a time of new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, where God will once more live among his people.
Of course, just as in the time of Noah, most people do not believe that anything big is coming. They think that the present age will go on forever. Many people say that Paul got it wrong, because he tells his readers that they are living in the last days, and of course 2000 years has gone by, and Jesus has still not returned.
But when Paul uses the term ‘last days’, he is not referring to the length of time between when he was writing and when he expected Jesus to return. Rather, he was saying that there is now nothing more on God’s calendar when it comes to his dealings with mankind. The Messiah has come, has died for his people, he has risen again, and now reigns in heaven with a name that is above every name. There only remains now for his return – when every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is indeed Lord.
In that regard, these last two thousand years are indeed the ‘last days’. There is no other age of human history after this age. Everything between God and man has been accomplished, the stage is set. And at just the right moment, known only to God the Father, Jesus Christ will return.
Meanwhile, our Christian calling is to behave in the continuing night as if the day had dawned. We are to live lives of self-control and goodness, showing that we are citizens of a different kingdom. In that regard, we are the light of the world.
This Advent can for each one of us become a spiritual journey. We begin by remembering birth of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem. We look then to the Scriptures that reaffirm that He is present, through his spirit, in the world today. We then remember the scriptures which tell us that he will come again in glory. Finally, we look forward to our final destination, which is to be in his presence forever!
Which, of course, brings me right back to the Royal Northern College of Music last night, and that magnificent line which runs:
‘You now have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.
As it says in Revelation, even so, Come Lord Jesus.