Advent Sunday

Fr Paul’s sermon

Well, here we are again, beginning the Church’s year with Advent Sunday! My favourite season, I think, full of hope and anticipation of Christmas- with, of course, lots of preparation-work t do for that great Festival.

In a way, though, Advent marks both a beginning and an end. The last few weeks, from All Saints through to Christ the King, have looked to the future, to the wonderful day when our Lord Jesus Christ will return in glory, and inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth. A new earth! We easily forget that. Although (as we say) we hope to go to heaven when we die, meaning by heaven the place where God is – St Paul prefers to speak of going to be with the Lord – the point is that when Jesus returns, we shall return with him. This creation will be renewed, transformed, not abolished.

Advent is concerned as much with praying for our Lord’s coming again, as with preparing to celebrate his birth “long time ago, in Bethlehem.” The Church has considered this as a time to reflect on what are called “The Last Things” – death, judgement, hell and heaven – although in the light of what I have said they might also be regarded as First Things, the beginnings of the Age to Come.

I spoke of death, and the Christian attitude to it, on the Sunday following All Souls’ Day. Ever since our Lord himself passed through death, there has been no reason for us, his disciples and friends, to fear it. We are merely following him, going to be more nearly with him (though he is always with us).

Judgement is perhaps something we ought to think of with more trepidation, but only as, when we were young, we faced examinations at school. Provided we had worked hard during term, there was no real reason to be afraid, but we still had nerves. The same is true when we have to make a public appearance before a lot of strangers. “We believe that he will come again  in glory, to judge the living and the dead.” Judgement will mean that he exposes the truth, which is so often concealed now. Lies and propaganda will be shown up for what they are, “the mighty will be put down from their seats,” and the humble and meek will be exalted. We trust, not in ourselves and in our own merits, but in his manifold and great mercies. We are his friends, not simply to be judged, but to be associated with him in passing judgement.

Hell – well, that’s an unfashionable topic! But we need to have a proper understanding of it. Have you noticed that, in the great parable of judgement in St Matthew’s Gospel, when the King comes to pass sentence on those who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked etc. (or have failed to do so), this serving (or failing to serve) the King himself, he says to the first group, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” The kingdom is prepared for US. But he says to the wicked, “Depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Hell was not prepared for human beings, but evil spirits. The kingdom is for those who love God with all their heart and soul; hell is for those who refuse to love, who fill their hearts with hate and selfishness. No-one is “sent” there against there will. They go there because they cannot bear to live in love and charity with others. Hell is inside them.

And heaven? Well, I supposed I’ve already answered that. It is the state in which we accept and reciprocate the love God has for us, in which we rejoice in the company of those who love God and love us, and whom we love. What more do we need to know about it?

To show his love for us, God took human form and was born on earth. Not in a royal palace, surrounded by luxury, but in a stable, entrusting himself to the care of his pure and humble mother, and her loving and loyal husband Joseph. In just four weeks time we shall celebrate that stupendous event, which the high and mighty do not and cannot appreciate. God is love, not simply power (though he is Almighty). Eight months ago we celebrated the moment when he first took human nature in the shelter of the Virgin’s womb. Week after week he grew towards the moment of birth. Soon he will emerge into the light, who is himself the Light of the world. He will experience infancy, childhood and adolescence. He will know hunger and thirst, cold and pain. In manhood he will set out on a journey that will bring him to the Cross, to death and to resurrection. Yes, this season marks a beginning, and looks to an ending. But that end will also be a new beginning.

O, come quickly! O, come quickly! O, come quickly! Come, Lord, come!