SERMON: ADVENT SUNDAY YEAR A 2022
Readings: Isaiah 2: 1-5; Ps. 122; Rom. 13: 11-end; Mt. 24: 36-44
‘“Keep awake therefore… you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’”
May it be given me to speak in the name of God, +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
I don’t know about you, but I rather like my bed! I’ve come to the conclusion as I approach middle age – perhaps – that I make a better night owl than a morning minion. And whilst the brethren would no doubt agree that I may produce a satisfactory sound when canting for mattins, they would be getting much nearer to the truth to tell you that 6.45 is an hour to which I struggle to attain each day and to which I often limp with bleary eyes and lips unstopped in form of yawn as much as melody.
The prospect of completing St Ignatius’s midnight meditations therefore, with which I have made friends during the 30-day exercises, did not come naturally when I was attempting with mixed success to get to sleep on the retreat nights from 10 pm or earlier. At first, a few early nights were a novelty and much needed, especially because of recent infirmary commitments here. However, the novelty waned. St Ignatius doesn’t like the exercitant to read; would he, I wondered, object to occasional reruns of 80s Corrie or even Brideshead Revisited outside the repose days? My conclusion on the one hand was “no”, for we have the gift of free will: God knows whereof I’m made – he remembers I enjoy a bit of serial drama – punctuated on the other hand with a low whisper of St Matthew’s cautionary note in today’s Gospel: “You must be ready”. Set your phone to vibrate.
“You must be ready”; it’s an exciting, yet daunting prospect in a new ecclesial year. A year so fecund with promise, yet so febrile for us and the many whom we will love and serve.
They were eating and drinking, marrying, grinding meal and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them away, says Matthew They were enjoying St Beuno’s Food in their exquisite en-suite room and that rather nice Lidl sherry at the 5 o’ clock club beyond the Tutu room in The College of the Resurrection – but they missed the call – they snoozed the phone alarm. They did that in Noah’s time and they lost the plot – the flood came and swept away what they had. They do it now in our times; they know not what they do. And the apocalyptic figures of Matthew’s Jesus are born among us at the dawning of the year with crisp clarity. The two at labour in the ripening harvest-field are split apart, and the bride grows apart from the head, divorced from whom, she faces at best irrelevance – at worst death.
“You must be ready”, says the Lord whose advent is always coming whose call never gives up, and for whom we must prepare to watch and wait and greet again as the weeks elapse till he comes home incarnate within each of us and pitches His tent again for the first time.
Are we still taking our rest? Now is the time, Paul says, to rise from sleep and to set our languishing eyes on the light of a world reclaimed and made new; to apprehend the vision of the prophet Habakkuk’s watcher who opens her ears to listen for the tidings of revival that sets her heart’s rhythm to the pulse of its first holiness; the watcher who transmits the life of the missio Dei purely from being herself, that runners may read and see, turn around and live.
Are we ready? Do we expect the unexpected hour? Or are we a bit sleepy – reluctant to welcome its revelation – love, the Lord Jesus, into the home of the souls he has already chosen for himself? The souls which, in the words of the psalmist this morning are “glad” in the vocation of God to ascend his holy hill, to follow where encounter with his risen life may lead them and to be built into a fortified and compacted city, increasingly at peace with itself amidst the swords and spears that would weaponise and destroy the holy ground he has made so strong and beautiful for himself.
You and me must make room, says Godself, and get ready for the long-expected unexpected nearness of what we can never grasp, yet will always be closer to us than we can ever be to ourselves or to another. We’ve known for some while what time it is, and the alarm, sleepers, is going off: Wachet auf, Ruft uns die Stimme … Wach auf du Stadt Jerusalem. Be built into the persons you are meant to be, that a runner made read your life and receive to themselves that harmonious vision of a world-order “at unity with itself”; an apocalypse not overtaken by the darkness of our fearfulness or the sadness of our days, but foreshown by our becoming more and more our purest selves. A κλῆρος of Word and Sacrament who are God’s building, the Bride of the Head, the Church. Growing bit by bit into greater light and the revelation of love unknown.
If we snooze, we surely lose! In my midnight praying with St Ignatius, I found that the most difficult thing about it was starting – shifting myself from the slumber of bed to chapel! But I didn’t ignore my struggle; instead it became part of the offering, part of the effort, part of my ham-fisted attempt to move me out of the way of me and to furnish the space between for that unexpected expectation of what, this Advent Sunday, we once more so completely expect – the Son of Man who shall come with God’s merciful pardon of healing and revival that one and all might be forgiven.
This year, it is a coming for which many will long, yet miss through stress of adversity and sorrow; through present and very great fearfulness of all kinds. But rather than tarry in delayed reaction to the works of darkness, we, people of Jacob are called to be fecund furnishers of this bright vision who is our armour light eternal, who is coming among his febrile world and delighting in all ways to make it new.
Are we furnished lamps in a serious seeking after the lamb so longed for?
May it be so this Advent for all of us, that when he does get here, in the irritant as well as in the sacrament, Godself may not find us dying in our sins, but alive in the immortal love of his Son, the true light, who brings the Father home to every heart and so sets his whole Church’s soul ablaze, activating our mortal lives in the mighty power of divine service and recreating us to be joyful instruments of his praise: very images of the God unseen, but not unknown.
Love, the guest is on the way; love the guest be born in our hearts and keep us burning; there is room in our hearts for thee. Marantha! AMEN