Isaiah 2:1-5 & Matthew 24:36-44

Ready or not, here I come

Does anybody know what this is? It is a tuit. Does anybody know what kind of tuit this is? It is a round tuit. This is the perfect Christmas gift for your husband, wife, son or daughter, anybody really who is always saying that they’ll do things when they get a round tuit. When we moved in to the vicarage we were pretty good at getting everything unpacked and sorted, but there are a few things that didn’t get done in the first flurry of activity, and are now waiting. The shelves in the kitchen for the cookery books. The bathroom cabinet still on the floor of the bathroom rather than on the wall. And I keep saying that they will get done, when I get around to it. Does anybody know what this is? This is a rare and magical creature, that never sleeps and is always on the look out, always ready to go. This is, of course, a lert. You may very well have heard the pun, be a lert, the world needs all the lerts it can get. Well, this is the very creature itself. A lert.

What is the new vicar drivelling on about, I can hear you asking yourselves. What have we ended up with here? Well, bear with me a minute (or two) and I hope that it will all become clear. We are here, at the beginning of the new church year, at the beginning of Advent, looking forward to and preparing not just for Christmas, when we remember Jesus’ first arrival on earth, but also looking forward to and preparing for Jesus’ second arrival on earth.

In the readings we have had this morning, we have had two perspectives on this second coming. Firstly we heard from Isaiah, that great prophet of the Old Testament, looking forward to what God’s righteous and just rule will look like. The time when God’s word will go out from the holy city, and will be kept. The time when nations will acknowledge God’s right to be there judge, to resolve their disputes. They won’t go to war over land, or oil, possessions, or wealth, they will come to God for resolution. They won’t need security forces any more because God will be their security. There won’t be any weapons. No rifles, no IEDs, no atomic bombs, no land mines, no weapons, and no training for war. In what sometimes feels like an unsafe and unjust world, where we see images of wartorn Aleppo and other places on our screens day after day, doesn’t that sound like something we want to see sooner rather than later.

Secondly we hear from Matthew’s account of the good news of Jesus life. It is towards the end of Jesus’ life on earth, before long he is going to be betrayed and handed over to be crucified, before defeating death and rising to life. Jesus is in Jerusalem, at the temple talking with his friends and followers, his disciples, about what is going to happen in the future, in the end.

Firstly he says that nobody knows when it is going to happen, interestingly not even Jesus knew, but only the Father.

He uses the time of Noah and the flood as an example of what will happen. Right up until it happened people were just going about their normal business, their normal lives, (except for Noah who was busy building an ark and rounding up animals – something that earned him no small amount of derision) Until the flood came and took them away. Jesus says this is how it will be at the return of the Son of Man. If we read carefully, though, we find something that might surprise us. At the flood who was taken and who was left? The evil were taken and the righteous were left. Jesus says this is what it will be like when he returns, the evil will be swept away, taken, and the righteous will remain, will be left behind, to enjoy the earth under Jesus’ rule.

Then Jesus tells his disciples what they should do in the light of this. They should keep watch. They don’t know when it’s going to happen, so they should live as if every day could be the day that Jesus is to return. He uses a story about a man who was burgled. If he’d known when the thief was coming, he would have kept watch, but he didn’t know, so he didn’t keep watch and so lost out.

We do know that Jesus is going to return. We don’t know when, but we do know that it is going to happen, so we need to keep watch.

So back to my dreadful puns. Firstly the round tuit.

Sometimes I read passages like the Isaiah passage and think, yes, that’s fantastic, that is what I want to happen. I want peace, I want the end to war, and I’m not even caught up in it. How much more must the people of Syria, or Afghanistan, or other war zones, long for the end of war, for the destruction of weapons, for people to stop learning how to kill and maim each other. I don’t understand why Jesus hasn’t returned already to sort it out. Any reason I try and think of, to rationalise it with, seems as ridiculous as suggesting that God hasn’t got around to it. And yet, in the face of this, we called to trust God, to have faith that God’s wisdom is deeper and more insightful than ours. As Peter writes in his letter, “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

So, we trust and we wait. But as we do, what else? We must be a lert. I wonder if anybody here has a bucket list? Some people have lists of things that they want to do before they reach a certain stage of life, or that they want to do when they retire. I wonder what’s on your bucket list. I wonder what would be on your spiritual bucket list. If Jesus were to return this afternoon I wonder what you would regret not having done. I wonder what conversation you would regret not having had. I wonder what unresolved conflict you would carry with you.

There is a slightly cynical phrase that I’ve heard around churches sometimes, “Jesus is coming, look busy”. This is not what it’s about. It’s not about endless activity trying to earn spiritual brownie points with Jesus. It’s about living our lives, each day in the light of eternity, and in light of the possibility that Jesus might return at any time. So let us continue to be alert, and be ready to greet Jesus with open hearts, not regretting not having got around to it. Whatever it might have been for us.

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