Sermon at St James, Advent Sunday, 27 November 2022

Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 36-44

To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:

Some people think that men get a better deal in life than women. It’s arguable, of course. Perhaps we men are the lucky ones, but there is one aspect of women’s lives which is unique to some of them and which brings so much joy and lasting fulfilment; and that is the chance to bring another human being into the world. Of course, there is anxiety and pain but that is all forgotten when a tiny, vulnerable baby is born with miniature hands and miniature feet and utterly dependent on you.

Many poems have been written by mothers trying to express their experience in words and here is this one:

The dreaming
The longing
The anticipation
The belonging
The plans
The preparations
The excitement
The wonder of creation
The emotions
The hearts lift
The new beginning
The Mother’s gift.

The dreaming and longing and anticipation and then the magical fulfilment. Expecting and expectation which is where we and the worldwide church is today on this Advent Sunday. We now have a nearly four-week gestation period in front of us before we welcome the baby who was God entering our fragile world as one of us. The commercial world has been building us up for Christmas since September, in pursuit of the profits which capitalism depends on. Our preparation will be very different, because it will be an internal, personal preparation, as we remind ourselves once again of this extraordinary event when God emptied himself, as St Paul said, and was born in human likeness.

So, in these coming weeks of expecting, it is worth dwelling on the humility of the Christ child and his vulnerability which led to him eventually becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

But Advent is also about expecting something else, which is much more difficult to understand. It’s about the second coming of Christ; and today’s epistle and gospel readings concentrate on this. St Paul in Romans writes that the night is far gone, the day is near, and we must lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. And then Our Lord in Matthew’s gospel speaks of the coming of the Son of Man, which will happen out of the blue. Two men will be working in the field, one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together, one will be taken, and one will be left. Then he adds, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

In the early church there was a widespread and heightened expectation that Christ would come again a second time; but of course, it didn’t happen. Later Christian groups have tried to project a time and date for this event but always without success. Yet it remains part of our creed and is a core belief. It is a difficult concept, and we have to find some way to make sense of it.

The word ‘Advent’ means ‘coming’ and the season looks forward to the coming of Christ in both senses. Advent was first observed in the fifth century, when certain monks decided to make an extra weekly fast in preparation for Christmas. Advent calendars are a very recent phenomenon invented by German Lutherans at the beginning of the 20th century, with a little window for each day containing a prayer or Bible reading—no chocolates and sweets then. They came later in the 1950s.

Even Advent calendars remind us to look for ways to prepare and to be ready.

As a mother makes plans as she expects her baby and as we prepare to welcome the child at Bethlehem, so we should be living lives ready for anything and especially ready for God to enter our lives, which he might do unexpectedly, surprisingly, and out of the blue. Advent is calling us to wake up and become alert, to refresh our faith and look to our Christian hope that all will be well. We must be constantly expecting.