MORNING TWILIGHT, EVENING SUNSET
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON November 28th 2010
Matthew 24:44 ”Therefore you must also be ready for the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”
The second coming of our Lord makes us think. On the one hand, we have the many prophesies of Jesus. Some, like in Matthew 24:37-44, tell us that no one will know when it will happen. On the other hand, there are occasions when Jesus seems to suggest that it would be in the lifetime of his disciples.
Today’s gospel reading, and Jesus’ words, be ready for you know not when it will happen, is followed in Matthew 24 and 25 by various parables and teachings from Jesus about the second coming.
In Matthew 25:13, Jesus says, “Watch therefore for you know neither the day nor the hour.” This suggests, by its phrase ‘watch’, that the disciples should be ready for the second coming as if it were to happen at any moment. Jesus is also telling us 21st century Christians that this should be the way we live every day. We are to watch and pray, not putting our store in things of this earth, but in the things of heaven.
These parables in Matthew 24 and 25 were told by Jesus just before his passion. It happened on the Mount of Olives, when he was teaching the disciples before he entered into Jerusalem for Holy Week. However, there is something contrary to this earlier in Matthew’s gospel – Matthew 16:28. Jesus says to his disciples, “Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” In other words, those he was talking to in Matthew 16 would be alive when the Son comes in his kingdom.
We know that the second coming has not happened yet because we are still here. So was Jesus not telling the truth? Was he trying to trick us? Of course not! What then could he be referring to on that occasion?
Let us think for a moment. What happened that Jesus could be referring to as the coming of the Son of Man in his kingdom while the disciples were still alive? When did the Son of man come in glory and power? What was witnessed by the disciples in the short time of Jesus’ ministry that this could refer to?
It would have to be Calvary! The death of Jesus on the cross was the coming of his kingdom. That was powerful – although not glorious. His willing sacrifice and death on the cross was the defeat of Satan and death.
That was victory! It was the coming of the kingdom in power! It was nothing less than the Son of man coming in his kingdom – despite the agony and ugliness that he was experiencing on the cross. The crucifixion is victory and triumph – and there is his kingdom.
On the cross, Jesus is both the Son of the Almighty Father, and a first century Galilean man born of blessed Mary. He is, in that moment on the cross, both the Son of God and Son of man. His kingdom is ushered in by his death and sacrifice because his reign concerns salvation. His kingdom is the kingdom of salvation. On the cross he wins salvation for you and I. In baptism, when we enter into the mystery of the cross, we also enter the kingdom.
Thus, when Jesus comes again in glory, it will be in judgment to see how the world has responded to the cross. That is how the world will be judged, because Christ has already come in power.
That is why all those who are baptized with the sign of the cross should not fear death. Of course we don’t want to die…..we have many plans and many things we want to do. The message of Advent, the message of today’s gospel, the message of the cross is that when our time comes, we must be ready.
What a blessed thing it is when the Christian man or woman is ready for death. What a joy it is when a priest can take the sacraments to someone who knows their time is near, and can administer the last rites, which are such a comfort to the Christian. It is a moving moment when a priest commends a fellow member of the Church to Christ, and seals them for their journey to God with the sacraments of eternal life.
Recently, a man about my age asked me if it was wrong to pray for his mother’s death. She is 94 and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She is both confused and angry. This is very upsetting to her son, who is a practicing Episcopalian. He hates what he sees because she is not the woman he has known all his life. Now she is both ungracious and not very grateful, and he hates to see her last days like this. So he asked me, is it wrong to pray for her death?
My reply was that if we are Christians, we should want to be with Christ, no matter how much we withdraw from that. St. Paul said that it was much better that he should be with the Lord. Sometimes, wanting someone to be with God is okay.
The Book of Common Prayer Litany prays that we be delivered from sudden death. That is what we should be concerned with – being taken unaware and unprepared. Many of us probably hope that we will be taken in our sleep.
For Christians, going to sleep in the evening is usually a time to reflect on the day, examine ourselves, and acknowledge our mistakes and sins. Now that I’m in my sixties, and have seen people younger than I taken by death, the last moments of being awake have become even more significant to me. Going to sleep is both an image and a reminder of our own death.
By contrast, Advent is like waking up in the morning twilight. The day stands before us. How will we spend it? Will we prepare well for what lies ahead?
Advent is also like sunset. A time to pause, to look back – and also to look forward to a new season.
Today’s Collect captures rather beautifully all these thoughts and emotions:
Almighty God, give us grace that we might cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son, Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; That in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to life immortal.