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Sermon: Mattins 23 Dec 2012

Sunday 23rd December 2012
Isaiah 32:1-8
Revelation 22:6-end

According to the BBC, one in ten people reportedly felt anxious about the approach of 21 December.  In China there was panic-buying of candles; in Russia sales of tinned foods surged. The inhabitants of a village in the French Pyrenees were overwhelmed by reporters and spectators hoping to catch sight of UFO enthusiasts seeking refuge on Pic de Bugarach. Perhaps we each gave a moment’s thought to what we would say and do in our final hours.

But 11.11am on Friday came and went.  The world was not cast into oblivion. The end has not come.

The apocalypse has a hold on the human imagination from Nostradamus to Harold Camping.  Camping, a Californian preacher made numerous end time predictions, most recently on 22nd October 2011.  In the absence of fire and brimstone he has since reverted to citing Matthew 24, no one knows the day/time.

Mainstream popular culture feeds the fascination with the end; in films such as 2012 or Armageddon. Novelist imagine survivor narratives – in Margaret Attwood’s The Year of the Flood or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The Mayan apocalypse wasn’t to be.

But we are still waiting. 

For the coming of Christ that will be.

We wait to celebrate the joyful remembrance of our Lord’s incarnation, of his dwelling with us.  We wait to meet our Lord now, moment by moment, in worship and in human encounter.  We wait for the fulfilment of the Kingdom, the time when God will be all in all.

We know the date of our yearly celebration of Christ’s birth.  It is always 25th December.  There are beds to make, food to prepare, cleaning to be done before I welcome my family; but I know that I will be sharing in worship here at a given date and time.

We cannot so readily anticipate when we will be profoundly struck by an encounter with Christ day by day.  There are times when we are inspired or distracted in worship and personal prayer; but Christ promises to draw near to us.  We never know when a conversation or an act of generosity will make us alert to the reality of Christ in the other.

We cannot declare the date of Christ’s coming at the end of time.  It is a known unknown.  Unlike the interpreters of the Mayan calendar we know that it lies in the mystery of God.   However, to wait with hope and expectation challenges our behaviour.

Today’s readings describe the thoughts and actions of the villainous and foolish. They plot iniquity; they fail to meet the needs of the hungry, thirsty or poor.  They indulge in patterns of life which diminish the possibilities for human flourishing by selfishness or control.  They seek to make their own future; heading towards the destruction of humanity.  They live  alien; cut off from the source of life and love.

It is here that contemporary writers such as Attwood or McCarthy find a common purpose with the biblical narrative.  They focus our minds on the consequences of our actions – individually and corporately – for our planet and for humanity.  They obliquely refer to nuclear disaster or climate change and the struggle to survive.   If we dominate others and exploit our resources; the end is ruthless and bleak.  Our choices are skewed; we more readily resort to iniquity, folly and actions that dispossess others. 

There is no hope.

For there to be an alternative, we have to set our hearts and minds on that which is noble, holy and right.  As Rowan Williams said in yesterday’s Thought for the Day, ‘if all you have is a gun, everything looks like a target.  If all you have is the child’s openness and willingness to be loved, everything looks like a promise.’ 

Fear, greed, anxiety and hostility are not the natural climate for human flourishing.  But that can be changed, in the midst of our waiting.  The discipline of waiting can evoke a change of perspective. We are to foster a liberality that is generous not self-righteous.  Being confronted with the consequences of pursuing our anger, or resentment of selfishness is uncomfortable.  But attentiveness to God equips us for the task of self-reflection. That’s why it should come as no surprise that Revelation calls us back to worship. Here we are re-directed to the source of life and love.

There is hope.

I am coming says the Lord, and soon.  Mend your ways.  The words of Revelation are apocalyptic and prophetic. They are trustworthy and true, because they paint a vivid image of the consequences of our actions.  Because we are offered life that conveys hope and restoration: the tree of life, the water of life.  We are offered a vision of a heavenly city; the gift of God’s Kingdom, in all its fullness.

Meanwhile, we are to mend our ways, to set out hearts on hope and to act accordingly.  Vaclav (Vatslav) Havel – the essayist, poet, dissident and first president of Czech Republic – said this: ‘hope is a condition of the soul, not a response to circumstances’.  Christ came to affect transformation. He came to reign in righteousness; he came that princes might rule with justice. To offer shelter and quench our thirst; he came that we might have good judgement and plan noble things.  May we be willing to love and be loved; may hope be the condition of our soul.

We wait for Christ: I am the Alpha and the Omega; first and last; beginning and end. He was before us, is with us and will be at our end.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.