PRESSING ON TOWARDS READINESS FOR GOD

Sermon delivered on Advent Sunday the 3rd December 2017 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England in the Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Isaiah 64: 1 - 9     1 Corinthians 1: 3 - 9     S. Mark 13: 24 - 37

Isaiah 64: 4 "No eye has seen a God beside thee, who works for those who wait for him."

PREPARATION AND EVENT
I suppose that all of us spend a considerable amount of time getting ready for things. If you are a teacher you prepare for the lesson to be presented, if you are a student you prepare for the exam, if you are grandparents you may prepare your home for the arrival of grandchildren, the Church Mice for the crafts sale, the surgeon for the operation, and so on. Likewise, the priest and the people need to get prepared for the Holy Eucharist. What they are preparing for involves a kind of test of their preparation, though the character of that event goes far beyond being merely a test. There is a sense that our preparations, fumbling or confident, must be left behind, and we must then be concerned only with putting forth what is divinely ordered, or true, or strong, or restored, or elegant. The Advent message too reminds us that in the counsels of God there is in a similar way preparation and event. The events we have just been thinking about all involve a series of critical judgments made by some and submitted to by others, for instance by the teachers and the students of a class. It is not surprising that the Advent event for which we are repeatedly urged by Scripture to prepare for, also involves judgement and submission. Like the events we have just had in mind, the Advent event, which is called sometimes the Final Judgement, has its own integrity and rationale. In a nutshell, it is there not ultimately for the purpose of providing us with a test, but for the eternal vindication of what is right and wonderful.

PREPARATION FOR GOD'S INTERVENTION
In our Old Testament Lesson today from the book of Isaiah the prophet prays that God would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake and the nations tremble. You will probably be thinking you’d really prefer no such thing to happen. The accounts and even, for some of us, our memories of earthquake and hurricane are too strong. Therefore we might rather pray for the benefits of the Lord's presence that Isaiah suggests without the quaking and the trembling. Indeed one might not feel any natural sympathy with the prophet’s prayer here, implying as it does some serious disruption. But still from many parts of scripture we are counselled to be ready for disruptions, whether we like it or not. In Israel's consciousness God’s intervention spells both catastrophe and formative action. Israel considered herself to be given a special identity in the divinely ordered events of the Exodus from Egypt. The prophetic consciousness projects those formative elements of divine intervention into the future, and considers divine intervention as something we must be prepared for, just as the children of Israel were given the means of preparing for their Egyptian exodus. The prophet looks forward not so much to an end as to a new beginning. As for ourselves we do not know very much about what is on the other side of the cusp of God’s intervention because we cannot see over the top, as it were, yet still we are counselled to be ready. So while we are not to be discouraged by how unready we may feel for such an event, we nevertheless do what we can to set our life’s affairs in order. Whatever reconciliation is to be effected, we should do it now. Whatever sin is to be repented of, do it now. Whatever restoration is to be made to anyone, get on with it now. Get prepared in whatever way you can for the formative intervention that God has promised.

"ARE YOU READY?"
The later part of our Old Testament lesson today reveals just how unready we really are. All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags, the prophet laments. I suppose that all of us know the feeling of being really unready for some serious event that we are about to confront, even after preparing for it as best we could. And to the question that might be asked, "Do you feel ready to be confronted by your Lord?", we might all have to answer: "I have prepared for it but I still feel unready." This is the greatest test of all that we are being asked whether we feel ready for. But in this great Old Testament passage, which is one of the finest biblical prayers, there are some wonderful sparkles of grace. One of these was chosen for our text. "No eye has seen a God beside thee, who works for those who wait for him." Another is “Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay and thou art the potter; we are all the work of thy hand.”

WAITING ON THE LORD
Other Scriptures of those selected today refer to waiting and to watching. 1 Corinthians 1: 7 in our second Lesson refers to "waiting" for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ". The idea of waiting is an important one for us. "Waiting" for God or for the revealing of the Lord Jesus must mean an active dependence on God and on our Christian hope in all that we think or do. This is confirmed by Jesus' teaching at the end of today's Gospel. Jesus likened Himself to a man going on a journey, leaving his servants in charge, each with his work, and with a doorkeeper to be on the watch. It will not do for the man, coming back suddenly, to find them asleep. For then they will not have things ready for his arrival. People in this part of the world, particularly in Jamaica, often talk about "waiting on" someone, rather than the standard expression "waiting for" someone. I believe that expression "waiting on" someone encapsulates the Biblical meaning of waiting here. It gives the sense of paying attention to the person, being ever ready to do his bidding, at whatever personal cost. "Waiting on" someone also includes the sense of serving the person, as with a waiter in a restaurant. So the Biblical passages could be re-translated as "God works for those who wait on Him" in Isaiah - and "waiting on the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ" in 1 Corinthians, and I believe the sense of them will be better expressed. Our daily preparation must be based upon that awareness, alertness, attention to the will of the Master, which is expressed biblically as waiting and watching.

THE REQUIRED ATTITUDE
And that is a life lived in the perspective of our Lord’s imminent arrival. Not necessarily an arrival that is immediate, for the timescale is not given to us to know, but one that is reckoned as imminent. In our life we are presented with a series of opportunities of loving and serving God and our neighbours that we either accept or do not accept. All the time we must accept that the way we live this moment of our life makes us more of a disciple of Jesus or more of a disciple of Satan. If I asked you whether you felt ready for Jesus’ Advent arrival, and you said that you felt rather unready, there is indeed something to be done about it. You do as urgently and confidently as you can, all that you can do to be as ready as you know how to be, and then leaving the preparation behind, trust in God’s loving faithfulness and the atoning work of the cross to take care of what is lacking and to help us show forth God’s glory. That is the attitude in which we are supposed to live our lives before the judgement-seat of Christ and if we really do live in that sort of attitude, it will carry over to every practical aspect of our lives that demands from us the best for Him that we can be or do. As the prophet Isaiah said, God acts for those who wait upon Him.

QUESTIONS

1. What events in your own life do you consciously prepare for? Has the event always related to the preparation in a way you expected?

2. What difference does it make to your life to be "waiting" and "watchful" for the Lord's arrival?