ON TOWARDS READINESS FOR GOD
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
Isaiah 64: 1 - 9 1 Corinthians 1: 3 - 9 S. Mark 13: 24 - 37
64: 4 "No eye has seen a God beside thee, who works for those
who wait for him."
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.
FOR GOD'S INTERVENTION
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.
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.”
ON THE LORD
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
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.
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
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?