Sunday 27 November 2022 Advent 1
Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Context: a mostly well-educated cathedral congregation, usually including a significant number of one-off visitors
Aim: to set out, at the beginning of Advent, what it means to have hope in Jesus
On Advent Sunday we look in two directions at once. We are looking back in time to Jesus’ first coming, foretold by the prophets. We are also looking forward in time to his second coming to be our judge.
LOOKING BACKWARDS AND LOOKING FORWARDS
This double vision is the theme of all three of our readings today. In the first, the prophet Isaiah anticipates the coming of the Messiah, who will bring peace on earth and goodwill among the nations. In the second, the apostle Paul urges us to wake up from sleep, to lay aside the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light. And in the gospel, Jesus himself speaks about the end of time which will come, he warns us, at an unexpected hour.
In Advent, then, we look backwards, and we look forwards. Our looking forward is informed by where we have come from, and our understanding of where we have come from is enriched by our hope for the future. In Advent we confess our present earthly limitations, but we also proclaim our future heavenly hope.
LIVING IN HOPE
We live in hope because we know what the future holds. We know who is coming. Jesus will come in judgement, but he comes to judge justly. Jesus will come to conquer, but he comes as the Lamb who was slain and who continues to bear the wounds of his love for us. Jesus, who is coming, is the one who has already come. He is the one who was, and who is, and who is to come, the eternal God who is perfect love.
It is because of Jesus that we live in hope. We live in the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet.’ It is true that God has already come to us in Jesus. It is true that we have already been redeemed. It is also true that our salvation has not yet been completed. At Christmas we will proclaim that ‘the Word became flesh,’ but while ‘we have seen his glory’ we have not yet fully comprehended it. Although one day we will see God face to face, for now, we see only a reflection in a mirror. So, Advent forces us to wait. We live by hope, not by sight.
HOPE FOR THE WORLD
To live in hope also means acknowledging that the kingdom of this world has not yet become the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ. Our hope is for a kingdom that is coming, not one that is yet fully here. We can recognise the signs in our midst of the coming kingdom, provisional and hopeful signs that God’s name is already being hallowed. But we do not confuse the ‘already’ with the ‘not yet.’ After all, to imagine that the kingdom is already here would be delusional. There is much around us about which to be anxious and fearful. The world is not yet as God wants it to be.
But because Jesus came and will come again, we do not give way to fear. Rather, we live in hope. Our faith does not permit us to ignore the pains of the present, nor is it overwhelmed by them. This world may be in thrall to sin and death, but it is still God’s world, loved by God. Our task as children of God is to be prophets of hope and agents of love.
HOPE FOR OURSELVES
If the world is not yet as God wants it to be, so we are not yet as God wants us to be. Just as the world is not yet the kingdom of God, so most of us are not yet saints. But day by day we are shaped by the Word of God and by the sacraments of the Church. The Holy Spirit is at work in us making us more like Jesus. We live in hope, knowing that our true identity is to be found not in our past or in our present, but in our future.
So, our Advent hope can never be extinguished, however feebly the flame burns within us. Let us be full of hope. Let us live in hope. Let us be transformed by hope and transform the world by hope, as we await the coming of Jesus, the one who has already come to give us hope.
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