Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, December 1, 2013 - 9:30am

 Matt 24

 

Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

 

The Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. These are traditionally the themes to be tackled during the Sundays of Advent, as the church begins again the Liturgical year and we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, and look forward to his coming again in Glory to judge the living and the dead.

 

The Last Judgement, I suspect, is for most of us, a ticklish subject. It is not the aspect of our faith that we focus upon most comfortably. We prefer, as a rule, to focus on the moral teachings of Christianity: Love, Forgiveness, Patience, and so on, rather than a judgement which seems always to be framed in rather hair-raising terms. There are probably various reasons for this…

 

First of all, I suppose, we really want God to be Nice. We find it hard to imagine Jesus coming like a thief in the night, or like the flood in the days of Noah. God, we know, is Love, and the severe role of judge does not seem to fit our idea of what Love should look like. If God is Our Father, we like to imagine Him as a doting, and indulgent Father, winking at our cheeky antics. But God is made of sterner stuff. Though Jesus was quick to forgive the repentant sinner, he was not slow to condemn the behaviour of those who acted wickedly.

God is not Nice. Niceness implies a certain tactful reticence about people’s shortcomings. Niceness wants to be liked. Love speaks the truths that people need to hear. It was Jesus’ unflattering truthfulness that led him into trouble.

What is more, Judgement is (not to put too fine a point on it) scary. We know that however good our lives may have been, they have not been without blemish. Nobody likes the prospect of being weighed in the balance.

 

Likewise, we may feel queasy about Judgement because we have quite properly been taught since childhood that to be judgemental is not good. It was at the heart of Jesus’ teaching: ‘Judge not,’ he said ‘or you will be judged’. Surely, we might say, Forgiveness is the opposite of Judgement? How do we square the circle?

 

Well, perhaps we should think of Judgement, first and foremost, as a question of discernment rather than simply condemnation - a question of getting to the Truth. This is the kind of language that Jesus uses: of sorting, dividing, winnowing and sifting. When John wrote about the end times, the book was called Apocalypsis- ‘Revelation’, or ‘Unveiling’. When the Son of Man comes, he will decide between what is good and what is bad. God alone is in a position to do this, because God alone knows the truth of things. The Last judgement is about making plain what is hidden.

 

In today’s gospel, Jesus gives several examples of how blind we are to the true nature of the world in which we live. The two women grinding corn may look the same but they are not. The two men in the field may look the same, but their fates are very different. But we do not know, this is the point. God alone knows. Whilst we perceive the surface of things, God sees right into the heart.

St Paul likens the world in which we live to the night-time, and Christ’s coming to the rising of the Sun. The question is: Will we greet the light and warmth as a welcome end to our stumbling about ignorantly in the dark, or will we shrink away, ashamed of what it reveals?

 

Remember the story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, having tasted the forbidden fruit, when they hear the LORD coming through the garden, hide themselves with shame at their nakedness.

When Jesus reveals us warts and all, will we be ashamed, or will we welcome him?

 

I think this depends really on how we have lived. Though I don’t just mean whether we have lived spotless lives- (for who are we to decide that?) – but whether we have lived in the darkness as if it were broad daylight. I really don’t think that Jesus will try to catch us out. I think, when Jesus comes among us as Judge, the question will be less a question of whether we are guilty or not, and more whether we recognise the court… Will we turn to him for the forgiveness he so longs to offer, or turn from him, too proud and ashamed to ask?

 

It may seem strange to say so, but I think there is the danger that we may not recognise the Kingdom of Heaven when it comes. Those who opposed Jesus in his life were not those were especially wicked, but those who simply did not recognise him for what he was.

 

The Christian soul, then, is, to put it bluntly, the ultimate agnostic. We admit that there is a great deal we do not know. Very often we do not know if we are doing right or wrong. We do not know if we are doing good or harm. The question is, do we want to know?

 

In the same way as a natural disaster comes out of the blue, and tests the foundations of buildings, leaving some in pieces and others standing, so Jesus reminds us, we must be ready and prepared for His coming. This has implications for us in the here and now. Every day becomes the day of Salvation. Each hour, each moment is a time for discernment, a time for Judgement. Can we see the shafts of light from God’s kingdom breaking through into our own community? The stranger at our door- is that Jesus Christ? The beggar on the street, is that Jesus Christ? Are we welcoming him, or are we turning him away?

 

Both Love and Judgement are questions of recognition. Knowing and being known are at the heart of each. When, week by week and day by day, we pray ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done’, we are looking forward to the time when Christ returns to bring God’s creation to completion. We live in a world that is broken and partial. If we would see it healed and made whole, we must turn to the east and welcome the rays of the dawning Sun, with the words Marana tha…Come Lord Jesus!