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ADVENT - THE COMING OF JESUS

The first weeks of December are always a more or less frantic time of preparing for Christmas: in churches, Advent and Carol services; in schools, Nativity plays; in towns, the Christmas lights; at home, shopping for food and presents, and plans to visit friends and family. The focus for those with a Christian faith is on the birth of Jesus. But it was not always so.

Before the modern era of commercialism and consumption, Advent was a solemn season, focussed on the Second Coming of Jesus more than the First. Today, I suspect, not a word will be heard in these few weeks of Jesus coming again, in power and great glory, to judge both the living and the dead, of the end of this tired and suffering world, and the appearance of a New World, of the joy of the redeemed and the despair of the damned. Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell, seem to have dropped out of the vocabulary of the Christian Church altogether. But if these things are real, that is a grave error and a profound loss.

Death is certainly real. But today we are not familiar with it as our ancestors were. It rarely occurs until people have reached their 70s or 80s, and even then it usually occurs out of sight in hospital or a care-home. I remember, quite early in my ordained ministry, being rebuked by an elderly parishioner for preaching a sermon about Death (I trust I was also preaching about the resurrection of the dead). But this woman said to me, as she was leaving, “We don’t like you preaching about death. It’s morbid.” So we tend not to talk about death, even in church.

That is a big mistake. We are all going to die. It may still be many years off, but we ought to be prepared, to have thought about what comes next. Many people of course say, “Nothing. When you’re dead, you’re dead.” But if Jesus rose from the dead that is not true. Death is not the end. Another common fallacy is, “We’re all going to the same place in the end.” But again that is not what the Bible says. Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7.13-14.) While we have time we all need to think about which road we are on and where it is leading us - to eternal life or destruction? This always used to be a fundamental question in Christian evangelism, but we seem to have lost it. “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life”. We need to repent and believe in him.”


It must be very difficult to face death when it draws near without having heard this and decided to follow Jesus. It can be done at the last minute, as the ‘penitent thief’ discovered on the cross. “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Such is his infinite mercy and love for us all. But we do have to turn to him while there is still time.

These are things we need to keep in mind, however young and healthy we may be. As Christians we need to be telling other people about what Jesus says about death and the life of the world to come. For ourselves we need to ponder those words of Jesus and prepare ourselves for the end, however far off it may seem to be.

I myself have become acutely aware of the reality of death as my wife and I grow old. But I know where to turn: to Jesus and his words of hope and comfort. Not only to his words to the penitent thief, but, for example, to John 14.1-3:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be with me where I am.”

_____


More next week: the Second Coming of Jesus

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