On 3 December, Advent Sunday, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 80:1-8, 18-20, Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37.
It’s a common observation that time passes more quickly when you are older, or so it seems. Certainly I’ve noticed quite a number of people saying things like: ‘October already. Where has the time gone?’ or ‘I can’t believe November is just about over.’ Time seems to race ahead and take some of us by surprise at the speed of its passing.
On the other hand, for many young people time seems to crawl by. Their complaint is often, ‘I can’t wait until my birthday/ our holiday/ my friend comes for a sleepover, etc’. Currently, it’s Christmas that is not coming quickly enough for many children. The excitement is more than they can bear. They ‘can’t wait’ until Christmas Eve when Father Christmas will finally set out on his journey to deliver the presents. They ‘can’t wait’ to wake up on Christmas morning and rip open the paper to see if the much coveted item is revealed ready to be played with.
Today is Advent Sunday, the day the Church particularly concentrates on its own ‘can’t wait’ moment, the one Jesus often talked about. We are focusing on the time when Jesus will come back as our King, his Second Coming. It’s something Jesus promised us. It will be an amazing occasion. Unlike his first coming, as a baby in obscurity, no one will be able to miss the Second Coming. Think about it: the sun will be dark, the moon also, stars will fall from heaven. We will see “The Son of Man coming in clouds”. I’m not sure I can conjure up a picture of how it will look, but it sounds exciting and momentous.
Once Jesus had died and risen again, his promises must have sounded equally exciting and momentous to his followers. They were convinced that Jesus’ return would soon happen. However around 100 generations of people have lived since then and we are still waiting. Of course, Jesus did say that no one knows the day or hour when he will return, whatever his followers may have imagined to be the case. The only one who knows is God the Father. Unlike Christmas Day, or birthdays, or special events, we don’t have a date. We can’t count ‘how many sleeps’ until it happens. All we know is that it WILL happen.
In order to help his followers in the period between his death and his return, Jesus told a parable. A man who obviously had quite a considerable estate which had several servants employed to help run it, went away on a journey of indeterminate length. Without the internet or a phone, there was nothing he could do to make sure all was well at home apart from entrust the work to others. Each of the servants in the man’s household was given tasks to be in charge of. We can imagine what they might have been – farming, banking money, possibly even business dealings, caring for the building, tending any sick in the household, cooking, cleaning. We certainly know one of the tasks: the doorkeeper was in charge of keeping watch.
As Jesus’ followers and servants, we have our tasks to perform. We won’t all do the same thing or the household of God will not run well. We each have a task which is ours alone to do. The key is to find out what we are to do and then do it faithfully. We may have a particular calling that we are sure God has given us. Alternatively, we may do a string of small tasks one after the other as God gives us the opportunity. The important thing is to continue to do the tasks we have been given.
When things stretch on and on, we can lose our enthusiasm. In the parable Jesus says that the servants would not know when the man would return. Unlike now, it was not possible in that era to send messages near enough instantly to friends and family, or employees. Everyone needed to be alert, aware that at any moment, even in the middle of the night, the man might return home. Jesus made it plain that it’s not just the person who is the doorkeeper who was to be alert. It was not just the disciples listening then to his teaching. Jesus said: ‘What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’ Jesus was speaking to all who would hear or read his words. That includes us. Even though we have waited nearly 2000 years, we are to be as alert and awake spiritually as anyone at any time. We must keep an eye on ourselves, on our way of life, and imagine what Jesus would think if he walked in at any moment in our lives. Would he find us awake or dozing?
It’s hard work to keep enthusiasm and excitement as years go by and nothing seems to change. We see all the problems in the world and long for them to be solved. It’s difficult when those who don’t share our faith make fun of the stupidity of it all. What use are promises that are two millennia old? This is where we can help one another. We can bolster one another’s faith and dedication. We can remind one another of God’s faithfulness – he doesn’t make empty promises. For us, time crawls by just as it does for a child waiting for Christmas. For God the millennia are but seconds.
We are not designed to live out the life of faith alone. However, what we can’t do alone we can do together. That’s why we are called into community as Christians. I think part of the task of each of us is to encourage one another. The Church Year helps also in this task. In the last few weeks the readings for each day have been looking towards the end times, when all things will be made as they should be. Now we are in Advent and we focus on Jesus’ coming, first as a baby, second as a king.
I hope as you enjoy our Posada this Advent, you will prepare well for Christmas and also remind yourselves to be constantly on the alert as we don’t know the day or the hour, but we do know that Jesus WILL return.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor