Beginning at the End (Worship for November 29)

Good morning and welcome to this celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday, November 29, the First Sunday of Advent. We’re delighted you’re here!

Our services will begin at 9:30am and 11:15am. Please download the leaflet and pray along with us here:

9:30am service:

11:15am service:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert, and pray; for you do not know when the time will come.”

At this time of year as the page turns on the church calendar and we arrive at Advent once again I often find myself returning to the words of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who once said, “We only understand life backwards, but we must live forwards.” We only understand life backwards, but we must live forwards.

A fitting meditation for Advent because as you know Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year and we begin where? At the End. At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ not as an infant in a manger but as King and Judge. His coming again at the end of time. And we begin there because in order to live faithfully as Christians today we have to understand the end or the goal of our life. Only then can we hope to “live forward” in a way that coheres with the gospel.

There’s a lot we could unpack in our gospel reading this morning but I want to focus on just one point. Namely, the certainty and yet unpredictability of that day: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert, and pray; for you do not know when the time will come.” We do not know when but come it will. 

Right now Jesus Christ is enthroned in glory but that reality is visible only to the eyes of faith. Then, on that day, Jesus Christ enthroned in glory will be visible to all. And that day will mark the vanquishing of evil once and for all. Sin and death will be no more. All of human history will be gathered up and brought before him. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away.” They’ll be summed up. They’ll come to an end in Christ.

In fact, there’s a sense in which these words have already come to pass. For example, when we think of Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming again we tend to think of distinct events. In our minds these are separate but in God’s economy they are different facets of a single event. Think of a beam of white light that passes through a prism and refracts into different colours. 

In a similar way the events of Christ’s crucifixion are blended together with his coming again. We might even say that in Christ’s death and resurrection, the end has already come upon us. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” What does this mean but that Christ’s words will outlive the cosmos? And if that is the case then the world to come is already present when and where Christ’s words are proclaimed, even this morning. The end has already begun and yet we long for its fulfilment.

Look at the world around you. We know that things are not as they ought to be and that they cannot be allowed to remain this way. That’s an Advent longing. And the sure and certain hope of the gospel is that things won’t stay this way. When Christ comes again, on that day, he will set things right.

That day is coming to be sure but there’s more: “about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The end has begun but the culmination of it is the Father’s prerogative. There is nothing we can do to delay that day. Neither is there anything we can do to hasten it. We must simply trust the Father with the future, and we can trust him no matter what.

“For you do not know when the time will come.” So, what? Worry? Freakout? Predict? Hide? Forget? No. Beware. Keep alert. And pray. That’s what God requires of us. Not speculation about when or how or what if. Not total knowledge of all of the facts. Not certainty about all of our answers. But vigilance, faithfulness in this present moment. 

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Because the temptation to drift off to sleep, to not keep alert, is great and it comes in many forms: misplaced hope, weariness, a nonchalance about God, an immersion in the everyday without thought for the Last Day (Brunner).

How then do we keep alert? We prioritise those same things that have always helped Christians stay awake. Pray. Study the Scriptures. Go to Church. Receive the Sacraments. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Obey. Above all clothe yourselves with love for one another. Fear not, simply draw near to Christ. That’s how we stay alert. Because ultimately the life that we are called to live as Christians is the result of God’s grace at work in us. That’s what Saint Paul said this morning isn’t it? By grace you have been enriched in Christ so that you lack nothing as you await the coming of our Lord. “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Beloved, we know the end. We understand life. Let us therefore live forward in faith, strengthened by God’s grace.

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