Advent II – SMC
“A week is a long time in politics,” Harold Wilson is reported to have said, perhaps in 1964 during a sterling crisis. He meant that chickens ought never to be counted before they’re hatched and it only takes one thing to knock things off their course. I hope if you’re entitled to vote on Thursday that you will do so. It would be wrong for a priest to tell you to vote for a particular party and indeed I don’t reveal how I vote.
But if a week was a long time in politics, then a day certainly seems to have sufficient drama too. And it is the passing of the day that I wanted to talk about this morning. In part because we hear several times in our readings this morning about that day. In our first reading from Isaiah 11, we heard of the period ushered in by the anointed on whom the Lord’s spirit rests: “that day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.” The time is set for John the Baptist’s appearing in our Gospel today with the phrase “in those days” rather pathetically translated as “in due course” in the translation we heard. His message includes the warning about the end of time. These days, the final days are those seen most clearly as belonging to God, of which the psalmist sang and in which justice - giving to God what belongs to God - in which justice shall flourish.
What happens in the course of a normal day and how might we ensure we realise that it belongs to God?
Waking up. I hate waking up when it is dark still. It is so much easier and nicer doing it when it is light. But be it light or dark we should wake praising the Lord. Indeed the traditional name for Morning Prayer is Lauds, meaning “praises!” and this is expressed classically in the use of the last three psalms at Morning Prayer: “Praise God in His Sanctuary!” With this we welcome Christ in to the world, who is the Light of the world. John the Baptist has been compared as that light you get before dawn breaks as he comes announcing the arrival of the Messiah. The morning hour is the hour at which the women went to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday morning and discovered that the tomb was indeed empty and that Jesus had risen. Each day is a fresh opportunity. “God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness,” (Lamentations 3:22). A little thanksgiving as soon as your eyes open will praise the God of Heaven and earth for all He has given you.
This will set us up for the day but, my friends, recognising that the day belongs to God means we need to offer the whole day by connecting at particular points. Come 9am our minds could turn to the very important episode we know from the Bible happened at that time, namely the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. On the fiftieth day after Easter the disciples were gathered with Mary the Mother of God and as they prayed the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of tire. The Spirit gives us all those gifts we heard in our first reading: wisdom and insight, counsel and power, knowledge and fear of the Lord. These gifts we heard Bp Jonathan pour down on the newly confirmed a few weeks ago. These same gifts are given to us.
The Spirit comes to help us in the chores that we must do and in those difficult places we will need to witness to Christ, to magnify the Lord as Mary did in her song. The middle of the morning is also the time when our Lord was before Pilate, the Roman Governor who condemns Him and fails to stand up to the crowd. Jesus promises to send us the Holy Spirit when we have to give an account of our faith, when we have to raise the question of what is really true and respond knowing the answer to be Christ Himself.
As the day progresses we can feel we have gone a long way from that initial sense of vigour with which we woke. We have entered the heat of the day. This is the time at which the events of Genesis 18 are set: the hospitality Abraham gives to His divine visitors and his pleading for mercy for the people of Sodom because some righteous folk will be found there among the multitude of sinners. As the sun is at its brightest and most evident in the middle of the day, so also it is the hour at which God’s grace is most clearly seen.
But the midday hour is also the hour associated with the Fall, when our first parents, Adam and Eve, ate the fruit of the tree, going against God’s command. It is a time to hallow that we might not fall even though we have seen God face to face. The midday hour is a good time for us to pray as we eat our lunches, even if it’s just a packed lunch on our lap, to make the sign of the Cross before launching in to the food. It is also a time at which the Angelus is also often said, recalling God’s activity in the world and seeking the prayers of she who is full of grace.
By 3pm, you might be getting ready to do the school run or bracing yourself for the last few hours of work or just waking up if you’re on a night shift. This is what the Bible calls “the ninth hour” and it is the hour at which the Saviour died on that first Good Friday. From His pierced side Blood and Water flowed symbolising those two great sacraments and life sources of the Church: Mass and Baptism. We human beings need this grace because we have chosen to walk apart from God. Yes, the afternoon hour is the time of the evening breeze, when God walked in Eden and discovered man and woman clothing themselves because they now knew shame. We need to clothe ourselves with God’s grace.
In these winter days, the mid afternoon is quickly followed by sunset, which is rather depressing. Most human beings to have lived would have seen the coming of darkness as the moment when work had to cease, there being no other option. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on the day and how we have used the graces given us by our loving Father. There will be a lot to pray about and Evening Prayer ordinarily has a greater intercessory feel to it, bringing before the Lord those whom we have encountered during the day and those for whom the night will hold problems and loneliness.
Prayers before we sleep will give space for reflection on the day that we might see where sin has reared its ugly face and yet somehow presented itself as an attractive way for us to spend the day. We’d do well as we come to rest to consider where reconciliation needs to be know in our lives, the sort of reconciliation we heard described in the Kingdom of Heaven by the prophet Isaiah: wolf dwelling alongside lamb, cow and bear making friends. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” as St Paul writes (Ephesians 4). The end of the day for Christians has always been a mini-death, as it were, and almost a rehearsal for when we shall fall asleep for the last time. The fourth psalm has some great night time phrases to make our own: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds and be silent … I will both lie down and sleep in peace for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” Thus ends the day and hopefully with the close of each day we will be able to look at what has happened and realise that it was very good, just as at the end of each day God could see the inherent goodness of that which He created.
To God belongs all time, each and every day. When that Bible talks about “that day” it means the day on which we and the whole world will be judged. We will be better prepared for that day, my friends, if we spend every bit of every day committed to God and His ways, knowing it is all His gift. Amen.