When God calls time
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
9 December 2012, 10:30 (THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
9 December 2012
Rochester Cathedral ~ When God calls time
Right, stop writing! Yes, stop writing.
Put your pens down.
Check that your work has your name on the front page and sit quietly while the papers are collected in.
Exam time. Time has run out.
It’s all over – it is now just a matter of judgment.
You can do no more – only wait and hope.
I still remember the intensity of that experience.
And it varies as to how prepared you were for an exam and also on your own temperament.
We also know that life goes on. However important examination results might be, they are only a part of a life.
Probably by now you have already begun to withdraw from that exam room feel.
Here we are here in the cathedral at Rochester at the Cathedral Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Advent.
And here at the altar, God calls time.
The eternal calls us home and though are hearts continue to beat and our minds can fill with what we choose and please, we can for a moment place ourselves in the hands of the one who is beyond.
But what is the point?
Being is the point, not existing or posturing or dreaming.
And being must be done in God as well as in human society and creation.
Our readings from the scriptures are spoken in time and set in time, and yet in God’s love they lead us into eternity.
Quite simply time is pointless without God, an illusion of the human ego. Without God we don’t have time.
It is a dimension of creation and it is a limit of our humanity and created matter itself.
Time on this planet is measured through nature and the creation as we read it through our senses.
The cycles of sun and moon make the year, its seasons and the months; religion and technology have divided the rest into weeks and days and hours. The seven day week comes from the creation stories and principally the Hebrew story of Genesis.
Measuring the units within a day or night are manmade and are in part derived from the instruments that could measure units e.g. sundials, astronomical clocks and astrolabes that would indicate the passing of the earth around the sun giving the hours of light and darkness.
We can measure this mysterious dimension of time but we cannot control it yet alone fully understand how we can exist beyond it. So is it more important just to get on with life and live it, and not give too much thought or time to time itself?
When you are you young you emotionally and psychologically think yourself immortal: death is only an intellectual concept and recognition.
It is only disease, disaster and age that make us think otherwise.
As we begin to face our mortality then the linear nature of our lives through time begins to take on a different meaning.
There is a very real end that begins to define and determine what our lives are all about.
Advent is the Church’s season when time and eternity, life and death, heaven, hell and judgment have traditionally been the theme of the journey to the annual celebration of Jesus’ birthday.
Christianity is a deeply thinking and imaginative religion. It is open-ended and asks us to question, to doubt and live authentically and personally to the full whilst at the same acknowledging the presence of the absolute, the necessity of community, the holiness of the other and the power of love to transform and heal and redeem.
Advent in its four weeks takes on the greatest of themes and the most disturbing and extraordinary passages of scripture.
How will the human landscape be changed: the valleys filled and the hills and mountains made low?
What is this poetry about?
It is, I believe, about the transforming reality of God’s will and how it can be reflected in our human lives – in our will and commitment, in society and politics.
Without God our world seems incapable of any sort of lasting and just transformation: look at how our politics and international affairs fail millions upon millions everyday and throughout history.
In our news at present we have the Leveson Report and the issue of a free and responsible press in this country, and abroad the unravelling hatreds and violence of the Middle East, the graveyard of empires, Afghanistan, and a world where famine, oppression and warfare are still the lot of most human beings.
So what will God do?
Well, it is easier to say what he won’t do – and that is anything that overrides our moral integrity and spiritual freedom. Such things cannot come from God and often that is precisely what we want and expect of him and organised religion.
What Advent teaches us is that time itself is both a freedom and a limitation.
We have the present moment and we have a span of years to live and spend in the light of eternity and in the presence of the One who creates and redeems, who knows and judges all time.
Our human adventures, like our perspective, are often anthropocentric – focussed and formed by ourselves alone.
Yet, in truth, my view and your view of the world around us and of ourselves is narrow and incomplete.
Here in worship we enter another dimension, and prayer guides us into the ways of God. It’s neither magic nor fancy: it is commitment, discipline and the extraordinary freedom of imagination, imagination lived out in community and relationship.
How strange it is that the structures of the Church so often dampen and impede this journey and experience, this truth and this promise.
And the General Synod of the Church of England is not exempted!
Yes, we make God in our own image, time and time again.
Moreover, people wish to make worship a reflection of focus groups and customer satisfaction, when its singular and unique purpose is to find and be found by God.
Worship like love is compulsion not preference and choice.
Coming here is to be changed by an encounter with the living God. This service is about him and his love and life and glory.
Our opinions and tastes fall away in importance.
This is God’s time. He comes first.
And he breaks time in its limitations and everything that puts wrinkles on our faces and throws us into the grave.
We have come here to receive eternal life: life in all its fullness.
That is the invitation of Jesus.
It is also a command for those who are caught up in God and his love.
Yes, the world in all its beauty and brokenness is bound for glory: the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth: all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
By now you may well be looking at your watches and thinking of the rest of the day.
What, oh what, a mistake!
For it is here that the rest of life unfolds in mystery and transformation.
Bread and wine, symbols of sustenance, survival and celebration, are offered in the story of Jesus’ meal and sacrifice – and through the grace of God’s love, the very significance of those species of food and drink are changed.
Eternity invades the moment; God risks his presence in our hands and feeds us from beyond the grave.
Everything changes and nothing changes.
You can either see it and love him and follow him or walk away into your own very certain future.
Advent underlines this choice and this invitation.
Advent is a time of truth which has been stolen by the high street, hi-jacked by the commerce of Christmas-based profiteering.
So hand in your lives with the bread and wine during the Offertory Hymn: the clock which destroys and judges and leads us only to death has stopped.
Eternity is opening up – and God in Jesus throws his arms wide open in welcome:
Take our world of sense and substance,
Make what’s passing, yours for aye.
Reach us, closing every distance
With the mystery of your way.
Starlit darkness, Christ in glory,
Help us find that way today:
Hidden truth and inner story –
Spirit’s life in pots of clay. © Neil Thompson 2004