Days To Come


Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.  (Mark 13:26)

There's a story I’ve told a few times. It takes place in the office of the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. He’s trying out some new white silks, or whatever it is that Moderators do between General Assemblies, when a guy rushes in and says, “Moderator! It’s Jesus! He’s back! Just like it says in the Bible. He’s walking down Prince’s Street surrounded by angels. Moderator, what should we do?”. The Moderator thinks for a moment then says, “Look busy.”

This is the first Sunday in Advent. Some people describe Advent as the run-up to Christmas - as the time when we look forward to Christmas. If so, our readings this morning aren’t very Christmassy, are they? Our reading from Mark starts by talking about days of suffering and of darkness. Not very mince pies and mulled wine, is it? The reading from Isaiah is full of talk about sin and the anger of God. Not very Jingle Bells and festive jollity, is it? No. And there’s a reason for that.

Yes, in a sense we are looking toward Christmas and yes, Christmas is a festival - a celebration in the Christian calendar. But we’re not there yet. There’s a journey to go on first and that journey is what Advent is about. And before we reach the sunlit plains of the celebration of Christmas there are some dark places to go first. More than that, though, we are not just looking forward to Christmas in the sense of that moment nearly two millennia ago when God came into this world in the life of a human being, in the infant Jesus; we are also looking forward to a day when that same Jesus will return; to another Christmas if you like.

That may be tomorrow. It may be years from now. It may be centuries from now. Who knows? All that we can say is that in days to come the world will come right. The world will be as God wants it to be. There will be, as John has it in Revelation, a new Heaven and a new Earth where all that has been wrong - everything that has caused pain and suffering - will be done away with. 

These are days to come, though. Not today. Today you can take a look around at the world and see that there is plenty of suffering and darkness and lots of it is caused by sin. In the days to come there will be people suffering in this world who would not be suffering if it wasn’t for human sin. There are people living rough on the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow and closer to home. There are folk here in this country and across the world who don’t get enough to eat. There are folk living in the squalor of shanty towns risking cholera every time they drink the water. And why? Greed.

There is more than enough wealth in this world to make sure everybody has a roof over their head. There is more than enough food in this world for everyone to get enough to eat. The shanty towns so often stand in the shadow of soaring skyscrapers and plush apartments. 

Today there will be people suffering the consequences of conflict. There are children huddled in refugee camps on the borders of Syria and Yemen and, still, Iraq. There are families mourning the victims of terrorist atrocities. There are men and women - combatant and civilian - bearing the scars of war. And why? Hatred. Sin.

At our best we recognise that children are children, wherever they come from, and we care. At our best we can reach across the divisions of race and religion, of language and culture, to care. At our best we can live in peace with our neighbours and recognise them as our brothers and sisters. “At our best” is important, for therein lies hope..

Advent is about hope. It’s about looking forward to that coming Christmas when the world comes right. It’s about looking forward to that time after the suffering. It’s about looking forward to that new Heaven and that new Earth. It’s about looking forward to days to come when the lessons Jesus taught us will govern this world: when we love our neighbours as we love ourselves and when poverty, hunger, want and hatred have no more dominion.

To look forward to all that is to live in hope: to live in hope that there will be days to come - perhaps after many days of suffering and many days of darkness - when Christ will come again and we will all - all of humanity - live in the light. Until then, what do we do? We do our best to live as if those days were already here.

We do what we can to live, here and now, without greed. We do what we can to make sure that no one in this world goes hungry. We do what we can to make sure that no one in this world goes without a roof over their heads. We do what we can to make sure that, rich or poor, everyone gets treated as a precious child of God. Is that a tall order? Can you take a parcel of food to a food bank? Can you write to your MP? Can you take part in campaigns like the “Let us build a house” or the sleep-out in the park in Edinburgh to highlight the plight of the homeless? Can you buy FairTrade stuff, even if it’s a bit more expensive? We can do these things.

We do our best to live, in the here and now, without hatred. We do what we can to speak up for peace and reconciliation. We do our best to recognise that everyone - whatever their nationality or faith - is a precious child of God and our brother or sister. We do our best to reach across the barricades to those the world tells us are “different”. Can we do that? Sure we can. We are children of God, made in the image of God. We can speak up against this country’s ownership of weapons of mass destruction. We can give clothes, furniture, whatever, to charities that look after refugees. We can offer love in the face of hatred. We can challenge casual racism when it comes up in conversation.

To do this is to live in hope. It is to live in hope that after all the suffering, after all the darkness, a day will dawn when there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth: when poverty, hunger, want, hatred, greed and pain will be forgotten forever: a truly happy Christmas. So let us live in hope. It’s said, “live in hope, die in despair”. To a Christian there is no despair in death. Sure, you and I may not live to see the days to come. We may not live to see the differences our being here on this Earth have made. We may not live to see the world come right.

We may not live to see Christ come in all his glory. But the new Heaven and the new Earth we will surely see. Here’s the thing: putting the world to rights is both our job and not our job. We are not the architect of the new Heaven and the new Earth that the next Christmas will herald. That would be God. We are, however, called to be the building workers: to lay the bricks we are meant to lay - even if it’s only one of them - and to make a difference in the world where we can.

And, above all, to live in hope. The old trope is wrong. Living in hope is the best chance there is for humanity. The alternative is cynicism and, ultimately, despair. I know which I choose. This is the first Sunday in Advent. Let us live in hope. And, maybe, look busy.

Lord help us to live in hope. Help us to look forward to a day when you rule on this world through your Son and when suffering is done with. Help us to work for that day.

Preached at Gretna Old parish church