Nunquam Non Paratus
Sunday, 1 December 2019 11:00
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:44)
The title of this sermon is “Nunquam Non Paratus”. How’s your Latin? It means ‘never not ready’. I only know that because when I started work as a teacher it was at Lockerbie Academy and that was the school motto. It’s a Latin version of the Johnstone family motto: “Aye Ready”. To be honest there were times when, as members of staff there, we would raise our eyebrows and quietly mutter the motto without the ‘non’. “Never ready”.
Nunquam non paratus. That’s the theme of what Jesus is talking about in our reading this morning. The usual understanding is that he’s talking about the coming of the end times - the time when God will bring about his full rule on Earth and when all those things that Isaiah talks about in the Old Testament reading will come to pass. There’s a whole area of theology that deals with the end times called ‘eschatology’. I have to be honest, eschatology wasn’t my strong point when I was studying, partly because I kept thinking about people getting out of tied post bags in locked chests. If Jesus is talking about the end times here, then what he’s saying is that they could happen any moment and that we have to be ready for them.
“About the day and the hour no one knows”, says Jesus - including himself. That hasn’t stopped people confidently calculating the date by hunting for hints in the Bible and trying to map them onto world events. A few years ago great excitement ran through certain Christian communities in the United States that the date had actually been calculated for the Rapture. Enquiries to pet homes soared as people looked for places for their cats and dogs to live after the Rapture had taken place. After all, now they knew the date, they knew when they’d have to be ready. Kind of ignores what Jesus says here, doesn’t it? Be always ready.
I mentioned the Rapture just there. It’s the idea accepted by a number of Christian groups, developed from this passage, that when Jesus comes back those who are destined for Heaven will instantly be translated there while the rest will be left behind. Maybe - like I said, I was never that great on eschatology. As a preacher I’m more attached to the here and now, and the here and now is, I think what this passage is all about - especially Jesus’ s guidance.
The thing is that all that stuff about two men working in a field and one being left, two women grinding corn and one being left - that’s happening all the time. When I was Interim Moderator at Langholm, about ten years ago, I took the funeral of a guy who worked for Buccleuch Estates. He’s been working on some fencing with a mate and had just dropped to the ground with a sudden heart attack. Two men had been working; one was taken and the other left.
We are, none of us, guaranteed tomorrow. None of us knows, for sure, when we will meet our Maker - when the moment will come when we stand before God to give account of the lives we have led and the ways in which we have used those lives and the gifts he has given us. No one knows what we will be doing when we are called home. I guess that most of us would like to think that it would be in the middle of something worthwhile. I remember when the plane came down on Lockerbie: there was a huge roaring sound and the whole house shook, like the world was ending and I remember thinking “Oh no! They’re going to find me in the bath.”
Where will God find us when our time comes to meet him? Will we be ready? I suppose the more we spend our time living the kind of lives God wants us to live, the more likely we will be ready when our time comes. Perhaps we should always be ready - nunqam non paratus.
Then again, that involves looking forward to a particular point in time just as much as any eschatological theory. Like I said, I’m interested in the here and now because that is what Jesus is talking about in this passage. He’s saying, “Look, forget about all that guessing when it’s going to happen stuff. Live your lives here and now as if you could meet God any moment.” And that finally brings me to the point that this is the first Sunday in Advent - the Sunday when we begin to prepare for Christmas.
When we begin to prepare to celebrate the moment the world had not expected, that all the scholars of Judaism had not expected, that all the theologians and scribes had not expected. Sure, they had read the prophecies and, in hindsight, they all made sense, but no one expected that, at a particular moment in human time God himself would come into this world in the life of a human being. More than that, that he would come into the world in the life of a seemingly ordinary human being, the son of a carpenter from a backwater like Nazareth; in the life of the kind of person you might pass in the street and not recognise. That he would come into this world like any human being - born as a baby, needing to be cared and looked after as much as any other human baby.
This is the first Sunday in Advent when we start looking forward to the coming of Christ into the world. What if he’s already here? Jesus lived for thirty years before anyone started to notice him. What if he’s already here? What if, at any moment, in any interaction with anyone else you might be encountering God in Christ? Where would we like him to find us? How would we like him to find us behaving? How would we like that meeting to go?
What if, in the way we speak to those we meet we treat them as we would Christ? What if, in the way we lived our daily lives we lived as if, at any moment we might meet Christ in the next person we met? What if, when people spoke with disdain about the poor or the hungry or the asylum seeker or those who are doing the best they can to feed their families but have to fall back on the charity of strangers at food banks, we were ready to speak of the love of God for poor as if Christ himself was in the room and listening for his teaching?
What if, when a neighbour came knocking at our door, just needing to be invited in because they feel broken, or lost, or frightened or alone and we are ready to lay aside what we are doing and give them that hug they need, that time they need for someone to listen to them, that healing any one of us can provide through God’s gift of compassion. What if we were ready to offer it as if that neighbour was Christ himself?
What if, whenever we encountered another human being in this world we were ready - ready to point to the message of the Christmas we are getting ready for? The message that God loves humanity so much that he came into this world to share our hurts and our griefs; to share our weakness and temptations. To share our fragility and, ultimately, to walk alongside us to death itself. At any moment we may have an opportunity to show someone - someone, perhaps who longs to believe but doesn’t really know what the love of God is all about. “Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at at unexpected hour”. Nunquam non paratus
Lord, may we be ready. Ready to bear witness to your love for humanity; to live every moment in this life as if we already lived the nest - as citizens of Heaven and as your children.
Preached at Gretna Old parish church