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Sermon for the Sunday Next Before Advent

“Behold, the days come”

The times of endings return us to our beginnings. We come to the ending of the Church Year and to the beginning of yet another. Today is The Sunday Next Before Advent. With Advent, we begin again.

But what does it mean, these endings which bring us back to our beginnings? What does it mean to begin again? The mere repetition of the same old things in the same old places with the same old faces whether few or none or more, “bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang”? Or is it the dance of God’s grace and glory in human lives, come what may in the distresses and disorders of our world and day?

We come to the end of a year of grace and take stock of our lives in the light of God’s grace. It marks a kind of harvest-time, as it were, for our souls, a gathering up of the fruits of grace of the past year in our lives, which is why for centuries upon centuries the Gospel for this Sunday was about “the gathering up of the fragments” from Christ’s feeding of the multitudes in the wilderness. But it means too, that we are returned to our beginning, to Him who is the foundation and meaning of our lives. “Come and see.” The grace is God’s Word revealed.

In the greyness of the year, comes Christ the King (with apologies to T.S. Eliot). Christ strides across the barren fields of humanity to gather us into the barn of his righteousness and truth. We are returned to him who, as Jeremiah says, is “the Lord our Righteousness,” our Judge and King, the Shepherd and the Healer of all mankind, the Alpha and the Omega of all creation. Our endings and our beginnings all meet in him. Basil the Great shows us something of what this means:

As all the fruits of the season come to us in their proper time, flowers in spring, corn in summer and apples in autumn, so the fruit for winter is talk. (Letters)

Talk. Surely you have had enough talk, too much talk in fact, especially preachers’ talk! But talk about what, you might ask? What is the talk in the times of endings, the fruit for winter’s evenings, the talk which marks the occasions for renewed beginnings? Surely, it is God’s talk, God’s Word and no other, God’s Word making his talk in us. “Behold, the days come,” and in that phrase there is the sense of something new and renewing, a sense of a turning and a learning, about coming and seeing what God wants us to see and know so wonderfully captured in the Gospel scene of the encounter between Jesus and the disciples of John and then in the following of Andrew and Simon Peter. Come and see and follow!

And what is the time, except this time, now and always, even unto the end of time? The real measure of our lives is the truth which we are given to proclaim. Not our nattering.

We come to an end and what do we find? Has God’s Word been manifest in our lives or hidden from view, buried under what we once used to call “the intolerable burden of our sins”?

Perhaps you have found some fruits of grace in your life – some progress made against the snarl and whine of your constant and besetting sins. And if so, may God be praised, but it is no time to boast, only time to begin again, with God’s Word ruling your soul yet more and more that his grace may abound in you to his glory yet more and more. In short; begin anew.

Perhaps, your words have been “stout against God’s Word,” to use Malachi’s wonderful phrase, in lives of sinfulness and idleness, lives of foolishness and immoderate busyness, lives of endless whining and complaining, faultfinding everywhere except with you, the proverbial nattering of the nabobs of negativity; in short, lives of selfishness and manic madness. And what shall you do, but begin anew with the Word of the Lord spoken to the woman taken in adultery speaking to you directly, “Go and sin no more”? The year runs out most surely in notes of repentance. Repentance belongs to the community of sinners. And are we not all such sinners in heart, if not in word and deed? Repentance is ever a beginning anew for all of us.

Perhaps, you have found the year a dreary round and your souls simply places of desolation, darkness, and despair and how shall you begin? Listen and hear “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” – for even the desert of despair can become “the highway of the Lord”. There is a harvest in the wilderness, so listen and begin anew.

Perhaps, you have found that you are dying, as some have, and that your end is near, though surely “no man knoweth the hour,” including doctors, I might add, and you wonder in the loneliness of your fears, what shall I do? Begin anew? Yes, indeed. Begin in him whose beginning contains all our endings. Let the fear of your dying become your fear of the Lord, that is to say, a love in awe and wonder at his majesty and truth revealed to you. “Come and see,” Jesus says to us for he is always bidding us to enter into his love for us. No better time than in the times of our dying. “Behold, the days come.” Indeed, no better time, than “now and in the hour of our death”.

We come to an ending only to find that we have come to the beginning, to him who is the foundation of our lives. We find all our endings and all our beginnings in the Father’s Son and Word. We come simply to Christ. And surely, that is the truth of our Christian life. By his Word we gain the threshold of heaven upon which we sing and dance. What more can we ever say than that? What can our talk be except his Word in us, the fruit of his love for us, this time and every time, in this circumstance and that situation? The fruit of our lives must be our talk of him. Be stirred up and begin anew!

“Behold, the days come”

Fr. David Curry
Sunday Next Before Advent
November 23rd, 2014