In Advent we traditionally (as you might have gathered from the Parish Emails each day) keep the themes of Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.
Of these four themes we enter today into a week long contemplation of Heaven. The mood of Advent lightens for us, as we remember John the Baptist and as we move deeper into the darkness of December, we know that the light of the coming Christ is going to dawn upon us – whether we are prepared or not prepared – The Christ will come.
And that coming of Christ the first time 2000 years ago and the coming of Christ which is to come will be generous and understanding, all seeing and forgiving but this doesn’t mean it is open season for us – we still need to order our lives by the qualities our faith asks us to observe. For God is coming in judgement to save us, YES! There is nothing that God seeks to loose amongst that which he has made – ourselves included, YES! But God too has aspirations as we do, that we, inspired by him might bring his Kingdom into this world so that all rejoice this side of the grave as much as in the time to come.
We are as a community of faith and individuals judged by this world as we so often judge each other and those outside of our community of faith – and none of us are beyond being judged, but in being understood as a particular people of faith and practice – John the Baptist today gives insight to what we might be doing.
In our Gospel Luke illustrates for us the substance of John the Baptist’s message where he references Abraham’s own faithfulness remembered in Israel’s literature especially in terms of hospitality to strangers.
This message is delivered to a people who have expressed anew their allegiance to God, who will return home to live transformed lives in keeping with their status as Abraham’s Children – for this is how they will find their membership as God’s people and of God’s kingdom.
John the Baptist doesn’t need his audience to take a paternity test by which they will prove Abraham is a blood ancestor, but rather he asks them to take a test of character and behavior consistent with that of Abraham character and behavior!
And this is what the Gospel is asking of each of us. Luke writes, “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’” There is an identifiable moral quality to our being Children of Abraham, and followers of Christ. Know us by our actions and deeds – this is what the scriptures ask of us. Let us be known by how we live our lives not in relationship to friends and family alone… but in relationship to strangers and those in need.
This last week I have been profoundly disturbed by the many reports from Shelter which identify hundreds of thousands of people including families and individuals homeless in the United Kingdom, and this is before we even begin to contemplate those who live in refugee camps in other lands and territories.
Shelter’s detailed analysis of official rough-sleeping and temporary accommodation figures shows that one in every 206 people in England are currently without a home. Of these, 2,700 people are sleeping rough on any given night, nearly 15,000 single people in direct access hostels and nearly 250,000 people are living in temporary accommodation – most of whom are families.
This is why SHELTER will be one of our Christmas Charities at St John’s together with The Northwood Children’s Hospice, Port Elizabeth in South Africa who are raising money to finish this therapeutic centre for young people.
“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has good must do likewise”.
To be Children of the Kingdom of God cannot only be about what we do towards God – praises and thanksgivings – it is about what we do towards others. This is how we will contemplate the Kingdom of God in this place being manifest and revealed amongst us, and the Kingdom of Heaven where we come to a new understanding of what the landscape set before us can look like.
With God at the centre of our vision and our kindness being expressed towards the world around us we can be confident in greeting Christ in our lives and know that we will by some measure be prepared to meet the judge eternal and rejoice now and in the time to come in his nearer presence.
Following Mass today we will inter the ashes of Paul Johnston into the consecrated grounds of this church. He will be buried near to the ashes of his Father Victor who many of us remember and love still. I am a great believer that we do not make saints of one another but in speaking honestly of Paul here was a person who brought good into the world, was compassionate and generous who embodied with his father and family something philanthropic to the community and world who thought much about the wellbeing of others familiar and less familiar to him. As we give thanks for his life, let us learn from each other and find confidence to be to each other a people that God desires us to be.
As the scriptures remind us – since God loves us so much, so we ought also to love one another.