Sunday before Advent
 
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(Given on Sunday, November 26th, 1989)

"The Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him." (Matt.24.44.)

There have been many times when in my official capacity I have been invited to someone's house. In most cases, when this occurs, the house is spick and span; the people in it are neat and tidy and ready to give me their welcome, their attention, and their hospitality.

But often I have to call when I have NOT been invited - at an hour sometimes when I am least expected. Then, almost invariably, I can expect one or all of the three "standard apologies" to emerge.

  1. Please excuse me - I am in a mess.
  2. Please excuse the house - it's in a mess.
  3. I'm afraid we haven't been to Church lately.

(The last usually from someone who hasn't been since the Coronation.)

Well, it may reassure some of you to learn that hardly anyone's house is like an Ideal Homes' exhibit. You may care to know that very few people, when they are at home, look like the front page of "Homes & Gardens".

I'm rather glad that they don't, because neither do I!

But, I must admit, it's very nice to think that a few people would LIKE themselves and their houses to look nice when I call.

Another side of the picture is that of a works with which I had to deal some years ago. Its function was to help supply gas to a city in the north. It was filthy and neglected. It was an inefficient scrap-heap of a works. It was a mass of rust, graffiti and leaking steam - until - one day, a new Chairman was appointed.

Out of the blue came a letter from the new boss. "I shall be inspecting your works on the 21st. of this month with the Under-Secretary from the Ministry. Yours faithfully".

The effect was shattering - and highly amusing to the outsider. Ancient holes in coal bunkers were hastily concealed with thick paint. Traditional steam leaks were caulked up. Primaeval craters in the drive-way were patched up, and four-letter words erased from walls. They even repainted the notice board at the works entrance - and spelled its name wrongly !

The Chairman and the Under-Secretary duly arrived, but they didn't need to fetch Holmes and Watson to detect that, under the hasty clean-up there was still a neglected, inefficient, sorry old scrap-heap. Soon after, my company were commissioned to re-build the whole place, and the management was "re-deployed".

I wasn't really sorry for that management.

The people I AM concerned-for are those who, one day, and at any time, will have to face an inspection, not of their factory, but of themselves. An inspection, mark you, not by a chairman, but by someone much more important; by HIM who is judge of all and who knows ALL the secrets of our hearts; by the Jesus the King, who has promised nothing less in many of his sayings.

We will be asked to give account of our competence and efficiency in running , not a factory, but a human life - our own.

Terrible pictures have been painted of the "last judgement" - but it NEED not invoke terror. We shall NOT be judged on how well we have learnt Japanese, nor on how many millions we each have given to the third world. We shall not be judged on what it has been impossible for us to do. It is not Christ's nature to expect the impossible. But we may well anticipate an inspection of how we have used the talents we HAVE been given.

When? At some indefinite time in the distant future ? NO! Our account may be called-for at any time. I can sympathise with the Psalmist who asks God how many years he has left to live. The poor chap wanted time to get his house in order before the Vicar arrived. How many years have YOU left to live - fifty - forty- twenty - ten- one?

The account may be called for at any time. How do you stand? - How do you stand with HIM ? Could you face HIM as you are - this minute?

An atheist will dismiss this as nonsense. I ask, "on whose authority?" Is it on that of other little people like us? Do you really trust THEM? Is it that you place your highest trust in your own reason? If so, are you confident that it IS that reliable in such an important issue?" Are you quite sure that you have not plastered up the gaps in your personality with trust in your own judgment alone?"

What about the workers of evil, terrorists motivated by greed and violence and malice; the stirrers-up of hatred between man and man, between race and race; the party dogmatists and self-seekers; they will not see that under a facade of convincing oratory, argument and indignation, many of are dirty, inefficient, neglectful and pitiable in the sight of God?

Those who who call themselves "Agnostic", do they lack the courage to trust what they acknowledge MAY be true? They would put a hundred pounds on a horse for material gain, but will not put their life in Christ's hands.

And we self-styled Christians, how much of OUR work is soiled with the dirt of neglect, with the inefficiency of idleness in serving the cause of the Christ we say we acknowledge? Do we just cover it all up for his state visit on a Sunday - or are we really worthy to be called his son?

"But the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of joints and marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart". (Heb.4.12)

Nothing can be hidden from God. Everything in creation lies open before his eyes - and it is to him that we must give account of ourselves.

Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent. Advent means getting ready - getting ready to celebrate the coming of Christ. How are we to do it? By covering the holes with holly and the dirt with icing sugar? If that is all, then the Supermarkets right. Christmas IS nothing but a pagan festival.

The ancient message of Advent is "Wake Up!" Prepare YOURSELVES for the coming of Christ. Celebrate Christmas. Thank God for his birth. And just as you will clean and garnish your house and decorate your Church for celebration, make sure that underneath that preparation is a soul ready to meet Christ who is the Living Word.

The Estate of William John Green, 2004