3 December 2017 at Wingrave Parish Church
Gospel Luke 12
35 ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
How many words can you think of that end in -fulness? What is the longest, shortest or most obscure word you can think of? Sounds like a Pointless quiz question doesn’t it?
According to my sources, there are several 15 characters long. They include reproachfulness, resourcefulness, and disgracefulness. The longest word I thought of has 17 characters—disrespectfulness. Perhaps you can do better?
The shortest word I could find is awfulness.
Some words are bad, like unfaithfulness, sinfulness, or shamefulness. Some are good, like joyfulness, mercifulness, and prayerfulness. Others are uncertain, like wistfulness, regretfulness, or mournfulness.
Watchfulness is the theme of Advent. The usual translation of the Latin word Adventus as ‘arrival’ does not seem to me to properly describe what the church invites us to do. Often Advent is defined as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. But surely we should be ready and longing for the Kingdom of Heaven at all times, not just now.
In our gospel reading from Luke, the servants of their Master are not just waiting, however expectantly. No—they are commanded to be watchful so they can open the door immediately when he comes. They are not hanging around waiting—but ready—whatever the hour—because they don’t know when the Master is coming, and there may be false intruders who try and break in like a thief in the night.
For some reason, the lectionary misses out the warnings and sanctions awaiting those who are not ready. Jesus’s standard is clear:
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
But we are consoled by the introductory verses:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
‘Do not be afraid’ is the hallmark of good news throughout Scripture and occurs many times in Luke’s story of Jesus as well. Not only does God long to give us the kingdom, but like the lilies of the field or the ravens, he will provide for our needs. Quite often we must provide for others by our almsgiving, for we have been entrusted with much, and much more will be expected of us.
As we enter the season of Advent, there is much to ponder and resolve. Generosity is a hallmark of the Christian life. Faith is not a measure by which we will be judged—but a shared promise, a mutual expectation which binds us to God in a new relationship of hope and fulfilment. Watchfulness is not an anxious wait for the end of time but an eager anticipation of God’s pleasure to give us all good things.
All of the commands and instructions about the way we live our lives—our faith, use of money, love for God, care for others, watchfulness and so on—are anchored in this shared promise that it is God’s good pleasure to bring us into his kingdom.
Later on in the same chapter:
41 Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’
The answer is obvious to all of us I hope, but not if we are unfaithful and unprepared. So:
35 ‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.’
The trouble with watchfulness is that in the past couple of decades the electronic and communication distractions have multiplied greatly, and now offer so many competing calls for our attention that we find it hard to concentrate on any one thing for more than a few seconds at a time.
What we have lost is peace. The pleasure of TV series such as Grantchester is that we are taken back to a life of greater simplicity with more time for others.
It seems to me we must find a way to release ourselves from the competing pressures, and open up our minds again to real watchfulness. In Lent we might deny ourselves good things we enjoy. This Advent, why not take a different approach? Make space for watchfulness. Rediscover peace.
The message of this gospel reading and of Advent is that we will be richly rewarded and enabled to make ourselves truly ready and watchful for all the good things of the kingdom, which Jesus has promised for those who are ready to accept him. Amen