Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon
The Second Sunday in Advent, 2010
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

Let us Pray: O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

At this time of the year, in the midst of Advent, I find myself reflecting on my teaching career. Teaching high school students has something of an Advent feel about it. Signs and wonders abound. Last year's absolute laywaste has suddenly become this year's genius. Last year's candidate for the county jail has suddenly become a hot prospect for Harvard. There is little that can predict the future of the children who enter high school. It is, I have decided, an impossibility. Few things are certain except that they will grow, mature and become adults who will make choices. Like the fig tree of today's gospel, they shoot forth, flower and eventually bear fruit of some kind.

One of the activities I most enjoyed during my teaching career was administering the "pop" quiz. I am not sure why they are called pop quizzes, but they appear to spring up by surprise, uninvited and unwanted – at least by the students. I didn't enjoy presenting such quizzes out of a sense of cruelty but out of a desire to uplift and, of course, to teach. Here is what I mean. Each quiz would contain ten questions. The ten questions were carefully selected. They were chosen so that even students who attended class on, shall we say, an infrequent basis or perhaps – God forbid – drowsed through classes, could receive a passing grade. Yes, it was a gift. But it was a gift with a purpose; to ensure that the basic principles of the course material were absorbed. Because repetition is an important part of teaching, these concepts were repeated and rephrased during the semester.

The administration of the quiz was great fun. First, I would announce that the quiz would happen. In precisely ten seconds. Groans would echo throughout the classroom. Eyes would roll. The slackers would resign themselves to yet more academic misery. Tears would come to the eyes of the more sensitive students. The Type A personalities would sit on the edges of their seats and ready themselves for the battle to come. They received the quiz papers. There would be a pause. Then, there would be smiles. Sighs of relief. Even the most notorious slackers would call out in great joy: "hey, I know this stuff." And, yes, everyone would pass.

Everyone would pass. Wouldn't it be great if final judgment were just like that? We passed our final exam. God has given us us test. We knew the answers and eternal life is assured.

Today's gospel message warns us that this final exam - this final judgment may happen at any time. Advent signals that the time is near. The coming of "the son of man" amongst us is no pop quiz; it is the event itself. We need to prepare ourselves for this incredible and world-shattering event. We also need to prepare our hearts and minds for the final judgment when are hearts are indeed opened and laid bare to us and to God.

This gospel draws us to the immediate moments in our lives. The gospel also reminds of of those last things, the end times. Eschatology is the study of last things and Jesus calls us to an understanding of the impermanence of worldly things. The reminder here about the "end times" refers to the end of the world and all that is in it. In the so-called Eschatological Discourses, St. Luke reminds us that nothing indeed lasts forever. The words of Jesus contain dire warnings. The Temple will be destroyed. The world itself will disappear. Nothing that we know will remain; except for one thing. The one thing that will remain is the word of God.

Although we are in the midst of Advent, the gospel for today includes words that Jesus spoke just before The Last Supper. Just like last week's gospel, we are presented with a strange juxtaposition of time. As we prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus, we are made aware of his imminent death. Time is indeed out of joint. There is no linear pattern here. The only thing that binds these stories together is the great love of God for His people and His urgent desire to save them from harm. Yes, we await the birth of Jesus. Yes, we look on as He approaches Jerusalem one last time in His earthly life. We hear Him tell us that everything - everything that we know - will pass away. These are signs and wonders.

Jesus calls us to be aware of the time, the urgency of using time to become ready for the presence of God. We do not know what will happen. The future is known only by God. But we can prepare our hearts and minds for His coming among us.

Perhaps some time this Advent season we will receive our final judgment. It could happen. But I rather suspect it will be more of a pop quiz. But, because it is from God, we will get very nervous. The slackers will know that they are condemned to eternal damnation and wish they had paid more attention to God's words. They may grovel and beg forgiveness. But God loves them and hands them a copy of the quiz. Then there are the sensitive ones who had studied hard and are prepared but are still filled with fear. God comforts them, too, and thanks them for having their number two pencils ready. He hands them a copy of the quiz. Finally, God comes to the Type A folks. He fixes them with a stern look and orders them to relax. This confuses them. They look at each other, wondering what to do. Finally, they say: "we can't relax; we're in the presence of God." God looks at them again. His voice is very stern. And he says, "just do it" They receive their quizzes.

There is a pause. They study their quizzes. On the page is written only one question. And it is this: "Why, on this, the coldest, darkest time of the year, do I prepare to come among you as a tiny child?" The students stare at the question. And suddenly, all else in the world seems of no consequence. They know, too, that the question they have been given has an answer. It is an answer that they know in their heart of hearts. But how, they wonder, can they ever write it down. But God tells them it does not matter. It has already been written down. And it will last forever.

Let us pray: O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found acceptable in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.