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Romans 13.11-14Matthew 24.36-44

Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Mt 24:42)

All was not well in the monastery. Years of close community had taken its toll on the patience of all the brothers. They had all become resentful, envious, mistrustful and suspicious of each other. Once they had been so loving, kind and gentle that novices had flocked to join them. As they had gone out to minister to the towns and villages, they had spread love like a contagion. Now, if they ever did go out at all, doors were closed against them, the towns and villages were equally plagued by ill will. Then, one day, a stranger arrived at the monastery, begging for bread. As the guest brother grudgingly handed over a crust, the stranger whispered to him: ‘One of you brothers is the Christ’, and went on his way. The guest brother passed on the amazing news. And overnight, life in the community changed. Maybe from fear of judgement, maybe from some inner goodness that had been crusted over by ill feeling; the brothers became caring, generous, patient, hospitable, gracious in their dealings with one another. Envy, suspicion and resentment were annihilated. The brothers resumed their ministry to the people of the valley, who welcomed them once more with open arms .It was as if the sun had risen, warmth, light and growth all bloomed. And all because a beggar had started a rumour, a rumour of God in their midst.

Today is Advent Sunday, advent, coming towards. In the church, we Christians think of God coming to our world by the incarnation of his Son Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem some 2000 and more years ago: Christmas. In church and outside it, people are getting ready for Christmas, so we who have been blessed with an active faith have great opportunities for telling those outside the church – many of whom will indeed find their way into a welcoming church in the coming weeks – telling them the story of the God who became human and explaining what that means to us, what difference it makes in and to our lives. 

But Advent is about more than preparing to remember Jesus’ earthly birth. Less widely remembered beyond church is the other coming of Jesus, the time to which Christians look forward still when Jesus will return, as he promised, to judge the world. That is an edgy idea, difficult to wrap in shiny paper or drape with tinsel and fairy lights.And there is yet another coming of Christ, a third coming, if you like, which deserves at least as much prominence as his birthday and judgement day, his coming as a baby and his coming as judge of all. 

When we Christians in the Diocese of Worcester go out into our local communities, visiting the sick, the housebound, the elderly, providing food for the food bank, giving to organisations such as Christian Aid or the Diocese of Peru or Morogoro, then when we look into the eyes of the person who is sick, or elderly or struggling financially or facing hunger or in any kind of need, then we are looking into the eyes of Christ. ‘One of you is the Christ’ does not state the whole truth, rather it points to the truth that Christ lives in each of God’s children. It is a wake-up call. And it goes further than acts of charity and compassion. That monastery is not the only Christian community to experience troubled relationships, resentment, envy, impatience – many churches do, many families do, we are only human. When we look into the eyes of one another in our family or in our church, the stranger’s words still echo ‘One of you is the Christ.’ 

Now that can be hard to remember and even harder to practise, especially in the run up to Christmas, when ill feeling, short temperedness and just sheer tiredness or taking our loved ones for granted can so easily slip in unnoticed.I speak from experience. The remedy is simple. I try to remember these two simple sentences: You do not know on what day your Lord is coming, so keep awake. For one of you is the Christ.