Rev. Andrew Cunnington
15th December 2019
Now is the Moment of His Coming

Howard, the Old Testament prophet visited this church last week

He emerged from between the card shop and foodbank and made a bee line for my clerical collar.

“I once was King David” he began “and then I was Isaiah”

But today I’m Howard and I’m here to tell you that next year Jesus Christ will be coming back.

I’m afraid you are completely wrong – I replied – it’s not next year he’s coming back – it’s this year, right here and now in fact. In this very moment – in this conversation between you and me.

I could see Howard was losing interest – his eyes darting to left and to right.

No it’s next year I tell you, not today – and he began to back away. He’s not coming today. 2020 that’s going to be a different story. He darted off to the loos and I never saw him again.

We had bitten off more than we could chew – that was the truth of it.

18 miles walking in one day at our time of life. With packs that were too heavy, climbing hills that were too steep, over ground that was too rough.

And as evening came – a man and his dog approached us from the direction we were headed.

“You two look done in“ he exclaimed with a rather mocking chuckle. “Headed to Patterdale are you?”

“Yes” we said “Patterdale and no further!”

“well you’re nearly there lads – a quarter of an hour’s brisk walk and the pub on the green’s right in front of you… there’s a BBQ on tonight, folk music too, real ale festival – and some lovely local lasses dressed up as serving wenches”

Well that brought the spring back into our step with no mistake. Heads down, we powered on to Patterdale – glancing neither to the left nor to the right – just wanting to get to the village and make the vision a reality.

But here’s the thing. It took us another hour to get to Patterdale and when we got there the pub on the green was closed, there was no BBQ, no folk music and not a serving wench in sight.

We stood before the closed pub dumbfounded about the tale we had been spun. Why do that? Why say that?

Maybe this was a reincarnation of Howard – promising for the future – Oh but nothing today.

I love all these Isaiah readings because they are filled with such wonderful visions. The glory of the Lord and how that glory will be manifested here on earth.

All will be made good when the Lord God sets to work on things and it shall be done. Sixteen times, in just this one chapter – not that it might happen if we’re good – but it shall happen.

Joy and gladness shall be ours. sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Yet the reality in our day is that deserts become hotter, the weak are ever more marginalised, the fear of attack from all sides grows ever more threatening.

It feels as if joy and gladness are fleeing away as sorrow and sighing get more and more of a stranglehold on our lives.

Now if you were a king or a shepherd with only the merest understanding of what Isaiah had been saying – and you were summoned by stars and angels to go to Bethlehem – you might have said to yourself – now here we go – it’s all starting to happen!

And if you were a fisherman by the Sea Of Galilee and this charismatic miracle worker cum story teller – called you to leave everything behind and follow – you’d have thought – Yes – here is the promise and little old me in the forefront of it all.

But if you had gone the whole hog with him – right through to Calvary. Seen him dying there and witnessed the grief of Mary his Mother and the Magdalene – you’d have started to think twice wouldn’t you.

So we sit astride two moods of Christmas and they can seem to us like a pair of bucking broncos – ready to unseat us.

Number one – Let Isaiah’s prophecy stand – for one day surely he will come and we need to have faith in the promise. Give Howard his due…

Number two – he’s not going to show is he – and the more the years go by – the more our Christmasses get lost in a feel good factor which doesn’t have much to do with the salvation of the world at all. Silent Night with the words changed caught up in a party political broadcast.

But we do not lose heart – not if we turn to the Gospel – for even the briefest second.

For in these verses you surely do see the vision of Isaiah embodied – literally embodied in the sort of man Jesus was and the things he did. Changes being made, transformation afoot – not in backdrop scenery – but in individual lives and not celebrity lives but amongst those with the smallest reason to hope – blind , lame, deaf, the poor and the sick.

And the cross of Christ – far from being evidence to the contrary – points to the fact of the kingdom making its home in the lives of those who dare to cry out for it.

We got to our Bed and breakfast in Patterdale – not in the best of spirits.

Our landlord was sympathetic – I know it’s a tough walk lads – but you have to admit that that final hour down into the village has some of the most glorious scenery in the whole of the British Isles. It’s a walk to take your time over and be blessed.

But we had not noticed that beauty at all. We had scurried along with our heads down in search of the future hope – and missed the blessing of the present reality.

Preoccupation with what’s next on the to do list – rather than acceptance of the moment in which we stand.

No he’s not coming back this year – next year I’m told… do we give off that same signal.

When the reality of church is to proclaim loud and strong that it is this year and it is this moment.

I guess that’s one of the reasons why the sacraments are important to me – because the sharing of the bread and wine makes real his presence right in the here and now – and that living presence is touched into our lives as we receive those tiny gifts or allow the words of a blessing to settle upon us.

But none of that is of much use if when the service is ended – we act towards one another as if he has not come this year.

For every conversation we have with another person – every text or email, every Facebook posting, every phone call – can be offered in the knowledge that he is here in that encounter right now – and that the way we are with others means it can either – begin to feel a lot like Christmas – or we consign ourselves to a never ending Advent.

ISAIAH 35: 1-10
MATTHEW 11: 2-11