I’d like to begin by sharing with you a very old joke – a story from the Star Wars universe. I’d already planned to tell you this today, but it takes on a special poignancy because of the news this morning of the death of Dave Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader, as well as being Britain’s most famous road safety advocate.
In the world of Star Wars, the agents of dark and of light are bound together by a mysterious Force. The dark lord, Darth Vader opens a channel to his arch nemesis and broadcasts a message. “Luke Skywalker! I know what you’re having for Christmas!” He pauses, but there is only radio silence.
He tries again: “Luke Skywalker! I know what you’re having for Christmas!” This time the viewscreen flicks on and a very annoyed Luke Skywalker appears, but says nothing.
A third time Darth Vader declares: “Luke Skywalker! I know what you’re having for Christmas!” And this time, Luke cracks.
“Darth Vader,” he says, “how can you possibly know what I’m having for Christmas?”
Darth Vader looks directly at the scanner and says: “Luke Skywalker! I felt your presents!”
Christmas presents are a promise, now, of joy yet to come. Their size, their shape, even their feel might suggest some idea of the gifts we’re waiting to discover. But until we take the wrapping off, we can never be entirely sure.
By faith, we know that the best is yet to come. Every Sunday, in our creed, we profess that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. God promises us an eternal kingdom with no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears and no more plague. This is not just the promise of heaven; this is a promise that God will make a new Earth where those have died and gone to heaven will be raised up in imperishable bodies. This is our Christian hope: not pie in the sky when we die, but mirth through rebirth on new Earth! What awaits us is a glorious life – in the body, not just in the spirit – with Jesus and with all those who have ever loved him.
And so here and now at the end of this November we find ourselves in a time of waiting; a time marked by promises so close that we can feel their outline, but where the joy is yet to be fulfilled.
We have the promise of Christmas; this year, the gifts might arrive in the post rather than in the hands of our loved ones. But we will keep the same discipline of waiting until the day of unwrapping, playing guessing games about what they may contain. To open one’s presents before Christmas would be to spoil the joy of the long-awaited moment.
We have the promise of a vaccine which will bring us the long-awaited day when we can embrace and draw close to one another again. But we must first pass through the tunnel of this winter before we reach the light of spring, taking care to keep our distance as we await the time of renewed closeness.
We have the promise of Christ’s second coming. And yet we can already feel his presence. St Paul writes of how the Gifts of the Spirit are poured out in their fullness. What we want is to be with Jesus in the Kingdom where tears, pain and suffering are things of the past. But what we’re offered are those hints of the presence of the Lord, which we can feel even though they are not yet fully unwrapped. We can feel his presence through his Holy Spirit living within us. The same spirit which enabled Jesus to work miracles lives in you and me; and when we learn to yield to the Holy Spirit miracles can be worked through us. If you’ve ever been to an Alpha Course or a Renewal Prayer Group you may have personal experience of this; if not, I strongly recommend you find an Alpha or similar course starting in the New Year – for even receiving prayer online, it’s possible to encounter the presence of the Lord in a new way.
The prophet Isaiah knows that God has the power to rescue us; and yet we are not always rescued from the trials of human life. Isaiah cries out, “If only you’d come with your presence – the very mountains would melt!” But it’s not God’s perfect plan for us to unwrap his presence yet; we are asked to be content with the subtle signs of his Holy Spirit living within us. As we wait, we must ask God for strength; you might wish to take as your own the words of a song we’ll use later in this Mass:
Steady heart that keeps on going / steady love that keeps on holding / lead me on. / Steady grace that keeps forgiving / steady faith that keeps believing / lead me on.Steffany Gretzinger & Amanda Lindsey Cook
The song begins by saying “I can’t see what’s in front of me” but ends with the promise that we will run together with God. So what I have to offer you this day is not a new hope, but a hope we have known about for 2000 years. For us as Christians, hope is the certain knowledge of things to come, the knowledge that Christ will come again, the knowledge that this world with all its brokenness will come to an end. Just stay awake! Get ready! For you do not know the day or the hour when the Lord will invite you into the fullness of his kingdom.
It may come through the end of the world as we know it; more likely, as for 20 centuries of Christians, the Kingdom will come to us fully at the end of our human life on earth. Admission to God’s New Earth its not automatic; it does depend on us putting our trust in Jesus here now. And although we do not see him, it’s not hard to feel at least some signs of his presence, because we are not be without the gifts of the Spirit even while waiting for Jesus to be revealed! So come, Lord Jesus, come as by a new Christmas – I sense your presence!