It is hard to believe, but in less than two weeks we will be celebrating Advent Sunday and will begin again the liturgical cycle that will take us through Advent and onto Christmas and past Epiphany and Lent and Easter and back to these weeks after Pentecost. The cycle of feast and fast, of purple and white and red and green seems each year to happen faster and faster. The transition sometimes catching me off guard and other years evoking subtle shifts in the way I pay attention to the world and what’s going on around me. Sometimes I’m aware of shifts in the lessons long before I notice that the colour of the vestments and hangings have changed and sometimes I know a change is about to happen when a particular saint comes around.
These November feasts do that for me. I sense them and am reminded that once again the Feast of Christ the King will be upon us and then that wonderful sombre season of Advent.
There was a time when the Anglican preaching custom in Advent was to preach on the Four Last Things: death, judgement, heaven and hell. Perhaps there are some here tonight old enough to have either sat through that preaching cycle, or preached those sermons yourself.
Let me assure you, I’m not tonight about to give you a foretaste of Advent in the good old days except to say that Advent, and the Four Last Things are about our expectation and anticipation of the coming reign of God in time and at the end of time. Tonight as we look back on the life of Saint Margaret of Scotland we are reminded to look forward to the coming reign of God for which we await most specifically during Advent. The kingdom of heaven is like … The kingdom of heaven is like … The kingdom of heaven is like …: a treasure hidden in a field, a merchant in search of fine pearls, a net thrown into the sea which catches fish of every kind.
This section of Matthew’s gospel is a collection of kingdom sayings: the kingdom of heaven is like a sower who sowed his field; like a mustard seed; like yeast; and tonight like hidden treasure, a merchant searching for pearls and like a net.
It seems to me that Jesus is telling us here that life is full of kingdom moments if only we have eyes to see and hearts to anticipate the coming reign of God in time among us, and at the end of time, when Jesus will return in judgement and compassion.
The kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field. We’ve all done it I’m sure, perhaps as adults but more likely as children, headed out into the garden with a shovel slung over our shoulders heading off to dig for treasure. When I was a child there was a corner in our backyard that was always dug up. It was really the only place that we could dig, and so dig we did. If our digging wasn’t an attempt to get to China (we had just learnt that the world was round and if you dig down, you’d end up popping out the other side), then it was an attempt to discover something what someone had long ago left buried in just that spot that was waiting for us to find. I’m always struck whenever I watch children play, how they often do it with such seriousness and determination. The kingdom of heaven is like children at play, digging for treasure or exploring for China and sometimes they find it. It may be an old bone left by the dog, or a button that fell off someone’s coat, or the trowel that you put down and forgot last fall, but each discovery is greeted as if it were the most valuable thing in the world. The kingdom of heaven is just like that hidden treasure which all else pales in comparison.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant is search of fine pearls. I don’t know about you, but I hate shopping, so I’d make a lousy pearl merchant. I’d buy the first one I saw, just to get it over and done with. But I know others who love to shop. Several years ago I was in Istanbul and one of the people I was with wanted to buy a carpet. We spent the day going from shop to shop, drinking tea and wine and eating sweets and nuts as carpet after carpet after carpet was brought out for our inspection. One of the people I was with could tell by touch if it was wool or synthetic and by colour if it was old or new. He could tell if the knots had been made by hand or by machine and took great delight in explaining this all to me. We never did find the perfect carpet but over the course of the day I began to sense the lengths someone might be prepared to go in their search. The kingdom of God is like, perhaps not so much a shopper, but rather someone on a quest for beauty or truth or love, and who knows the real thing when it’s discovered. The kingdom of heaven is like each one of us when we are searching for our heart’s desire.
The kingdom of God is like a net thrown into the sea that catches fish of every kind. I’m not much of a fisherman, but I do love to ride the subway as it moves from Harvard Square , past Central Square and on to Park Street, South Station and beyond. If the reign of God is like anything for me, it’s like the Red Line as it collects all sorts and conditions of humanity: big and tall, thin and hefty, female and male, young and old with every nationality and race and occupation under the sun. There in car after car is a vision of the reign of God for me. The kingdom of God is like the Red Line which brings together, if just for a stop of two, people from all over the world, and passes, at least for the moment, no judgement on anyone. That, by the way, is left for the end of the ride.
So you see, life is full of kingdom moments when the coming reign of God that we celebrate during Advent bursts in upon us, just as it did to Saint Margaret when she lived over 1000 years ago. Her kingdom moments came about as she struggled, and often failed, to bring peace and order to a troubled nation; when she took seriously the gospel command to care for the orphaned and widowed, the sick and the aged. Her kingdom moments came because she lived in expectation and anticipation for the coming kingdom of God in time and at the end of time.
It will soon be Advent, when the whole season points us toward the coming kingdom of God as it breaks in upon us here and now and as we await the day when it will come with great triumph at the end of time. But for us, like Margaret, it is never too early to look for signs of the kingdom in our own lives.
The kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field; it’s like a merchant in search of fine pearls; it’s like a net thrown into the sea which catches fish of every kind. But it is also like that old bone or button or trowel you once dug up in the backyard so many years ago; it’s like being on a quest and finding the desire of your heart; it’s like a ride on the Red Line.
The kingdom of God is like …
Well, we know what it was like for Jesus, we can guess what it was like for Margaret, you now know what it is like for me.
So the kingdom of God , what is it like for you?
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