Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. During this season it is traditional to preach on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Last Sunday we looked at death; therefore this Sunday it is when we must look at the topic of judgement.
Judgement Day is often thought of as being a rather scary prospect. Not so much because that it may result in our being found to have good and faithful servants and so go to heaven; but rather because we worry that that may not be the case. Therefore, let us look at the concept in the form of a story, so as to illustrate the risks we face and where they actually come from.
This is coal mining country, so imagine you are a miner down a very deep mine. It is so deep, miles underground, that it can only be reached by a single shaft. That is the only way in or out. At the bottom of that deep, deep shaft are many tunnels heading off in all directions. The mine has been in operation for many years, so that the tunnels go on for vast distances – so vast, there is a rail system in place to take the miners to where the work goes on. It takes a long time to get from the elevators to the workings so that it would be impractical for the miners to go up and down every day; so when they go down they must stay down for many weeks. But because the mine is rich in precious jewels the pay and accommodation is good. Naturally, there are some conflicts between the workers and management, but no more than usual, and for the most part things go along quite well.
The day comes when something goes wrong. Sudden tremors rock the mine. A message is sent out over the loudspeaker system: the mine is in danger of collapse and everyone must evacuate. There is plenty of time for every one to get out safely, but only if there is no delay. So everyone must start walking toward the great bank of elevators that lead to the surface and bring nothing with them. It will take several days; but the tremors have damaged the rail system so walking is the only option.
Some refuse to go. The have been mining for years and they don't believe there is any danger. They are going to stay and wait for the rail system to be fixed. Others don't trust the management. They think it is a trick to get all the workers out of the mine at the same time so they can be replaced by people who will do the work for less money. So they stay behind while most begin to walk.
All goes well for a while and the miners, though worried about the danger of the mine collapsing, are cheerful enough. But after a few hours, some begin to complain. The walking is hard and the journey is long. The tremors seem to have stopped. Perhaps the danger has passed? So one after the other they stop walking; they will wait and see what happens; perhaps they will start again after a rest, perhaps not.
The rest carry on. But then some begin to struggle. They have filled bags with jewels and are carrying them despite the great weight, despite the warning not to bring anything. Their friends urge them to lay their burdens aside, but they will not. But the weight slows them down and they begin to fall behind.
The rest carry on. They come to what used to be a station along the rail system, where the line branched off in many directions to other areas of the mine. People from those areas have gathered there. But instead of carrying on with the journey, they are having a huge party, eating and drinking to their hearts' content. 'Come join us' they cry out to all who pass by. Many do. They are hungry and thirsty and tired of walking. Food, drink, and a rest are all very appealing. They do not seem to notice that very few who have stopped to party continue on, but rather stay and continue to eat, drink, and be merry.
The rest carry on. With only a few hours to go before they reach the elevators, they pass a great crack in the tunnel opened by the tremors. It is larger than any tunnel and it opens into an enormous cave. And the cave is filled with jewels even larger and more valuable than the ones they had been mining so far away. Many rush in and begin to claw them from the rocks with their hands. They first fill their pockets; then they take off their jackets and close them up and tie the sleeves closed to use as crude bags. These they also begin to fill. Those outside the cave cry out to them to stop, to leave the jewels, to keep walking. Safety is so very close now. But they will not stop.
And so the rest carry on. In a few hours they reach the great bank of elevators that lead to the surface. And the men operating them, waiting to take them to safety are astonished at how few have come. 'Where are they?' they ask. 'The danger is great and time is short.' And those who have come tell them where they are and what they are doing. 'Can you wait for them? Can you send help to those who stopped? Can you send messengers to those who would not come and tell them to change their minds?' But those who operate the elevators shake their heads sadly. 'There is no time,' they say. 'Get in, we must go.' And those who had made the long journey, stopping for nothing, following the instructions they were given for their safety, get into the elevators and are taken up to safety. They reach the surface. And not long after they do there is another great tremor. The mine collapses. And all who stayed behind are lost.
Whose fault is it that they were lost? There is no one to blame but themselves. They would not listen to the warnings. They made bad choices; and they suffered the consequences of those choices. And that is what judgement is. God sent his Son that we might know the way to safety, the way to him in heaven. If we refuse to listen, if we refuse to follow the path he has laid out for us, we have no one to blame but ourselves. To answer the questions we began with: what are the risks that we face? That we may allow the things of this world come between us and heaven. And where do those risks come from? From many places; but ultimately from the choices we ourselves make. I pray that all here will make good choices all their lives so that at the end they will be saved and end in heaven.
To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen.