Dread Judge of All!

A recent headline caught my eye, ‘Today‘ team take aim at ‘deeply deeply boring ‘thought for the day’, the Radio 4 presenter, John Humphrys saying ‘Dear God( an interesting remark from an agnostic) we’ve got to cut a really fascinating item short because we’re going to hear somebody tell us that Jesus was really nice….!’Described  elsewhere as ’one of the last outposts of faith in public life’ it may seem a bit boring ( not half as boring as the Financial Report) and too nice but then its content is so over edited to make sure no one takes offence, what can one expect?

As we begin Advent the Church proclaims a clear message  that far from being the really nice Jesus, meek and mild, the same Jesus, lying in a manger, is also the agent of God’s judgement! Not everyone got the message first time round, and so the scriptures tell us the same Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, is the Jesus who is going to come again on judgement day, and there will, we are told, be a wailing and gnashing of teeth and the separation of wheat from the tares, sheep from goats, and there will be a certain amount of casting into the fire of those who don’t take this very last opportunity to turn to God! The Advent hymn ‘O quickly come dread judge of all’ tells it as it, ’awful will thine advent be’!

Ever since Moses clambered down the mountain with those 2 tablets of stone containing God’s commandments, people have time and again ignored the message that we can’t just live our lives any old how! God loves us bigly as ‘the Donald’ would say, but just how many chances do we need to turn things around and make a better world before its too late?

Judgement Day is coming and it will  be awful, but most Christians believe  that as well as being our judge, Jesus is still a really nice bloke. We call the   God we believe in, Father, and that is what He is, he always shows mercy,  that’s why He sent Jesus the first time round’ as scripture says’ Through the tender mercy of God, the dayspring from on high has come to visit us.’  

Jesus came into the world to encourage us to turn from sin,  and guide our feet into the ways of love, justice and peace. As we celebrate Christmas and see the little baby lying in the manger, what better image of showing how all of humanity can be transformed, and our innocence restored!

Really nice or not, less and less people seem to have time for Jesus if statistics are to be believed! Indeed like Humphrys they find all the Jesus stuff ‘deeply, deeply boring’ ! Recent figures tell us that 71% of Britons aged 18-24 class themselves as non-believers, compared with 62% in 2015, bad news for the Church and for the Jesus guy! There has been , what has been described as a ‘cataclysmic’ change in church attendance - with few Anglican services attracting any young people at all! Indications are that after having had a ’fairly good innings’, the dear old Church of England is approaching the end of the road, facing what one former Archbishop of Canterbury described as ’extinction’ as the established church. Some of  us do not find this surprising as the Church of England continues to water down the Gospel and change her teachings in order to attract new believers. The Church does not seem to realise that these attempts to ‘marry’ with secular society are, apart from some notable exceptions with the growth of new ‘mega’ churches in some of our cities, doing nothing to stop this decline; indeed lots of clergy and churches have tried just about everything!

‘The Church may be far from perfect’ wrote one columnist in The Times recently, and its central tenet of faith, GOD, may seem absurd, but ‘where else’ he asks, ’do we place our faith, where else can youngsters find ’a  handy ethical guide to living the good life?’ Where else indeed as I remind all the families who come to St Augustine’s to have their children christened. The same columnist concluding that ‘If you kick the received wisdom into touch, its incumbent on you to replace it with something better!’

Christmas without Jesus is like having no turkey or Christmas pudding, so why not try to get along to church this Christmas to discover more about the ‘really nice’ guy rather than leave it too late!

                      your friend and priest,  

                                                         Father Keith