So, here we are on the last Sunday of the Christian year. In the BCP tradition it is “Stir up” Sunday, a nickname that came from the first line of the BCP collect for this Sunday, “Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, “ a prayer that we will pray later, after our Eucharist. Early in the 20th century it was instituted as the festival of Christ the King by the Roman Catholic Church, a lead that has been widely taken up across the Christian churches, including the Church of England.
It seems to me that today’s gospel reading brings these two traditional themes for this Sunday together. This is the day when we turn from looking back towards Easter and Pentecost and forwards towards Christmas, via the preparation season of Advent. We rest at this turning point and contemplate Christ our King. As we contemplate him we become aware of him contemplating us. In that mutual contemplation we become more deeply aware of his majesty and glory. We see the blessing and love in his eyes as he gazes on us. As we gaze with worship, and feel the warm regard of affirmation and approval, so we are prompted to ask him to stir up our wills that we might be even more fruitful in his service.
And if we want to be more fruitful, what does that mean? Well, the BCP prayer talks about, “Bringing forth the fruit of good works.” Matthew, as he shares the eye witness accounts of Jesus’ teaching, gives us a pretty good list of what Jesus thinks are important examples of good works.
The other reason why “stir up” Sunday is so memorable is that it coincides, approximately, with the time that cooks would start to stir up the ingredients for Christmas puddings and Christmas cakes, so that they could be made with plenty of time to mature nicely in time for Christmas.
Is it too fanciful to bring these things together and to suggest that we might have the raisins of feeding the hungry, the currants of giving the thirsty a drink, the cherries of welcoming in the stranger, the mixed peel of clothing the naked, the sultanas of caring for the sick, and the almonds of visiting the prisoner?
Now this looks a bit dry. And as Paul writes in his letter to the church at Corinth, without love everything else is worthless. What a crying shame it is that charity, a word that has its roots in the latin word for love, has come to be associated with the complete opposite of love in the phrase, “as cold as charity.” Charity, good works, care for the poor and the lonely, should not be cold, it should be warm, warm and soaked in love. So let’s add some brandy, orange juice, and cold tea (an inherited recipe) to soak into these fruit and really plump it up, so that they’re good and juicy in our cake.
So, I’m going to take this mixture home and let it soak overnight. Tomorrow I’ll mix up the cake and bake it. Over the next month or so I’ll continue to prepare it by feeding it with brandy. As Christmas gets closer I will ice it, and it’ll be all ready on Christmas day to share. I wonder who I will be privileged to share it with this year. Over the last couple of years we’ve had a Sri Lankan family, an Iranian refugee, and an Indian student share Christmas days with us. People who otherwise would have been alone. I wonder which little brothers or sisters Jesus will come to us in this Christmas.
Will our hearts be as well prepared as our cakes? Will we feed them through Advent by allowing them to soak up the loving Holy Spirit of God? Will we make them sweet by allowing ourselves to be covered by the forgiveness of God that makes us as white as snow and defeats all bitterness? Will we be ready to greet those brothers and sisters, feed them, clothe them, welcome them into our homes?
I have to say that I am not this organised with my Christmas cake preparation every year. Some years I’ve just been too busy, too forgetful, too preoccupied. I haven’t got my act together and I haven’t got the ingredients. Sometimes I’ve baked the cake closer to Christmas, and it’s been OK. Sometimes I’ve just run out of time. It’s not been a complete disaster, my mum’s always got plenty of spare, but we have missed out on our family Christmas cake.
In contrast, Jesus is very clear that continually failing to serve the least of his brothers and sisters will be a disaster for me. Jesus is King, and in the end, all people from all time and all places will appear before him for judgement. That includes me. When I stand there, I may call him Lord, I might tell him about how busy I was, I might claim to have been preoccupied with all kinds of things that I thought were good at the time. I have been told in advance what I will be judged on. What I did or didn’t do for the least of his brothers and sisters.
I don’t know exactly what eternal fire and eternal punishment mean. I do know that I don’t want to find out by personal experience. The great news is that I don’t have to. That place has not been prepared for us, it has been prepared for Satan and his angels. The place that is prepared for us is one of blessing and eternal life. If we want to go there then we may. We can be forgiven for our failure to love, and we can be free to live a life of love. This is the power of our King, won for us on the cross and in the resurrection. We celebrate it in the bread and wine that we share this morning. We proclaim it by the bread and wine that we share with those that we meet in the world during the week.
As we look forward to Christmas, and sharing the cakes and other good food that season brings, may we also look forward to the return of our King Jesus in glory, preparing to receive the good blessings that season will bring. Amen