ADVENT: READY AND WAITING? (Jeremiah 33:14-15)

 

The Inspection of Church Schools is a very serious matter. Under Section 48 of the Education Act, Church schools are exempt from the dreaded Ofsted in certain areas, provided inspection is done under Diocesan supervision to a similar standard by specially trained bods like me. A detailed report is written which is made public. Given world events in Paris and Syria I am sure you will understand how the ethos of a school is seen as very important. Parliament is determined that British values of tolerance and respect will be promoted. Church Schools, Jewish Schools, Islamic Schools accepting taxpayers’ money must show that they are doing this. One of the areas we SIAMS inspectors look at is how church schools are promoting a strong Christian ethos that applies the Christian faith in a positive and supportive way to our society.

 

But part of me is uneasy about being what is seen by some as the hit man. Often there is the smell of fear around when I arrive to inspect! We take over the Head’s study, desk and chair. We look at the books, poke around, watch the teachers, examine their records, and talk to everyone from the chair of governors, through the Head and teaching staff, parents, right down to the smallest children. What I like best is sitting at the canteen at lunchtime. Kids invariably come and sit at the table out of curiosity and do they spill the beans!

 

It all sounds rather intimidating. And by me, Mr Nice Guy! But actually the aim is to give he school a fair deal and help it improve. By the end of the day sweetness and light usually breaks out as everyone realises I am on their side. I know the problems and difficulties. The report will be sympathetic, we there to help. A good inspection is searching and fearless but it is also constructive and affirming of good practice.

 

Advent reminds us that at the end of our days our lives will be subject to a similar inspection by God.

 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Jem 33:14-15

 

‘Advent’ comes from a Latin word which means coming. Also ‘Adventum’ in the Roman sense was an official process where every so often the Roman Emperor of his representative would visit a province like Britannia and by golly the books and admin had better be in order! Advent! Yes the early Christians knew that word all too well. The Emperor will inspect. The smell of fear. So today we remember that one day Christ the King will be our judge. Nervous? I am! And with good reason.

 

But let me reassure you. Christ is a sympathetic judge. By the Incarnation, becoming a human being in Jesus Christ, he has passed this way too. He has lived a life, not rich or posh, but ordinary. He knows the ups and downs of human life. After all look how he ended up!

 

The American writer Arthur Miller spent some years as a young man working at the coastal shipyards of the American Deep South. He was appalled at the living and working conditions of the black labourers and their families. The churches were full of clean and neatly dressed white people who looked down at what they saw as the slovenly, immoral lower classes. But what did they know of their struggles?

 

Miller records how he heard a negro spiritual sung by an old lady. The last line was about Jesus at Judgment Day talking to the poor. “He’ll understand and he’ll say, ‘Well Done!’”

 

But in the meantime, do not understand me, a little self-examination would help! In our own case, most parishes round here have noticed that the ‘regulars’ have become less regular. Life is so busy nowadays. But should we be any less committed to faith and service?

 

So what have we learned today?

 

Advent is my favourite time of the year. I like getting ready for Christmas. But we also need to get ready for the time when our lives will be inspected. That I don’t like so much, and suspect you don’t either. But don’t be afraid. The judge is on our side. While severe, he is kindly. With any luck,“He’ll understand and he’ll say ‘Well Done!’”