Sunday, 29 November 2015

Will you be ready when he comes?


ADVENT 1


Today we are starting a new year in the church’s calendar. The Church year always begins with Advent. Advent is a season that brings a certain level of tension. Our culture is ready for Christmas, but in the church we are in Advent.

In Advent we think about Christ coming to us as a baby. We imagine Mary’s pregnant belly and her anticipation. So our Old Testament Reading includes the line, “Behold, the days are coming, declares 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” (Jer 33:14-15). It is a prediction about Jesus’ coming. It is a time when we remember John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way for the one who was foretold.

But, we also imagine Christ coming to us again, this time in power and as judge. This is often called the 2nd coming. In Advent we are not only preparing for the coming of a baby, but the ruler and judge of the world. Our readings calling us to repentance, and preparation for a coming judgement.

Our Gospel reading is probably mainly about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 40 or so years after Jesus was resurrected. The language is very symbolic, and so we shouldn’t necessarily be thinking about actual sun, moon, and stars. Often the skies were viewed as a reflection of what was happening on earth, or that those elements of the sky had some kind of power to control events on earth. The sea was often a symbol of unpredictable chaos. So all of this may have been speaking about the marching of the Roman legions into Jerusalem and destroying the city and the Temple. It would have been a massive blow to Judaism itself because that was where the festivals took place, it was the only place where sacrifices to deal with the sins of the people was allowed. It was, for many people, the house of God. So its destruction would have sent Judaism into an identity crisis. Many of the early Christians saw this destruction as judgement for the rejection of God’s son. Christians also believed that Jesus replaced the Temple. He was now the place to deal with sin, not the temple.

But Christians have also seen readings like this pointing into the future to the time when Christ will come again, which is why we have the reading today as we begin Advent.

Many people have gotten lost in the project trying to identify when precisely Christ will come back. Some of you will remember the scare in 2012 when people were expecting “the end”. Once in a while when I’m in a used bookstore I’ll come across old prediction about the end of the world. Some in the 60’s were obsessed with the reestablishment of Israel as a country and saw this as a sure sign of the end. Others in the 80’s were obsessed with the cold war, and saw the communist atheistic armies as the army of the antichrist. Obviously we should be very wary of these kinds of predictions regardless of the intricacy of the prediction.

However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be expecting Christ to come again. If we believe Christ’s words, then we should expect it. He will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thes 5:2). So it will come as a surprise, but we should still be looking for it. We should be expecting it and preparing for it.

The end of our Gospel reading is as important for us now as it was for those early Christians back then-“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk 21:34-36). Be diligent. Watch yourselves. Do not allow the cares of this life to trap you. Live like he is coming back at any moment. Don’t be seduced by debauchery, or drunkenness. Watch. Stay awake. This doesn’t mean literally stay awake, but rather “be aware”, “watch”. The life of sin is often one we slide into when we aren’t paying attention. Pay attention to your life in light of the fact that Christ is coming again.

What if he came in the middle of the conversation you were having? What if he came on Wednesday at 11:00 at night? What if he came this afternoon? Would you be ready?

In many of us there is a little twinge of fear when we think about Christ’s return. The preacher, Austin Farrer, said, “The God who saves us is the God who judges us. We are not condemned by his severity and redeemed by his compassion; what judges us is what redeems us, the love of God. What is it that will break our hearts on judgment day? Is it not the vision, suddenly unrolled, of how he has loved the friends we have neglected, of how he has loved us and we have not loved him in return; how, when we come before his altar, he gave us himself, and we gave him half-penitences, or resolutions too weak to commit our wills? But while love thus judges us by being what it is, the same love redeems us.” The Christ who judges us is also the one who loves us and died for us. So we should not be overwhelmed by fear, but we should be deadly serious about it.

So this week (or this Advent), maybe keep this question on your mind. What if he came today? Maybe put that on a sticky note on your bathroom mirror so it is placed in your mind as you brush your teeth. Maybe put it on a note in your pocket so you feel it as you reach for your keys. Maybe you place a note in your car. Whatever works best for you, but just keep that question with you. What if he came today? Would you be ready to face him?

May God in His mercy make us ready to face Him.



AMEN

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