* The following was originally delivered as an Advent meditation on 12/1/13.
My question today has to do with this last song, “How Shall I Receive Thee?” The question is, “Who is ready for Advent?”
The Coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh speaks a word that answers and confirms a thousand other words.
- It confirms that God will visit his people.
- It confirms that from Judah, the children of Abraham will bless and rescue the whole world from its darkness.
- It confirms that one from the line of David will sit upon the throne.
These and countless other words of promise, hope, and deliverance.
But nevertheless, even though the word of God came in Jesus Christ and gave a sweeping YES! to all of God’s words, even in spite of its clarity in fulfilling prophecy upon prophecy, it was and still remains a very strange word. Because although it was a complete YES! in every way, still there are some YES’s which have yet to come.
The strangeness of it may be illustrated by considering about Paul’s words which we just read in Romans, starting at the end of v. 11: “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand.”
Paul puts the strangeness of the situation in it barest form: to those who he says are already saved, he says, “Salvation is near.”
Then he describes their place in time: “Night is done,” he says in v. 12, and “the day is at hand,” it is upon us. The image here is of the dawning sunlight which stretches out its fingers to say that morning is finally here. Paul is heralding that the Advent of the new day, that day which will be marked by pure light, and by the judgment of the world, is here.
And Paul confirms his message by exhorting his audience to act as those who indeed live in that final day.
Without question, Advent has come. It is the dawn of the new Day in Christ, the day which was trumpeted by all the Scriptures before Christ, and by all of those after him.
But my question for us today is, “Who is prepared for Advent?”
I take it that in our present cultural moment, Advent is that vaguely-known-churchy-month between Thanksgiving & Christmas.
I have no intention of elucidating Advent in all of its historical and symbolic splendor. I recommend Art’s Sunday School class to you if you would like such information. And there are many books on it, besides that.
But I understand it; the core of Advent is the coming of Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.
So the question is, “Who is prepared for Advent?”
Someone might take it that I am asking if people are ready for Christmas. After all, that is what Advent leads up to, Christmas. The baby in the manger, presents and feasts. So we might say that we are ready if we have bought our gifts & a fine-looking tree, gotten out our warm clothes, made holiday plans, etc. In fact, many people get all those things in just one day: Black Friday.
But being ready for the Christmas celebrations has nothing to do with readiness for Advent.
Someone might say, “Who isn’t ready for Advent? I didn’t realize it was starting this Sunday, but now that the purple candle is lit, and we have sung some Christmassy songs, surely now I’m ready.”
And indeed, you might be ready. You don’t have to know when it’s coming to be ready for it. In fact, you can’t know when it is coming, because it dates not only to that first Christmas, but also to that next Christmas, the next time Jesus Christ sets foot upon the earth. In our reading from Matthew 24, Jesus himself said that none of us would know the time he would return. That even he didn’t know when it was coming. It would be so unexpected that it would be like a thief in the night.
Now someone may say, “Okay, I see where you’re going. You’re talking about the second coming. Well of course I’m ready for that. I’m saved, so I have nothing to worry about.”
And again, I would say, you might be right. You might be saved, and might even have confidence in Christ and wear all the armor of God, the sword of Truth and the helmet of Faith, and the belt of Righteousness. You may be completely ready.
But, before you return home you may want to consider whether you are saying it for the right reasons. You may want to ask yourself why Paul was so concerned that the Romans should live in obedience to God. Here in chapter 13 he urges them to fulfill the law through the deeds of love.
Are these not the same people whom Paul addressed in 1:7 as those “loved & called by God”?
And did he not also write Romans 8:38-39, to these people? There he said, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How could these people walk in darkness? It is totally unthinkable that one who has been so joined with Jesus Christ could be separated from him. It would be easier for Hell to be overturned.
And yet, Paul is very clear here in chapter 13: “Do not walk in darkness.”
Paul knows too much about people to think that it would be impossible for them to turn away from Christ. This is the same Paul who in 1 Cor 9:27 says that he beats himself daily and enslaves his body, he says, lest he should be disqualified.
And so I ask, “Who is prepared for the Advent of Christ?”
Who is prepared to meet the ancient of Days, the little baby who is called Almighty God, the man at whose feet every knee shall bow and tongue confess his name above all names forever and forever.
But I think there is still something that stands in our way of understanding the question.
You see, Jesus Christ was not bluffing when he told his disciples that he did not know the day or the hour when he would return. He simply did not know.
He was so unsure that he told his disciples to keep watch constantly.
The judgment was going to come from out of nowhere, and it was dangerous to be caught off guard.
And they believed him.
They believed him so much that Paul talks about the return of Christ in Romans 13 like a ticking clock, that’s closer now than it was before. He even tells his audience in v. 12 that they are living in the twilight between the dark night, and the certain day.
The whole New Testament, moreover, speaks with the same urgency: Shape up! The king is coming!
It has been no small embarrassment to the church in recent centuries that not only did each of the apostles die before the return of Christ, but that many hundreds of years, and now almost two thousand years have past, but still he has not come back.
Just as then, people are born, people die, and people are married and live full, long lives, with retirement homes and 401Ks.
I think we must realize first that the Scriptures speak as though Christ will be back any minute. And second we must realize that he has not yet come back.
After that, it is up to you what you do with the information. You may choose think it’s a big a lie. Or you may choose to believe it. But if you believe it, do not get sucked into crazy predictions. Believe also what Jesus said in Matt 24: You do not know when it is coming. C.S. Lewis put it this way:
‘The doctrine of the Second Coming has failed, so far as we are concerned, if it does not make us realize that at every moment of every year in our lives [the] question "What if this present were the world's last night?" is equally relevant.’
And Christ is coming indeed. As surely as the seasons change, and next week if there is a next week, we will light the second candle. Christ is coming back to judge the living in the dead.
So I conclude where I began: “Are you prepared for Advent?”