1 Thessalonians 3 v 9-13 and Luke 21 v 25-36
Advent is a season of expectation as the Church awaits the coming (adventus) of Christ in his incarnation. Perhaps you associate this in your minds with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The theme of preparing to receive the Christchild once again into the world through the retelling of the Nativity and the events of the Holy Family.
But Advent also calls us to look ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. The readings and liturgies should not only direct us towards Christ’s birth, they should also challenge our reluctance to confront the theme of future judgement. We see this in our Gospel reading this morning.
‘there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’
I wonder how you feel about such scriptures. Fearful? Bemused? Uncertain? Perhaps that’s why we prefer to focus on Mary and Joseph and the cute baby in a manger? But let us not miss something of the Advent journey which our forerunners in the church embraced through modern fear or bemusement.
The Four Last Things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – have been traditional themes for Advent meditation. But unlike the season of Lent the characteristic note of Advent is expectation, rather than penitence.
For the Christian the return of the Son of Man in Glory should not be fearful but joyous. It marks the end of the distress and the trials and brings relief for our failing hearts. When we read that these portents of great suffering on the earth are signs of a coming redemption, like the buds on the trees are signs of coming fruit, we are reminded to look up, to lift our heads to the coming King. Do not fear reproach or condemnation but rather liberation and celebration. Your redemption draws near .. let your expectation exceed that of the Christmas story!
Perhaps the anticipation of Christ’s second coming has been lost under commercial pressure of the modern Christmas celebrations. In many ways it has made it harder to sustain the appropriate sense of alert watchfulness of the Christian Church. But the fundamental Advent prayer remains ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Our Lord, come’. Come again but this time in great power and glory.
We might do well to acknowledge that the Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year. The natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas and the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath is an act of defiance. In our evening prayers which will be held Monday to Thursday at 7pm here in Seighford we recall the five candles of the wreath are lit in succession, one more each week as we count the weeks in Advent, waiting for Christ’s birth. The waiting reminds us of those who waited thousands of years for the Messiah then on Christmas Day, the fifth candle—the Christ candle—is lit and the wreath is full in its light. The focus of the candle lighting this season is on increasing light which culminates in Christ. And yet in this image we see we still need to watch and wait for the final moment of this journey.
The message of the reading from Thessalonians is that there is still work to be done in perfecting and establishing the faithful in Christ. Our work is not done as we are called to continue to pray .. ‘Maranatha , Our Lord come again’. Not a fearful anxious cry but a hopeful joyous cry from a people redeemed and awaiting their salvation. A salvation already achieved in the first coming of Christ as a child.
This is Advent. A time of preparation. As the Patriarchs looked to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise for their families and their ancestors. As Mary looked to receive the fulfilment of God’s promise for her child and for all of Israel. So we look to receive God’s promise for a return of our King and the redemption of the world. So we watch and pray this Advent. Recalling the first glimmer of God’s Light as a child in a manger entering this world and also for the coming Light which will be with great Glory of which we need not fear but only rejoice! Maranatha Come Lord Jesus!