Three Advent Themes

December 3, 2013

This morning, we begin the season of Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas. As we look around our church, we can read the signs quite clearly. We’ve got purple hangings on the altar matching the purple candles in the Advent Wreath. The Jesse tree is up next to the lectern, and there’s even some snow on the ground outside to help us get into the Christmas mood. Everything seems to be pointing toward Christmas. And then we get to the readings for today. There’s not much prophecy or foreshadowing going on. In fact, it’s a little hard to see how these are readings of preparation at all. But this is a little bit backwards. Because the lesson for us this morning it that these readings define what preparation means for us in the season of Advent, not all the other stuff.

Luckily, the themes in these readings are quite transparent. From Isaiah we get the message: Come; all are welcome. From the St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we get the message: Wake up, live in the light. And from St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us: Be prepared. The Scriptures this morning are very directive about the messages we should get from them. Three messages: Come; all are welcome. Wake up. Be prepared.

In the prophecy from Isaiah, the people are told that God is finally bringing everything to a close. All the people are invited to come to the mountain of the Lord, to the Kingdom of God, and all thee people will see peace. This is one of the passages that contain the great prophecy of peace: they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. To us living today, this seems like a pleasant fantasy, almost a bedtime story. And it has probably felt that way to all the generations of people who heard it. But this is the invitation, and this is the vision that we hold when we look for Jesus when we prepare for him coming into our lives.

In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the message is that we need to wake up. I hope that most of us are already awake, despite the best efforts of my homily, so St. Paul must be using some kind of metaphor. In our daily lives, we occupy ourselves so fully. We go from one thing to the next without much gap. And yet, this activity masks something strange. Most of us are asleep. We are asleep to the potential that God has planned for us. To take this metaphor a little further, sometimes we live in the night, in the time when we do things we are not proud of. But we look to the day. So St. Paul tells us to wake up. The day is almost here. So now we are in that in between state between waking and sleeping. So preparation for Christ means putting away the night, and embracing the day.
Last, we have this passage from the Gospel of Matthew. We’ve all heard that Advent is also the season of preparation for Christ second coming, and this passage seems to fit that idea. But there’s more going on here. The overriding feeling that Jesus wants us to have is urgency. Jesus brings up the story of Noah both to remind people that the folks who died in the flood where not the most upstanding, but also to show that they had no idea what was coming. The story of the people in the fields and grinding the grain serves the same purpose. These were very ordinary activities. He could just as easily said that two people are sitting at desks or driving in cars. Jesus is telling us that we cannot tell who is prepared and who is not. So we should be prepared. Get ready because you have no idea when God is going to act.

So this is where we end up this morning: get ready, be prepared, because we don’t know when God is going to act in our lives. Jesus is coming into our lives. In Advent, we look forward to the celebration of Christmas, Christ first Advent. We look ahead to his Second Coming, and we also prepare to welcome him into our hearts. That’s the beauty of this method of preparation; it sets our hearts on God. When we welcome God’s invitation, and when we put away the night and embrace the day, and when we prepare our hearts with a sense of urgency, we will always ready for whatever wonderful things God has in store for us.

– Michael Tuck+

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