I ADVENT [A] Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time for looking both backward and forward. We look backward as we prepare to celebrate the historical birth of Jesus. At the same time, we look forward to his Second Coming, as we prepare ourselves to welcome him into all areas of our lives during the Advent season. One Bible scholar has estimated that there are 1845 references to Christ’s second coming in the Old Testament and 318 references in the New Testament. We see the traditional signs of Advent in our Church: violet vestments and hangings, dried flowers in the sanctuary, and the Advent wreath. We light a candle on this wreath each Sunday until all four are lit. By lighting one candle each week we show how progressively we are going to be in the light of Christ and completely surrounded and engulfed in the light of Christ by the end of 4th week. We could light them all in one week, but that would not signify the preparation we put in each week. These signs remind us that we are waiting for the rebirth of Jesus in our hearts and lives in love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness.
The consistent warning in today’s Gospel text is that we should be prepared for the coming of the master. Our text indicates that the end will seem to be a peaceful and normal time, with people eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and working in their homes or businesses. In this routine normal life, it might be easy to forget the "coming of the Son of Man." In a reference to the story of Noah, Jesus says that the sin of the people was placing too much emphasis on the normal cares and necessities of life. They were too concerned with eating and drinking – just as we are during the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays. Jesus reminds us that there is something more important than feasts or weddings: the Son of Man will come to us unexpectedly, either at our death or at the end of the world, and that could be at any moment. Since God will show up without an appointment, we must be prepared at all times.
The man working in the field and the woman working at the mill will be “left", because they won’t leave their work. True enough – work is important. We need to provide food and shelter for ourselves and our families. But there is something more important than our work: the coming of the Son of Man. God will arrive unexpectedly. We don't know when a thief might break into our house, so we are prepared for him at all times. We lock our doors and windows. We leave a light on when we're gone. We put in an alarm system. We insure our possessions. We do these things now because a thief could come at some unknown time.
We spend too much time trying to protect ourselves against future misfortunes. We save for a rainy day, to get married, to buy a home, to send the children to college, to retire in comfort and to protect ourselves against future misfortunes with varieties of insurance. But we need to be more spiritually wakeful to prepare for our eternal life.
Hence, even during this busy Christmas season we must keep our daily life centered on Christ. The advent readings give us warnings as well as promises. To obtain the promise we need to listen to the warning and take it real seriously.
William Willimon tells the story of a funeral he attended when he was serving a small congregation in rural Georgia. One of his members' relatives died, so Willimon and his wife attended the funeral held in an off-brand, country Baptist church. He writes: "I had never seen anything like it. The preacher began to preach. He shouted; he flailed his arms. 'It's too late for Joe. He's dead. But it ain't too late for you. People drop dead every day. Why wait? Now is the day for decision. Give your life to Jesus.' "
Willimon goes on to suggest that this was the worst thing he had ever seen. He fumed and fussed at his wife Patsy, complaining that the preacher had done the worst thing possible for a grieving family - manipulating them with guilt and shame. Patsy agreed. But then she said: "Of course the worst part of it all is that what he said is true."
For the many who faithfully observe the consumer Christmas, Advent is the inevitable prelude to disappointment. And we can easily find that instead of preparing to sing "O Holy Night" we will find ourselves living out one holy nightmare; trying to buy and wrap gifts and decorating the house and making cribs, and not really do anything for a spiritual birth of Christ in our life. Let this advent be a challenge for us to really find Jesus in ordinary things, finding him who was born in the most ordinary situation of being born in a manger.