Summary: How to prepare for Christ’s coming.
Sermon: Proper Preparation
Text: Ro 13:8-14
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, November 28, 2004
Occasion: Advent I
When: Dec 10
Occasion: Morning Prayer
Who: Mark Woolsey
Happy New Year! Did any of you stay up all night to welcome it in? Aren’t you all glad it’s four more weeks until the Christmas season starts? Oh, wait a minute; I forget. Most people don’t realize that Episcopalians live in a kind of time warp called the church calendar. In our reality the year starts today with what’s known not as Christmas season, but Advent. It is a time of preparation to ready ourselves for our Lord’s coming. I heard someone once say that you can tell a person’s God by looking at his calendar. In the civil calendar we remember the two-faced god Janus in January, the warmongering Mars in March, conniving Juno in June, and so on. However, the church calendar starts with 4 weeks of Advent, then 12 days of Christmas, and follows with around 2 months of Ephiphany, which means the revelation of . God. Next is the penitential 6 weeks of Lent which in turn preceeds the joyful month of Easter. After that is Pentecost Sunday and finally the 25 or so weeks of Trinity. Sprinkled throughout are various feast days, saints days, etc, that remind us of various themes in the Bible. The whole year is saturated with Christ and His Lordship. Each season reflects a different aspect of His life on earth. These seasons come with their own colors, commemorations, and liturgy. They impart a rhythm to our life. I love the church year and highly recommend its observance to all of you.
Curiously, there is some overlap between the civil and church calendars. Civily we call this time the Christmas season. It is festive, colorful, and joyful. It is Christmas lights, Christmas trees, presents, family, Santa Claus, turkey dinner, carols, and much, much more. And this is good. However, it is not Advent. It overlaps Advent, but it is not Advent. Advent is contemplative & serious. It is a time to prepare ourselves for the appearing of the Lord Himself. Instead of encouraging frivolity and feasting, its nature is such that it has been called a mini-Lent. Our Lord is holy and righteous and pure, a consuming fire. His appearance is serious business; if we have any sense at all we will treat it that way. He tolerates no sin, no imperfection, no dissent. If these are characteristic of Advent, then what is it?
Advent derives from the Latin words that mean, "to come. And most of us realize that the person coming is Jesus Christ Himself. But we forget that there are at least four "comings" of the Lord. The first, called the first coming or first advent, was His birth in the manger. The last, called the second coming, will be the consummation of the ages when he creates a new heaven and new earth, finishes the salvation of all His elect, and passes final sentence on all the damned. But there are at least two other "between advents" that are mentioned in Scripture. One is described n Mat 24; it is entirely taken up with judgement and occurred when Christ came with the Roman armies and destroyed Jerusalem, ending the old covenant. The other "between advent" is when He comes each Lord’s Day in the bread and wine. We can’t pepare for His nativity, His first coming, or His coming to Jerusalem because they have already happened. We can celebrate them in rememberence, but we cannot anticipate them. However, we can celebrate His coming in grace in the bread and wine, and His coming in both grace and judgement at the end of the ages. Are you prepared for those comings? Your state determines whether they will be judgement or blessing.
Let’s look back at the first coming. How well did the world prepare for His birth? Surely for the king of kings the biggest palace, the most attentive servants, the softest bed, and the highest officials were made ready. But no. His palace was a barn, His attendants farm animals, His bed a feeding trough, and His official receptors were shephards. We are stumbled by the incompetence and neglect of the world to her king, yet were we not in the same boat before our baptism and faith? Did we acknowledge His Lordship and present to Him a clean life for Him to rule beside? Or perhaps even we fell short of the requirements of a holy life. As Romans 2 says,
"There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God."
You see, not only did Christ come to a world 2000 years ago that did not want Him, He also comes to you and me before we desire Him. Indeed, if He did not, there would be no hope for us. He comes in spite of our lack of desire and lack of invitation. And what a coming! Once we were children of darkness, idolaters, lovers of self. But He comes in grace and starts a renovation that cannot be stopped until He comes finally at the consumation. This is where He commands us to work. As it says in our Epistle reading today,