Summary: Being ready for the return of Christ. The parables of Jesus in Matthew 25 give us a model for being ready. First Sunday of Advent, Year B
It’s hard to believe that Christmas season is upon us again. The craziness has begun. I was reading in the paper the other day that a Wal-Mart employee out in New York was killed by injuries sustained while trying to prevent a mob from entering the store at 5 am the Friday after Christmas. A person lost their life because some people had to get some great deals for Christmas gifts. Stories like these serve to remind us how easy it is to lose perspective over the real reason for the season. This is why we celebrate advent as a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. Advent is a time to remind us what Christmas is really all about, to prepare ourselves us getting ready, and we’re not talking about the decorations and the Christmas shopping. We are talking about spiritual preparation for the arrival of Christ.
In the busyness of all that we think we must do during this time of the year, the celebration of Advent recalibrates us toward the true meaning of Christmas. You know what it means to recalibrate? Instruments that measure occasionally drift off a little bit and they need to be recalibrated so they measure correctly. For example if you have a bathroom scale you probably noticed you have to recalibrate it back to zero occasionally by adjusting a little knob (unless of course it’s in your favor, in which case you may not recalibrate it to make yourself feel better during the Christmas season). That’s what Advent does for us, it recalibrates us back to the right priorities and the real reason for the season, because it’s so easy for us to be caught up in the commercial hoopla, what sales are going on where, how many Christmas cards do I need to send out, Christmas ornaments & lights.
Today, on this first week of Advent, we remind ourselves of Christ’s coming, but it is not his first coming that we focus on but rather his second coming. It may seem strange as we begin the Christmas season and start thinking about the birth of little baby Jesus to focus on the return of Jesus, but it’s not really that strange because as we identify with the people in the Christmas story who were waiting for the Messiah to come and restore God’s kingdom to earth, we too are waiting, waiting for his return. So, on the one hand we are looking backward at the birth of Christ, as God became flesh and dwelt among us, the Son of God changed the world as he taught us about God’s kingdom and how we can be a part of his kingdom through Jesus. But we are also looking forward in anticipation of his return when he will appear on the "clouds of the sky with power and glory," and with a loud trumpet call he will send the angels who will "gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Mt. 24:30-31).
Jesus’ disciples were curious of his return, they went to Jesus privately and asked him a simple question, "tell us…what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age (Mt. 24:3)?" Jesus told them about the signs which would occur before his return, of wars, famines, and earthquakes, and that was just the beginning. Then there would be the tribulation, persecution of Christians, something called the "abomination of desolation in the holy place" (whatever that means) and people will have to flee into the mountains. I know we would love to hear about these events and perhaps speculate about how this will happen. But I’m going to be honest with you, you’re not going to get any speculation from me because I believe it’s a waste of time. Like the disciples we are fascinated by this stuff, it’s the same reason people love to buy the National Enquirer, inquiring minds want to know.
Jesus didn’t tell his disciples about these events so they could spend their time speculating, creating complicated time lines and graphs, and interpreting the newspaper through the prophetic lens, as so many people enjoy doing. When he had finished talking about the signs of his return he said to them, 24:44, "42 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." The point is watchfulness and readiness. He wants us to be attentive to what is going on in the world, but not to make speculations, like one the recent ones I’ve heard that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. No, Jesus wants us to be ready for his arrival.