Summary: Advent is both looking back and looking forward.
Stay Ready So You Don’t Have to Get Ready
Black Friday. I suppose we all survived. You know what Black Friday is, don’t you? That inevitable Friday after Thanksgiving that signals the official beginning of the holiday season. That day when shoppers line up outside malls and shopping centers to get those early bird deals retailers are offering to those crazy enough to brave the pushing and shoving to save a few bucks. I heard about one store, either Best Buy or Circuit City, where the crowd actually breached the doors and entered the store before it opened. The police had to be called to clear the store so it could open. The onslaught of people actually caused the store to open late. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but it is the time when we start preparing for Christmas. We start getting ready because the big day is coming. We get ready by wrapping the gifts, baking the cookies, decorating the tree, lighting the house, going to parties, and making travel plans. We have to get ready because Christmas will be here before we know it. And in the course of our conversations, we seem to inevitably ask someone, “Are you ready for Christmas yet?”
Even in our churches, we embrace the Advent season as a time of preparation. We prepare the sanctuary by hanging the greens, and we adorn the church with decorations and poinsettias and nativity scenes because, after all, the Advent season is the season when we look with expectancy to the coming of the Christ-child. Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and we focus on his arrival by setting out our prettiest nativity set for all to see. I find the traditions interesting as I have pastured from region to region. Oh, no church I’ve pastured has ever failed to set out the nativity, but what we do with the baby Jesus is interesting. Some churches never think a second think about putting out the baby when the set is put out. Decorate for the season and baby Jesus goes in the manger. Other churches, who consider themselves “liturgically correct” would never consider putting out the baby Jesus until Christmas Eve. I even heard of one church that would move the baby Jesus to a different place each week so the people would have to look to find him. We focus on the “first” advent of Jesus Christ. And we should, but we don’t stop there.
The Advent season is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Today’s passage reminds us that there is yet a “second” advent looming on the horizon, and as we reflect on the meaning of the first advent we must prepare, we must “get ready” for the dawning of the second.
The doctrine of the second coming of Jesus Christ is one of the central doctrines of the Christian faith. When we come to take the bread and cup, the liturgy reminds us of our confession that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” This statement of faith echoes both Scripture and the tradition of the early church. The New Testament writers expressed their deep belief in the second coming as well. Hear the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:4-5: