Our end is our beginning. The dying of the liturgical year in November culminates with our first Sunday of Advent – and we continue to look to the end of time, preparing for Christ to come in glory as we prepare for Christ’s coming as a baby to renew all things.
As the world puts up Christmas trees and starts singing about Santa Claus, our Gospel has Jesus saying,
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
We recall the classic sermons about the three comings of Christ. Christ came in weakness long ago. He will come in power at the end of time. And he comes to us every day in between.
Ironic: compared to the frightening words of the Gospel, the words from the prophet Jeremiah make us nostalgic for a sweeter, more innocent time. “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. . . . I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.”
They looked forward to the coming Messiah, the king who would set everything right. They looked forward to Jesus, all sweetness.
But which coming were they looking forward to? In his first coming, he was swaddled in sweetness – and poverty and nakedness and cold, destined to be rejected and suffer death on a Cross.
In his final coming he will bring terror and destruction, “people will die of fright” – and finally peace will reign.
And in our everyday, he calls to us, stands at the door knocking. He begs to enter in, and we leave him like a homeless man, out in the cold.
Our Epistle is from 1 Thessalonians – one of Paul’s most apocalyptic letters (along with 2 Thessalonians).
The message is simple. We want “to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” The apocalyptic message is simply that we should be prepared to meet him when he comes, however he comes.
We recall the most terrifying words of Scripture, the conclusion of all Jesus’s preaching, in Matthew 25:
“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels. . . .
They shall answer, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you? . . . Inasmuch as you did it not unto one of these least you did it not unto me.”
To prepare for his final coming, we are to live every moment as if he is knocking at the door.
But who can stand when he appeareth? In our Epistle, not only does Paul exhort us that, “as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God . . . what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” – not only does he teach us with Christ’s words. Better than that, he begins, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another . . . so as to strengthen your heart.” He sends us Christ’s Spirit, the power of his grace, to strengthen our hearts.
Only Christ can prepare us to stand before him.
Our Gospel concludes, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” St. Paul – and, here, St. Luke, a disciple of St. Paul – has this habit of building up terrible sins, and then sliding in normal things. I’m not a carouser; I’m not drunk –and yet, swallowed up by the anxieties of daily life, it is all the same.
“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent – and to stand before the Son of Man.”
In Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the first coming, we are reminded to prepare for the final coming by watching for Christ in all his little daily comings. We ask him to come with his grace so that we may welcome him in his little ones and be prepared to stand before him in glory.
When did the anxieties of your daily life keep you from welcoming Christ today?