Advent is a time of preparation. Our English word comes from the Latin adventus (meaning “coming”). We refer of course to the coming and appearing of Christ. But for which of his comings are we preparing? Advent is not simply a time of preparation for Christmas. In fact the readings for this Sunday say nothing about the Christmas feast at all and indeed there’s not much said about “baby Jesus” in the first two weeks of Advent at all!
Instead the readings and prayers point us to the final coming of Christ, in glory, at the end of time, to judge the living and the dead. But we need to be careful how we read Scripture. We should not always take it literally as that can kill its meaning. Like a poet, Jesus used images, and metaphors – picture-language - to describe something we have not experienced, i.e. his final coming. We need to dig out the deeper meaning and not get fixated on taking them as they stand. It is not just a matter of reading what they say, but of understanding what they mean! The second coming of Christ for me will begin with my own death, when God will ask me to account for how I have treated others.
This is an essential Christian truth. Jesus calls us to conversion, to lives of love. Scripture repeatedly tells us that we will be asked by God to give an account of our behaviour. In a world filled with injustice, hatred, oppression, it is good to be reminded of that.
It has been well said, “In a world without God, all things are possible!” Unimaginable horrors can be done if there is no God because there will never be an ultimate call to anyone to take responsibility for their actions. But Jesus, who comes to us from God, issues that call. Yet is a call to us from absolute love.
St Augustine, preaching in Roman North Africa in the 5th century AD, put it well:
“What sort of love of Christ is it to fear his coming? Sisters and brothers, do we not have to blush for shame? We love him, yet do we fear his coming? If I wish to receive mercy therefore, I must be merciful before he comes - forgive whatever has been done against me and give of my abundance. These are the sacrifices most pleasing to God: mercy, peace, charity. Let us offer these, and then free from fear, we shall await the coming of the judge who will judge the world in fairness and the peoples in his truth.”
Collect of the First Sunday of Advent
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen