"In the Last Day"
First Sunday of Advent
November 30, 2014
St. Catherine's, Florence
I Corinthians 1:3-9
We know that it is almost December now. And – if you are at all like me – we also know that we have several important things to do in the next three and a half weeks. Obviously, since it’s almost December, we need to get ready for Christmas. The retail stores and the online shopping sites join in the insistent demand to get ready.
The church calendar supports this theme, for we have arrived at the season of Advent. Of course, following the current season comes Christmas. Advent is a time filled with anticipation, expectation, and hope. In fact, however, this season of getting ready – Advent – is not focused entirely on preparing for Christmas.
Listen again to words from the collect this morning. “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal” (BCP, p211). You see, Advent does encourage us to get ready. But December 25th is not the only focus for our preparations. Rather, it is primarily the return of Jesus Christ that Advent calls us to consider. Further, if we only look forward to the baby in a manger, then we may not be prepared for the King of kings. Thus, Advent calls us to consider the return of Jesus, who is the Christ.
The vision offered by the prophet Isaiah this morning involves the theme of eschatology – the theology of the end of time. That vision does not involve a Christmas tree, presents, and red and green lights – or white ones, depending on your family’s traditions. Rather, Isaiah appeals to the Lord God with these words: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence” (64:1). Later in the passage, the prophet prays, “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever” (64:8-9). You see, getting ready for that time is quite different from our yearly Christmas preparations!
The theme of eschatology – the end of time – continues in the New Testament readings this morning. St. Paul writes words of greeting to the Corinthians. Then, he follows by encouraging the people for, as he says, “the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you” (I Cor 1:6). The intention of St. Paul’s greeting and encouragement has a long-term hope. And that long-term hope is “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end” (1:7-8). My friends, “the end” to which St. Paul refers is the end of time, which we Christians believe will be marked by the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus will not return as a baby but as the King of creation. It is that return for which Advent calls on us to be ready.
Finally, the Gospel also deals in eschatology and in visions of the end of time. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that is his subject, for he uses Old Testament images which are quite graphic. “In those days,” he says, “after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (Mk 13:24-25). Then he continues with the familiar attribute of uncertainty in terms of time. “About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come” (13:32-33). Therefore, in addition to other graphic and frightful images, the reality of time’s uncertainty adds to the fearfulness of it all.
So, maybe those people who put up road-side signs in the rural South were not as kooky as I thought they were. Perhaps I need to seek their forgiveness about my evaluation of their efforts – and about their theology. “Jesus is coming. Are you ready?” “Get right with God!” Actually, these are biblically-sound statements and injunctions. They remind us of the themes of eschatology and of Advent. Perhaps they speak a biblical truth that I had not appreciated.
As I make preparations for Christmas, therefore, I need to remember that Advent calls me to a bigger task. As I look forward to the child in a manger, I also need to get ready to greet Jesus as King. As I maneuver through the hours leading up to a certain deadline three and a half weeks away, I need to realize that I have no clue about the time of Christ’s return – a deadline with momentous consequences. In all of this process, it may do me well to remember the messages proclaimed by those primitive signs on the road-side. “Jesus is coming. Are you ready?” “Get right with God!” Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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