Advent is a season of waiting, waiting for the birth of the Christ child, waiting for the second coming of the Messiah. But it ought not be a season of twiddle-your-thumbs waiting or rush-around-to-get-everything-done-before-December-25th waiting. No, instead, we might take a few clues from the Gospel and Epistle lectionary readings for this first Sunday of Advent: Matthew 24:36-44 and Romans 13:11-14.
In Matthew’s passage, sometimes called the “little apocalypse,” we are reminded that the Human One (the term used in the Common English Bible for “Son of Man”) will come as suddenly and unexpectedly as the flood came in Noah’s time. Because we cannot know when the Son of Man will come, we must be prepared…right now. Somehow I don’t think having the gifts wrapped, the tree decorated, and the cookies baked is the preparation indicated here. What, then, do we do about being prepared, getting ready as we anticipate, wait during the weeks of Advent and open the window on the Advent calendar each day.
In the Letter to the Romans, we may have the answer of what it is to be prepared for the second coming of the Messiah: “dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires” (v. 14). Prior to this, the Roman Christians are given some very specific no-no’s: “Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day,” (as opposed to the shadows of the night) “not in partying and getting drunk, not sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession” (v. 13). So this gives us a bit more to consider in how we wait during Advent. And it might put a bit of a damper on some holiday parties.
Both of these passages are about the “between time.” We haven’t left the past totally behind, but we not yet in the “days to come” of shalom described in Isaiah 2, the lectionary passage from the Old Testament for this Sunday. We are looking forward to a future unlike the past. We are between Christ’s life on earth and when Christ returns with a new order. So we put on the clothes of Jesus Christ, the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17). Clothed with Christ, we live in this in-between time trusting in God’s mercy and loving kindness. Because we know ourselves as God’s people, we can set aside anxiety and live in hope.
May your Advent be one of waiting, but the wonderful expectant waiting that knows the assurance of God’s love and mercy.
But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that. At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. Therefore you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know.
As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light. Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.