Advent Sunday Meditation: 27th November 2016
Advent is the time for beginning to think about Christmas. It is the time when Christmas services and events are planned, when we begin to sing Christmas carols, and when children start to get excited. There is a sense of anticipation, and a focus on traditional, old-fashioned things – candles, Christingles, evergreens, mince pies, mulled wine, log fires and gothic script. It is as if we put our lives and our faith back a few centuries.
Everyone loves Christmas, and our joy and excitement are justified as Christmas approaches. Advent is, however, also a time of looking ahead, far beyond the next few weeks, to the way our path of faith will work out in the future. In our gospel reading, Jesus is speaking of an unknown day and hour (Matthew 24:36). Comparing it to the days of Noah, he warns his listeners to keep watch “because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (24:44). He speaks of people who disregarded God in the bustle of their everyday lives- ‘eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage’ – and who were swept away in the flood (24:38-39). In the same way, Jesus says, judgment could quickly fall upon us (24:42-43). It sounds all the more frightening because we cannot know when these events will occur (24:44).
This passage, together with parallel passages in Luke 21:5-36 and Mark 13:1-37, are usually interpreted as referring to ‘The End of the World’ or ‘The Final Judgment’. That understanding is perfectly valid. However, such a belief can lead individuals either to assume that it will not occur in their own lifetime and so discount the warnings, or to focus in an unhealthy way on eschatology, seeing in every political move and every minor disaster the fulfilment of prophecy, and building up an elaborate timetable of end-time events. It seems, from his writings, that the apostle Paul expected the End probably in his lifetime. He certainly did not shrink from this understanding, but nor did he put his life on ‘hold’. Rather, he rejoiced that his salvation was nearer now than when he first believed (Romans 13:11). He encouraged his readers to awake as if from slumber and to live their Christian lives with integrity, shunning such failings as immorality and drunkenness (13:13).
This is good advice for Christians, whether or not they expect the End of the World soon. None of us knows when our lives will end and when there will be no further time to prove ourselves. To put away ‘deeds of darkness’, ‘dissention and jealousy’ together with self-gratification, and to ‘clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus’ (13:13-14) can only be for our spiritual benefit ‘till he returns or calls us home’. This should be our overriding preoccupation as Advent begins.