Every year in Winter we have a season of four weeks called Advent to prepare for the coming of Christ. During this time we don’t recite the Gloria in excelsis, so that when we say it at Christmas, it may ring out with joy, as we join our voices with the angels celebrating Christ’s birth. The colour for Advent is purple, a dark shade which reminds us both of Christ’s royalty and our penitence. During the next four weeks we prepare for Christmas, our yearly remembrance of Christ’s First Coming in Bethlehem, and For His Second Coming as our Saviour and our Judge. The idea of the Second Coming of Christ tends to make people uncomfortable, and that is understandable. No-one likes the thought of being judged, of being called to account. But the one who will judge us is the God who loves us, and who died for us. God is our judge, but He is the God of love and mercy who has saved and redeemed us by His Death and Resurrection. Thus we can have hope, and prepare to meet Christ with joyful hearts.
In our first reading this morning, the prophet Jeremiah declares that God fulfils His promises: we can trust Him.
‘In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.’ (Jer 33:15)
This promise, made to the House of David, is fulfilled both by Jesus’ birth and His return in judgement. God promises to save His people and to rule in a way that is far beyond any human idea of justice. Earthly rulers and politicians will, and do, disappoint us: they fall short of our expectations. Any of us would. We need to ask God to intervene. Only God can save us, we cannot save ourselves.
When St Paul wrote to the Church he founded in Thessalonica, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia (now Greece), they were expecting Jesus to return imminently.
So Paul prays that God may make them,
‘abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.’ (1Thess 3:12-13)
Love is the key to the Christian Life: God’s love of us, and our love of God and each other. We need God’s help in this, so that we can be genuinely loving, and live the life of the Kingdom, here and now. Each week we confess our sins, listen to God speaking to us in our Bible readings, and we are nourished by God, so that we can grow together in love, and be transformed by Him, and for Him. Part of this transformation happens at the Eucharist. Normally when we eat food, it becomes part of us. But in the Eucharist, we are transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood. Such is the power of God’s grace that by our communion, whether physical or spiritual, we are united with God and our souls are transformed. We become joined with the God who loves us, so that we can live lives of Christian love, expressed in service, which build up the Kingdom and make it visible.
At various points in the Gospels Jesus talks about the end times. There is an expectation that it is imminent, and we should live prepared for it to happen. Christ warns us:
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Lk 21:34-5)
The word ‘dissipation’ is not one we usually hear, it means ‘overindulgence’ or ‘excess’ It is all too easy for Christians to despair about themselves and the world around them, and to give ourselves over to behaviour designed to distract us. We become wrapped up with cares and anxiety, and forget that we can trust Jesus’ promises, and that He has come that we might have life and life in all its fullness. Jesus tells us to be awake and to pray, and Advent is a time for prayerful alertness, focusing on our relationship with God and each other, and living lives of love.
If we consider the parable in today’s Gospel, the parable of the Fig Tree, two things are apparent. The first is that fig trees are clearly visible and easily recognisable in the Middle Eastern Landscape. This means that, when Our Lord comes it will be apparent to everyone. Secondly, figs as fruit take a long time to ripen. Therefore their appearance shows that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. This long ripening reminds us that we need to be prepared to wait, for all things will happen at their appointed time. Our preparation for Christ’s Coming is the work of a lifetime. It involves a journey of faith, entering into the mystery of God’s love, and letting ourselves be transformed by it.
What greater present could we offer to Our Lord than hearts filled with love and lives lived in the true freedom proclaimed by the Gospel. At one level, therefore, it does not matter whether the Second Coming is today or in a thousand years time. What matters is that we live lives infused with the values of the Kingdom of God. This is a joyful and yet a serious business. Jesus has taught us what we should be doing, and these are things that we, as Christians, need to do together. As a community we pray for the Grace of God to help us, to strengthen us and fill us with that Love which comes from Him. So that we all may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.