Today is Advent Sunday, the start of the season of Advent. This is a time of waiting, of expectation: for the coming of Jesus Christ, both as we prepare to celebrate His Birth at Christmas, and for the Second Coming of Christ as our Saviour and our Judge. The idea of Jesus’ return has not always been seen as something to look forward to. Judgement has been seen as condemnation, and fear of the coming judgement has been used to control people. Yet the Church does look forward to Our Lord’s Second Coming, as we look forward to our annual celebration of His First Coming, at Christmas.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is teaching His disciples about the end times. He draws a comparison between the Last Day and the Flood:

‘For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’ (Mt 24:37-39)

The point is that no-one knows when the Last Day is going to happen. People are carrying on with their lives as normal. It is an unexpected event. One of the reasons Noah was saved was that he was prepared. He had built an ark. Our ark is the Church, which we enter through Baptism. For us the waters bring life not death. We are prepared, and preparation is the key to Jesus’ message. Whenever the Lord comes, we have to be ready to meet Him. 

How do we prepare? By following the advice in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah:

‘O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.’ (Isa 2:5)

If we walk in the light of the Lord, then we are not walking in darkness. We live out our faith in our lives, and our moral characters are formed by our actions. We become what we do often.

About sixteen hundred years ago, one of Christianity’s great figures, St Augustine had been struggling towards the journey of faith and one day, as he sat crying under a fig tree, he kept hearing a child saying, ‘Pick up and read’ (Aug. Conf. 8.29) and he opened a Bible and read in the Letter to the Romans:

‘Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.’ (Rom 13:13-14)

Drunkenness, fornication, the sort of behaviour associated with the Christmas Office Party in particular, and the modern world in general, can be dismissed as ‘just a bit of fun’ or of ‘no consequence in the great scheme of things’. However, what we do affects our lives. The Christian Life is most definitely not a ‘fun-free zone’, but one which allows us to be fully alive, doing what we should be doing in the way we should be doing it. Today’s world is filled with examples of the behaviour which St Paul sees as problematic: people are quarrelsome and subject to baser appetites. One need only read a newspaper, look at the Internet, or turn on the television, to see a world which has got it wrong, which is not living decently. Our lives, our characters, are formed by what we think and do, by the choices we make. This is a cumulative process, where we build on the choices we have made in the past, so we need to start down the right path as soon as possible, or turn back if we have gone astray.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah looks forward to a Messianic Age of peace:

‘and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ (Isa 2:4)

Swords and spears will be turned into agricultural tools for ploughing fields and cultivating vines, for growing grain and grapes, to make bread and wine. These are the very foodstuffs our Lord takes at the Last Supper, when He institutes the Eucharist. This feast of the Kingdom is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and represents the Messianic Kingdom where love will triumph over violence.

At this time of year, as Christians we prepare for three comings: the first our annual commemoration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, at Christmas, where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The second coming of Christ will be at the end of time, when He will be our Saviour and our Judge. The third coming we prepare for is even nearer. It happens day by day, and week by week, when Christ comes to us in the Eucharist, in His Body and Blood, under the outward forms of Bread and Wine. This is the Banquet of the Kingdom, anticipated by the ploughshares and pruning hooks of Isaiah, tools to help produce Bread and Wine. Isaiah’s prophecy looks forward to the peace of the Messiah and the banquet of Bread and Wine. These are the Food of the Kingdom, nourishment for our journey of faith, to give us strength and new life in Christ. Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist to give us strength and to transform us, into His likeness, to help us to live out our faith in the whole of our lives.

So let us prepare to meet Our Lord by living out our faith, nourished with Word and Sacrament. The time is short, the time is now, it really matters. We need to come to the Lord, to learn His ways and walk in His paths. As Christians we are called to live decently and vigilantly, preferring nothing to Christ, and inviting all the world to come to the fullness of life in Him. This is how we celebrate His coming at Christmas and as Our Saviour and Judge. By following Him, and being fed by Him, we are restored and healed by Him. And so, on this Advent Sunday we sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

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