Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
The Episcopal Church »  |  The Diocese of Virginia

First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2013

I do not like bad weather. I have a water problem in my basement, so hard rains can be disastrous. The water rushes down an incline toward my basement door and a drain that is too small and gets too easily clogged with leaves. I am prepared as best I can be. I have put sandbags and plastic against the door. I have upended a basket with holes in it over the drain so the leaves will not clog it up. Unfortunately, the small leaves can get in the holes and the drain still plugs up. So I have to be watchful for the bad weather and check the drain frequently. I do not know when the rains are going to come, but I know they will come sometime.

I have the same feeling about snow. I like to get where I’m going, so I like the roads to be drivable.  I watched the weather on Tuesday and no one was sure what was going to happen, as usual. We could have rain or we could have snow. The forecast for southwestern Virginia was snow in the afternoon. So Tuesday night I put aside some things I was going to do and packed so I could leave early to be there before dark and maybe beat the snow. It turned out the snow was just flurries, but I was prepared.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is a season of preparation. Most of us think about it primarily as a time to prepare for the incarnation, God’s gift of Godself to the world in Jesus. We look back to that event with joy and gladness. We prepare by lighting Advent candles and reflecting on the difference the coming of Jesus has made in our lives, in the life of our community and in the life of the world. We think about the in-breaking reign of God that begins with Jesus. But this is not all the preparation we are called to do, because only one Sunday in Advent mentions anything about the incarnation. The second and third Sundays are about John the Baptist preparing us for the ministry of Jesus on earth. This week’s preparation topic is the Second Coming, the coming of Jesus, the Son of Man is his resurrected glory.

Jesus talks extensively about this Second Advent in the gospels, and the Hebrew Scriptures are full of talk about the Day of the Lord. Why is it so important to talk about? Jesus and the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures have so much to say for three reasons. First, they want to let us know about God’s relationship to the history of the world. They want us to know that our God created us and created history, but does not just sit back and let the world go on however it will from there. No, God is constantly intervening in the affairs of the world, to warn, to punish, to reward good behavior. God is always, even when God punishes, trying to draw people closer to God.

Second, Jesus and the Old Testament writers want us to know about our relationship to the God of history.  God is our savior and our judge. God is coming to reward righteousness with eternal life and punish iniquity with separation from God.

Third, Jesus and the prophets want us to know what God’s purpose is. God has a plan to re-create the world as a place where God will once again rule. God is going to bring in a kingdom of justice and peace. Love will be the foundation of this new world. People will not damage the new creation or each other. The creatures of the world will live in peace.

The question of when the Second Coming will happen is always coming up with Jesus. He is willing to give a few signs, such as times of suffering, false prophets and portents from heaven, but these things have occurred and continue to occur often, so what he says is really not very helpful to those focused on the “when” of the Second Coming. The fact is, Jesus says, that no one knows when the Son of Man will return except God, not even Jesus or the angels. All anyone can know is that the kingdom will come suddenly, during ordinary life. There will not be a sign blazing across the sky that says it will appear so everyone knows of it.

People will be unprepared for the kingdom, just like in Noah’s time they were unprepared for the flood. They were doing the ordinary things of life, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, when the flood swept them away. The Second Coming will be like that. Of two men in the field, one will be taken and one will be left. Of two women grinding meal, one will be taken and one will be left. Again people are doing ordinary things when the great cataclysm occurs.

But just because the timing is unknown does not mean people cannot prepare for the coming of the Son of Man. Preparation is not trying to read various parts of the Bible to determine when the kingdom will come. It seems to be an act of supreme arrogance to try to do that when Jesus has said only God knows. Jesus’ way to be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man is to be awake and alert as part of daily life. Disciples are to live in the present and look toward the future with joy and anticipation. He reminds them that if a landowner knew when the thief would break in, he would have stayed awake to prevent it. Since Jesus is returning unexpectedly, wakefulness is a constant requirement.

How are the disciples to prepare for the Second Coming? Jesus tells three parables about it following this passage. He talks about the good slave who treats his fellow slaves well while his master is absent and the wicked slave, who torments his fellow slaves when the master is delayed in coming home. That slave will be cut into pieces. Then he talks about the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The wise bridesmaids have brought enough oil to wait for the bridegroom to come and the foolish ones have not. When the bridegroom does arrive, the wise ones are let in the door and the foolish ones who have gone to get more oil are refused entrance. They are told that the bridegroom doesn’t know them. Then there is the parable of the talents, where two slaves double their absent master’s money and one slave hides it in the ground. The penalty for the latter is being thrown into outer darkness. The lessons Jesus teaches are clear. We are to be faithful to God’s command to love no matter what, we are to be excited about Jesus’ role in our lives and his coming to be with us again and we are to use our gifts and talents to honor God. The discussion of the Second Coming ends with the story of the sheep and the goats.

What are the implications of the Second Coming for us? It has been a long time since Jesus spoke about it and most of us think it will be a long time until it happens. It is another uncertainty in a life full of uncertainties. Good things and bad things can happen to us at any time. Death may come at anytime. And do you really want to know when it will happen anyway, especially if the time is soon? What would you do with this knowledge? Would anything you do change at all? Would you try to hurry and complete your bucket list? Would you quit your job and go find some worthy project to be a part of? Would you in some way repent and try to lead a different kind of life? Would you try to convert non-Christians?  Would you live in fear and anxiety, wondering if you have been good enough to be taken instead of left behind? The question is worth pondering, but the point is moot because we do not know when. We are told to always be awake and on the alert for the Lord’s coming, living our lives in the present by loving God and neighbor.

We don’t often think about the Second Coming, but in Advent we are given that chance to watch and wait, and to prepare for all the comings of Jesus into our lives. It can be a very fruitful season. This Advent, I invite you to think about Jesus – why he came and why he will come again in glory. Stay awake and alert, letting love be your guide, and watch Jesus come into your life softly as an infant or suddenly as a king. You will be blessed in your preparation and ready for Christmas in a new and wonderful way.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker