By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and we start a new year in the liturgical calendar. This season is named for the Coming of the Lord. Or to be more precise, this season is named for the two Comings of the Lord. The first coming was about 2000 years ago, when Jesus was born. The Second Coming, when Jesus will return in glory to judge the world, is yet to take place. Liturgists debate about whether this season is a season of penitence or a season of preparation. Perhaps the correct answer is that it is a bit of both. For spiritual preparation often includes penitence.
The world outside the church has already turned its eyes to Christmas. Trees have already been decorated. Strings of colored lights are going up on houses even as I speak. And Macy’s is already playing Christmas carols over its loudspeakers. But those of us inside the church are asked to slow down a bit, to allow ourselves some time to contemplate the coming feast of Christmas, and more importantly, to allow ourselves some time to contemplate the Second Coming of Christ.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that, in the time of Noah, the people who were destined for destruction went about their daily lives oblivious to their situation until it was too late to act. Jesus goes on to say that the great Day of Judgment will come at an unexpected time. Even he does not know the day and hour. And so he counsels his followers to be ready at all times. We are expected to be alert to our spiritual situation—to be aware of the consequences of both our actions and our inactions.
Likewise, St. Paul advises us to wake up and to clothe ourselves with Christ. He warns us that the Day of Judgment is right around the corner and we should be ready for it. Now, if he meant the End of the World, then he was wrong about the timing, for 2000 years have passed since he wrote those words. But there is another, individual Day of Judgment that we all eventually have to deal with: the day of our own death. Sometimes, we know that death is approaching, and we have time to make final preparations for a holy death. We try to reconcile with friends and family from whom we have become estranged. We make our peace with God, asking forgiveness for all our sins. And we do things to make life easier for those we leave behind. We write a will. We plan our own funeral. Maybe we even write our own obituary. All of this is well and good.
But sometimes the end comes upon us unexpectedly. What then? How do we prepare for the unexpected? By expecting it! By living every day as if it were our last day on earth. When you get up in the morning, rededicate yourself to Christ. And when you get ready to go to bed at night, ask yourself these questions: On this day, did I lay aside the works of darkness? Did I lay aside greed, gossip, lying, and envy? Did I perform even a single act of justice, mercy, or kindness to another person? And if you don’t like the answers, make some changes in your life when you get up the next morning! Yes, you should write a will. Yes, you should select the readings and hymns for your funeral in advance. But it is much more important to be spiritually prepared to meet your Maker.
Every moment of our lives presents us with choices. And we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are expected to make choices that are loving. We are to ask ourselves at each juncture, “How might I love God and my neighbor in this moment?” Admittedly, it is not always easy to discern the loving action. That’s where the Holy Scriptures come in handy. They were written for the express purpose of helping us to walk in love.
Let me mention a few of my favorites bits of Holy Writ. There are the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: to be poor in spirit, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. We have Jesus’ advice to his disciples to keep the three traditional Jewish acts of piety: to pray, to fast, and to give alms. We have that key commandment embedded in the Lord’s Prayer: to forgive others their trespasses. And we have the continuing guidance of the Ten Commandments. We are not wanting for instruction in righteous living. We are not wanting for instruction in how to love. We just need the will to act on what we are taught.
So, wake up, and get ready before it’s too late! “For the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
© 2019 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.