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First Sunday in Advent

Readings: Isaiah 2:1–5, Romans 13:9–14 & Matthew 24:36–44

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been a very spontaneous person. I need to plan what I’m doing, so I’m not very good when it comes to surprise visits or last minute invitations. Hence when I read the verse in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus said, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”, my immediate response was, “Okay I’m in trouble! Because I need some warning. I need time to be prepared!”

But of course that’s the very point that Jesus was making! That we all need to be prepared. Not prepared in the physical sense of making sure that we are at home with our bags packed and all of our affairs in order when Jesus comes, but that we are prepared in the spiritual sense, and that our spiritual affairs are in order. That we are living our lives the way God intended us to live, following the example that He revealed to us through the life of Jesus.

That of course is the message from today’s passage in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reminded that the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in the instruction from Jesus to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. That is the preparation we need to make. We are also provided with the warning we need, when Paul wrote, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” 

Like a lot of Jewish people of his time, Paul believed the “present age” here on earth would come to an end when the Messiah, which in Hebrew means “anointed one”, was sent by God to invoke the “new age”, when the kingdom of God would be established on earth. Paul believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and he also believed that the death and resurrection of Jesus marked the beginning of the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, which would be completed when Jesus returned again on the Day of Judgement. In the meantime, the world was living in what has since been described as the “overlap of the ages”.

How many people today “sleep” through their lives, totally unaware that they are living on the border between the old order of things and the new order, where Jesus reigns and all that is wrong has been set right?

Jesus was himself the turning point in time. The old age might not be completely finished and gone, but the new age has truly come. From this time on, we are invited to dream along with God of a new heaven, a new earth, a new way of being human, reshaped into God’s image as we were supposed to be from the beginning.

This is also inferred in today’s passage from the Book of Isaiah. The prophet writes that as God’s gift of peace becomes real among us, Jews and Gentiles alike will stream to the mountain of God to be instructed and directed by God. The people who are taught by God will seek peace and no longer engage in violence. Weapons of violence will be destroyed. To receive divine instruction is to share in a vision of a coming realm of peace in which God will judge among the nations, and nations will not learn war anymore. The way forward is to walk in the light of the Lord.

The season of Advent invites us to consider what it means to live as a Christian during the “overlap of the ages”. On the one hand, Advent reminds us of God’s promises to Israel of Immanuel. God comes in human flesh to deliver God’s people from sin and evil. On the other hand, Advent calls us to anticipate the day on which this Immanuel will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will put all that resists him, even death itself, under his feet. Living between the times, we give thanks to God for the birth of Jesus, even as we wait (perhaps frustratedly) for the kingdom that Jesus declared to be at hand.

In today’s gospel passage Jesus delivers a series of sayings and parables about a day of judgment that will inaugurate this kingdom to come. He warns that this day will take the world by surprise. As in Noah’s time, people will be going about their everyday business—eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage—with no awareness of God’s impending judgment. They will be like a householder who fails to anticipate the hour at which the thief will break in. Not even the angels, or Jesus himself, know the day or hour. The point is that we must be ready for the Lord at any time. When he finally appears, those who are ready will be saved, and those who are not ready will perish.

Christians have long debated when and how this day of judgment will take place. The point is not to speculate about a day of judgment sometime in the future, but rather to deal with what it means for us here and now. Each day is a day of judgment, so we should always be asking ourselves, Am I living in the way of Jesus? Am I trusting in him alone? Have I allowed myself to be distracted by selfish cares?

To live in the “overlap of the ages” is, above all, to trust and hope that God has begun, and will continue, to transform us more and more into the nature of Jesus, in whom all of God’s mercy and loving-kindness is revealed. Advent calls us into a continuing relationship with the Jesus.


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