Thursday, December 1, 2011

Getting ready for what?

It’s Advent again. Advent literally means arrival. It is the season in which we remember Christ Jesus’ first arrival and anticipate his second. The church has historically used this as a time for preparing our hearts for Christ’s arrival. But which arrival are we preparing for? I was amused by the response of our youth minister’s son Evan, who upon having Advent explained to him once more by his father, replied, “Wasn’t Jesus born last year?” It can be confusing. In the season of advent, we practice waiting, but what is it we wait for? Jesus to be born once more in the manger? No. We do await the celebration of his birth, but our waiting is for so much more than the coming of a holiday. We wait for Christ to come again.

Why do we tend to emphasize the first advent over the second? Simply put, waiting for Christmas is fun. There are the decorations, the lights, the presents and the fun, the family in from out-of-town. There is the story of the infant Jesus who has come to save from our sins. Good news delivered via the least intimidating way possible – a newborn baby. Waiting for Christ’s return is not so much fun (at least not in the way we usually think of fun). In the second coming, the old creed tells us that Jesus comes to judge the quick and the dead. Not quite as warm and fuzzy as the nativity story (which wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as we make it out to be!).

Despite our preferences, the true preparation of the Advent season, in fact the true preparation of the entire Christian’s life, is for Christ’s second coming. Evan was right. Jesus has already been born. That truth has changed our lives in countless ways. But one of the ways is by transforming our concept of history from being a story that goes on and on forever without any ending, to a story that is headed towards a definite conclusion, Christ’s return. But how do we prepare for that Advent? What does it mean to wait for that day? It means keeping our attention on the kingdom of God and it’s values as it breaks forth into the kingdom of this world.

Keeping our attention fixed upon God’s kingdom come, changes our waiting in this life from self-centered, passive twiddling of the thumbs to a waiting that’s an active, God-focused time of preparation. First, there is the inward preparation of introspection, confession, and repentance. We allow the Spirit to search our own hearts and determine what in our lives is incompatible with the kingdom Jesus is bringing to fore. Second, there is also the outward preparation of sowing mercy and justice, kindness and compassion, generosity and forgiveness to those we encounter. More than Christmas trees, more than garland on the mantel, and lights on the house, it’s these kinds of preparations that helps us to be ready for the day our king arrives, again.

“Men of Galilee,” the angels said, “why do you you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” – Acts 1:11.

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