Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
– Matt 24:44 +INPFSS+
The Son of Man is coming. The Lord is coming.
This is the motto of Advent. The Lord is coming.
It’s a bit of a funny phrase – a funny idea, when you think about it.
Because we know that the Lord is with us. At every level. God is everywhere -- omnipresent. God the Son is holding together every atom of the universe, And the Holy Spirit actually lives within us.
So how can we then speak about his coming? What meaning does this have, if he's already here? And why talk about it now, in preparation for Christmas?
These are the questions I wish to explore this morning.
Let’s start with a definition of terms: ‘Advent’ means ‘coming’, so there’s our first clue.
And when we understand what actually happened on that first Christmas Day, we see that it is God’s coming to earth. The unseen God of the Universe, coming down from the realms of uncreated light, through the dimensions down to time and space, and taking on human flesh and a human nature. God CAME to earth.
As Christians we can treat this as a common-place. But it is anything but. We can’t even conceive of the magnitude of God’s descent in this first coming. Infinity dwindled to infancy, to steal a line from the poet Hopkins. Imagine a Man becoming an ant, and taking on all the perils of ant-life. And now extend that descent a million steps further.
God CAME to earth.
For thousands of years before that first Christmas, ever since the tower of Babel, mankind had been building temples with the hope of reaching God in heaven. All for naught of course. But now God has come down to our earth. We don’t have to reach up for him, he has reached down for us.
The one who made the earth was now crawling on it with human hands and feet.
And this shows us what is so unique about his first coming: He veiled his glory and his divinity under the cloak of his human nature. If you looked at the baby Jesus, you would never ever guess that he was God incarnate. He would have looked just like an ordinary baby. And for his whole life, with the exception of the transfiguration on mount carmel, the brilliance of his divine nature was kept hidden.
This is the powerful message of Philipians 2 right? The Son, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
So this is the first thing we mean when we speak of the Lord’s coming. His coming that already happened in the past, on the first Christmas.
And for the commemoration of this coming we do well to be ready. To get ourselves prepared. And this is what Advent is about. Making ourselves ready, for the feast of Christmas, on which we remember the Lord's first coming. If we don't make ourselves ready. If we don't use Advent as a preparation, then the Incarnation may just pass us by as just another materialistic day in America on which we gorged ourselves with food. Let's not let that happen.
Now, also, when we think of Christ’s coming in humility, as Christians reading the Bible, it reminds of something else. The SECOND coming that he promised. When he will come at the end of the ages.
The second coming is predicted in the Old Testament prophets – as they speak like we heard this morning from Isaiah – about a world with no war, and justice being established on the earth. And our Lord himself, in the passage we heard from the Gospel of Matthew – tells about his coming again. And St. Paul picks up on the theme when he writes to the Romans, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”
The second coming will be like the first coming, in that it will be God coming down to earth, once again. But there will be one big difference –
whereas the first coming was in humility. As a normal looking man, in one small corner of Palestine. The second coming will be in glory. The Lord in his resurrected, immortal body, full of glory and splendor will come back to the earth, and it will be like the sky – even the whole fabric of space-time – will be torn in half, and the whole world will see him at one and the same moment, and so the Great Final Judgment will commence.
The first coming, in the past, was in humility. The second coming, in the future, will be in great glory.
And this is why the readings leading up to and during Advent are about the SECOND coming.
Because the first coming was only the beginning. Was only a glimpse of the fuller manifestation that is to come. It was the first movement in a great symphony, but it is not itself the climax. So when, as the Church, we think about Christmas, our minds should naturally leap from the contemplation of the first coming, to the expectation of the second.
In both of these Advents, we speak of the Lord’s coming, over and above his ever-present nearness, because when he comes he comes in a way where we can behold him with our eyes, and could touch him with our hands. He comes to us, visibly, and palpably.
Now, there is a lot of misinformation out there about this Second Coming of our Lord. Lots of false-predictions and muddle-headed ideas. Maybe you've caught wind of some of these teachings about raptures and thousand-years and tribulations and what not. Most all of these so-called teachings are misinterpretations of scripture, and not what the Church has taught for most of her history.
So I want to take just a minute to clear these up a little. To set the record straight. And it's not nearly as complicated as some people make it sound. When the Church reads the testimonies of the prophets, and Gospels, and Paul's letters, and the Revelation of St. John, a composite picture emerges, and it looks something like this:
One day, nobody knows exactly when, Jesus will appear in the Sky, visible no matter where one is standing on the earth. And All the people who have died, from the beginning of time will be raised from the dead, and their bodies will be transformed into immortal bodies, like the one Jesus has. And all of us who are alive when Jesus appears, will have our bodies transformed in an instant as well. And all of us will be simultaneously brought before Jesus, and each one of us will have our lives assessed.
Our lives will be examined for two things: Did we have faith in Christ Jesus, repenting of our sins? And did we live in accordance with that faith? Every single human being will be judged by these criteria, and those who pass the test, will be welcomed to stand at Jesus' side. And those who fail, will be cast away from Jesus, and sent to an eternity of darkness away from God.
And in the course of this great judgment, all of creation will be judged too. Everything that is wicked, and broken, and sick, and sad in the universe – all death and every cause of tears, they will all be burned up and cast away, and all creation, every rock and tree and beast will be re-fashioned into purity and perfection.
And then all of those – hopefully all of us – who have likewise been made new, and who have inherited immortal bodies, will then live in this new creation, with Jesus face-to-face, and there we will reign as princes and princess with him forever.
Pretty epic stuff, right? As wild as it sounds, I assure you, with all that I am and have and know – it's all true.
The Lord is coming.
And if it's important to our discipleship that we be ready for the commemoration of his first coming, it's a matter of life and death – literally – that we are ready for his second coming.
That we be alert. That we stay watchful. In other words, that the Lord doesn't come back and find us sleeping on the job. Living indulgently and without faith, as if he wasn't actually coming back after all.
This is the message of the Gospel that we heard this morning.
In modern English, “Look out!”
The Lord is coming.
In Advent, we recall this fact, in both senses of the word – both the past and the future coming.
But before I wrap up this morning, there is also a third way we can speak about the Lord’s Advent. His coming is not only confined to the past and to the future, he also comes to us, in a mysterious way, in the Present... In the Holy Eucharist.
Over and above his daily nearness to us, the Lord in his mercy condescends to come to us through the outward things of Bread and Wine. When offered to him, and consecrated in his name, the Bread and the Wine are transformed spiritually into the Body and Blood of Jesus, and where his Body and his blood are – there he is. So, it is right to think of this, the Holy Communion, also as part of the Lord’s coming to us. Under the form of bread and wine. Coming to indwell us, literally.
And for this coming also we are to get ready. We need to prepare our hearts rightly to receive the Lord who comes to us in Communion. To that end, after the Prayers of the People this morning, I shall, as is custom at the beginning of Advent as well as Lent, read the Exhortation from the Prayer Book, which challenges us to take communion with the seriousness it deserves.
So that is what Advent is all about. The Coming of Christ. And being ready for it.
His first coming, in the past, in humility, at Christmas
His present coming, in the mystery of bread and wine,
And his future coming, the second coming, in power and great glory.