(1 Corinthians 1.3-9, Psalm 80.1-8, Mark 13.2-end, Year B)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We’re familiar with the idea that Advent is a time of waiting. That’s why we have Advent calendars and crowns to help us count down the remaining time. But if we are waiting, we must be waiting for something.
The obvious and immediate answer is Christmas. And yes, the season of Advent ends with the first Mass of Christ’s birth, which is where Christmas gets its name from. We celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation, that moment when heaven came down and touched the earth – something which we also celebrate at every Eucharist, the touching of heaven and earth at the altar as earthly bread and wine is blessed by God as the priest recites the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.
And certainly Christmas is not whole if we only think of Christ’s birth. We also have to think of why Jesus came. You can’t have the CRIB without the CROSS.
However, even with all that in mind, we’re not actually waiting for Jesus’ birth. That has already happened, over 2000 years ago. So is Advent an empty, pointless waiting, just a show? Are we just prying open cardboard windows until we can unwrap random presents and scoff more food than you can shake a stick at?
As St Paul was fond of saying – By no means!
So, what are we waiting for?
Our readings today tell us: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory.” (Mark 13.26)
The answer is, we are waiting for the Second Coming.
In Advent we focus on the final part of the Memorial Acclamation, the words we often say during the Eucharist Prayer: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
Every year, on Advent Sunday we enter a new Lectionary Year. We are now in Year B, which is focused on the Gospel of St Mark, and it begins Advent with this passage of Christ’s glorious return.
And it really is glorious – it’s why we sing about how wonderful it will be when people from all over the world will gather together to worship Christ – ‘Hills of the north rejoice…’ There is this sense of the enormity of what it will mean for us to see Christ in all his glory.
However, apart from the global scale, what does that feel like for each of us?
It can feel a little overwhelming, even scary. It’s why when we hear the parables of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, or the slaves awaiting their masters return, we hope fervently that we will be wise, we will be found at work, not sleeping on the job. Keep awake! (Mark 13.37)
And Jesus made it abundantly clear, there would be hints that the time was coming (earthquakes, war and so on), but equally he will come like a thief in the night, unknown and without warning.
So it is on us to be vigilant.
That’s part of the purpose of Advent – to remind us to keep waiting, keep watching; to be ready.
Christmas isn’t about presents, nice though they are. St Paul tells us that we have already been given the best gift. It began at the dawn of time, bore fruit at the Incarnation and Resurrection, and was delivered to all who believe at Pentecost. St Paul explains: “The grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor 1.4)
We didn’t earn it, or pay for it. God gives it to us freely.
So if Jesus were to return today; if he were to walk through your door, right now, how would you feel?
You might be ecstatic – this is Jesus, after all, our Lord and Master.
You might feel overwhelmed – this is God, who gives us life, and makes us tremble with love and awe.
You might feel panicky – I know He loves me, but have I responded enough, been kind and loving to those around me enough, have I tried to live a Christ-like life?
Probably we’d feel a bit of each. But here’s the thing – we have the opportunity, right now, to do something about the third emotion.
We can repent, turn our hearts back to God, and each day invite the Holy Spirit to enter into our hearts and lives a little more, “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1.7)
(Artwork: Greek Icon of the Second Coming, dated 1700)