Advent is in many ways difficult to come to grips with. This is especially so in Australia where it comes at the beginning of summer, as the school and working years conclude and beaches and barbeques beckon. There is a tendency for the busy-ness of shopping, parties and planning for Christmas Day to overtake the rhythm of the church year.
The special focus of Advent, as the word’s origins indicate, can be summed up in the phrase Here he comes. As we enter its meaning, we look back in time, look forward in time and open our eyes fully to the present.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus is reminding us that not even he, nor the angels, know when God will come. Some like to think that God will come in terrible retribution with flames and violence. These people look for signs in international politics and weather patterns that God is coming to judge and destroy the world. This is the Day of the Lord, the great apocalyptic coming of God to be with the creation fully. The reason that so many doom-sayers with signs that say, “The End is Nigh,” say what they say is because the prophets and gospel writers, even Jesus, used language like this: great tribulation, division, floods of fire and water.
The point they are trying to make is that when God comes the existing order of things will be reversed. These reversals of the worldly ordering of life is a trademark of God’s presence and it always comes as a surprise because that kind of life, one marked with peace, justice, presence and love can be achieved in the here and now.
And Jesus, in today’s reading, is calling us to be awake and prepared for it. Jesus is reminding us of the importance to be in a ready-state for God’s coming. This is part of what Advent is all about. Advent, it turns out is not, is not, a countdown of shopping days until Christmas but a reminder of the ready-state, a call to training our spirits for God’s arrival.
The Christian tradition recognizes that God has come, and will come, to be with us in three distinct ways.
The first coming of God was when God walked with us in Jesus of Nazareth. We will celebrate that coming in a few weeks at the Feast of the Incarnation, otherwise known as Christmas.
Another coming of God is the final coming which Jesus makes mention of in today’s reading, when God and creation will be as they were meant to be, fully united. The strongest image the Bible has for this union is a marriage between God and creation and, make no mistake, heaven is coming to Earth (Rev. 21).
The third coming of God happens between the first coming and the final coming of God, between the coming of Jesus and the final marriage of God and creation. This coming of God is the daily visitation: God with us in our prayers, finding God in our neighbours, seeing God in those we are privileged to serve.
What we see in these three visitations is that all of them are the hoped-for Day of the Lord. Each of these visitations carries with it the reversals of the normal, worldly order but also the loving and just presence of God.
How are you in a ready-state for God’s coming? How then can we be awake and watchful for the coming of God, whether in the final coming of the daily visitation of God?
There is a telling portion of Scripture that happens when the disciples have just seen Jesus ascend into Heaven. The disciples are looking up, dumbfounded. Finally, some angels appear and ask, “Why are you looking up, trying to find him?” The implication is, “Don’t look up to find Jesus, look out, look in.”
Jesus is always one step ahead, going into the city, into Galilee, into life, we are meant to seek and find him there. That’s how we stay ready for God’s coming, we daily, hourly stay on the lookout for God, not in the clouds, not in the powerful events of the world, but in the quiet, domestic ways that God visits us. God may indeed someday come in the clouds but it more than likely will come in your life.
Advent is a reminder of the ready-state, be awake and ready for God. Therefore, Advent tends to be described as preparatory, not just for the great celebration of Christmas but for the final coming of God and for the ever-present daily visit of God with us in the here and now.
The special focus of Advent, as the word’s origins indicate, can be summed up in the phrase Here he comes. We look back in time, look forward in time and open our eyes fully to the present. Advent is a time to let the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the presence of Jesus Christ alive today, even within ourselves. Every Christian in some way brings Christ to a world that is waiting to share, through whatever opportunities the Lord provides, the good news that God has entered our human condition to unite us to him.