Feast Day: Advent I
Readings: Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9
“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:37)
Well today is the first Sunday of Advent. You can walk into just about any store and find that they are in Christmas mode. It’s the one month when Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé get more airtime than they do in the eleven other months combined. And if you’re like our family, regrettably, you may even have your Christmas decorations up at home already.
But this is Advent. You’re not going to get Advent in the shops but hopefully we can have Advent in our homes and churches. Because Advent is really important. Christmas is all about fulfillment, the promise of God to be with his people fulfilled in the flesh of that newborn babe. The wrapping paper on the presents under the tree finally torn open so that we can possess what we have been given.
That’s Christmas. But this is Advent. Advent is about promise not fulfillment. It’s not about ripping the paper off the gift but about the promise that one day a gift will be given. And so Advent, fittingly, is a season of expectation and anticipation for what is coming. Indeed, the word “Advent” means coming.
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”
Jesus Christ is coming again in glory to judge the world. Now, granted, that may sound strange. Certainly it is difficult to get our heads around just what that might look like. But we needn’t worry about the particularities we simply need concern ourselves with the fact of the matter that he is indeed coming.
It’s a central claim of the gospel. We prayed it together moments ago in the Collect of the Day: “…that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead…” We confess it weekly in the Creed: “And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” And it forms our Eucharistic sensibilities as well, as we pray in the Great Thanksgiving: “…we thy humble servants, with all thy holy Church, remembering the precious death of thy beloved Son, his mighty resurrection, and glorious ascension, and looking for his coming again in glory…” And, as should always be the case, this faith is based on the words of Holy Scripture. Remember at the beginning of The Acts of The Apostles when Jesus Christ ascends into heaven leaving the disciples with strained necks, to which the angelic messengers responded, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven,” (1:11).
Jesus Christ is coming again in glory to judge the world, and the Church believes this. As such we are an Advent people. He will come and decisively appear and decisively act and decisively gather His people unto Himself. Holy Scripture has different names for this day: the Day of the Lord, the Last Day, the eschaton. So, when you find yourself crying out along with the prophet Isaiah, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” (64:1) know that He will do so.
The Church lives and exists in the time between Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension and his coming again. We live in that space. We are a people who know Jesus primarily as the One who is coming to us. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Jesus Christ is coming again in glory to judge the world. This is certain. But there is more, we have no idea when.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Nothing you or I or anyone can do can hasten that day or delay that day. That day will spring up suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). That day is conditioned by nothing other than the sovereign decision of the Father in heaven. He alone knows. He alone will act and send His Son.
Jesus Christ is coming again in glory to judge the world, and we do not know when. This is the witness of Holy Scripture and of the Church. So, while that day will come about suddenly and unexpectedly it will not come as a surprise. Because we know the Scriptures and we know that God’s word to us in Jesus Christ is faithful and true.
So then, because we know this, because Jesus Christ has said he is coming again suddenly and unexpectedly our life as Christians ought to be characterized by what? Vigilance. Look at how many times in those few verses in Mark Jesus councils his followers to be vigilant: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come,” (13:32-33). “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly,” (13:34-36). “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake,” (13:37).
Jesus Christ is coming again. We do not know when. Therefore, keep awake. Watch. Be vigilant. Be alert. Be sober-minded. Be ready. Be expectant. I want you to really catch this. Here we are on the first day of the Christian year, the First Sunday in Advent, and what is the command? Keep awake! Some of you may have been drifting for a while now. Perhaps you’re getting a little bit drowsy and slowly drifting off to sleep. I want you to hear the words of Jesus Christ to you this morning: Keep awake.
Now there are lots of different examples I could give about what this vigilance looks like on the ground in realtime but I’m going to pick just one: confessing your sin. This is a good example because maybe at some point in your life, like me, you have thought that you have the time to play around with sin. Maybe that’s you now. But if the sort of vigilance that Jesus calls us to is going to characterize your own life then you need to be done with that. You cannot mess around with sin thinking that you have the time and can turn it around later on.
So then, when we confess our sin—when we acknowledge that we have sinned against God and feel sorrow for our sins—we are practicing the sort of vigilance, the sort of awakeness, that Jesus wants us to practice as we await his coming. Now, it is true that the General Confession is a part of our liturgy and we say it together every time we gather. However, you and I are not general sinners. You and I are particular sinners and so, from time to time, it is desirable that we might confess our particular sins particularly.
Every single Thursday/Wednesday for the next three weeks this church will be open from 2:00pm-4:00pm for Confession. If that time does not work for you please speak to me and we can make an appointment for some other time. Now the general wisdom in Anglicanism when it comes to the Sacrament of Reconciliation—where you confess your particular sins to a priest and receive absolution—is that all may, none must, but some should. This Advent I am inviting you to practice vigilance by naming your particular sins particularly and to know the joy of forgiveness. All may avail themselves of this sacrament of great joy and indeed some should.
If this sounds difficult or overwhelming to you know that you need not rely on your own strength to practice this sort of vigilance. As St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth: “[God] will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor. 1:8). Christ Jesus himself equips us to practice the sort of vigilance that he has called us to.
In your bulletin you will find a pamphlet that I put together with more information about this. Please read it. In it I walk you through the very brief liturgy so that you know what to expect. And if you feel the Lord calling you to confess your sins in this way then pay special attention to the section entitled “Preparing for Confession.”
This Advent, let us prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus Christ who is coming again as judge. “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Amen.