The Coming of the Son of Man
Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning season of the church calendar. In Medieval times advent was a fast during which people’s thoughts were directed to the expected second coming of Christ. However, in modern times, it has been seen as the lead up to Christmas, and in that context the Advent Wreath serves as a reminder of the approach to Christmas.
As you already know, Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus with patience. It is a season of “waiting in joyful hope.” Today we lit the first candle of the Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath teaches us patience. These days, my son everyday asks me this question, how many days are left to Christmas? Obviously, he is waiting for Santa so he can get a gift from him. Whenever my son asks this question, I reply “Wait a little more” and “Prepare yourself for the moment.” “You should eat well, study well, and play well with your sister.” That is, “be a good boy and then, Santa will get you a gift.”
This is very similar to the historical story of the origin of Advent. A German priest who lived in the 19th century, founded a home for poor children in Hamburg. The children kept asking him how many days were left until Christmas. As a response, he developed the Advent Wreath with its candles to give the children some idea. As one of the candles was lighted, their expectation for Christmas was getting bigger and clear.
We use the Advent Wreath for a similar purpose – to learn patience. To wait, not nervously, but patiently. For sure, things sometimes seem dark, but the Advent Wreath says that the light of Christ will come – and that it will grow. We need to learn God’s time – to avoid impatience that causes so much harm. If we wait patiently, God will give us every good thing. We pray to God, “Teach us, Lord, to wait patiently until the proper moment. Teach us, Lord, to wait in joyful hope.”
This Advent I invite you to examine your conscience in terms of your patience. Father Edward Hays, who is a contemporary writer on spirituality defines Advent as follow,
“Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place (A Pilgrim’s Almanac, p. 196).”
In addition, he says,
“Daily we can make an Advent examination. Is there a lingering resentment, an unforgiven injury living in our hearts? Do we look down upon others of lesser social standing or educational achievement? Are we generous with the gifts that have been given to us, seeing ourselves as their stewards and not their owners? Are we reverent of others, their ideas and needs, and of creation? These and other questions become Advent lights by which we may search the deep, dark corners of our hearts.”
Advent is a moment to take a look at ourselves and prepare ourselves for the coming of baby Jesus with hope that he will reign in our lives. Last Sunday was Christ the King and Reign of Christ Sunday. I preached that the rule of Jesus occurs within the hearts and minds of all who follow Jesus. Christ’s kingdom is within us. Repeatedly Jesus described a realm of rule dramatically different from a kingdom controlled by the powers of the world. Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God’s rule is within a person. Do you remember? The season of Advent is to feel Christ within us, working for us to be healed from various sufferings in our lives and to have peace. Also, the season of Advent is a moment to happily affirm the reign of Christ. As we renew our commitment to the reign of Christ, let us plead for the renewed submission to the rule of Christ within the lives of all of us. Then we could affirm the altered values, changed thinking, new visions, and priorities of redemption that prevail where Jesus rules. Then I encouraged you to together declare with impassioned conviction, “The kingdom of God’s rule is among us. Jesus Christ reigns over our lives!” I am sure you remember this.
Christ is coming. That’s the Good News of Advent. We’ve met and we know the person who is God’s appointed one, and it’s Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, the healer, teacher, founder of the feast and friend to tax collectors and sinners.
Today’ lesson is from Matthew. The point of the text is very clear. “Be ready for Jesus’ coming.” I think that Matthew paired the last two parables in that series deliberately in a way that makes clear just why Jesus’ coming is Good News and what it is that we do to be ready for it.
The first parable is Matthew’s version of the “Parable of the Ruthless Master.” This parable illustrates how earthly masters can misuse their power causing hatred, greed, pride, or social injustice in our lives.
In Matthew, this parable is immediately followed with a description of what it will look like when Jesus’ work among us is completed, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him” (Matthew 25:31). It will be opposite of what happens when the “Ruthless Master” is in charge of the previous parable is ruling. The hungry will be fed. Those without clean water to drink will be given clean water. The strangers will be welcomed. Those without clothes will be clothed. And the prisoners will be visited. All of the people will be gathered in to the center, to enjoy God’s kingdom. That is, to those people who suffer from injustice, hatred, greed, and pride, God gives freedom and peace.
This season of Advent proclaims the Good News. The Ruthless Masters do not have the last word; Jesus does.
Jesus is coming. Will we recognize him? The best way to know, deep down, is to get lots of practice. Whatever we do for “the least of these,” we do for Jesus. If we want to see Jesus and know Jesus, if we want to experience the Good News that Jesus is coming, we need to listen to the stories, the hopes, and the concerns of “the least of these.” If we want Jesus to recognize us as a neighbor, we must become neighbors to “the least of these, building real community — shared bread, shared dreams, shared vision. That shared vision is Jesus’ vision. That shared hope is what makes the certain news of Jesus’ coming Good News. That shared dream is coming true among us, and Jesus invites us to make it our own.
In Matthew’s gospel, we hear quite a lot about Jesus as “God with us” (1:23), present with us in tough times (18:20) and for the long haul (28:20). We have the presence of Jesus with us even before he comes again in glory. “Lo, I am with you always,” he said. His presence heals, reconciles, calls to account, opens the door to the banquet, pays workers all the same, and on and on, ahead of the time of his return. Paul’s words in Romans are all about living “ahead of time,” anticipating with our lives that way of life that will be ours when Christ returns.
Maybe the surprise, when Christ returns, will be that he was here all along. Maybe the surprise will be that, ahead of time himself, he has been calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying the meek and all the rest of those who bear his name. Come, Lord Jesus.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we give thanks to you for the lesson this morning. And we give thanks to you for Jesus who is coming to reign over our lives. Give us wisdom and faith to follow Jesus and bless us to experience Christ throughout our lives. In your name, we pray. Amen.