Advent: prepare to receive Jesus

Mary Copping, 30 November 2014

Isaiah 64: 1–9; Mark 13: 24–37

This is the first Sunday of Advent. The children have lit the first candle – not red and white this year but purple, pink and white. Purple has traditionally been the primary colour of Advent, symbolising repentance and fasting. The pink candle, lit on the third Sunday of Advent, represents joy or rejoicing and shows a move from repentance towards celebration. The white one is the Christ candle, lit on Christmas Day, to show the purity and sinlessness of Christ.

Each candle has a special meaning. This first, the purple one, is for the patriarchs, Abraham and Sarah. The second is for the prophets – primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. The candles represent hope; not the sort when we hope something will happen (but are a bit doubtful), but the strong and firm hope of the coming Messiah.

The term Advent means waiting, coming. The Latin word adventus means arrival. And surrounded by all the Christmas things in the shops, we could perhaps think that the main thing is waiting, preparing for the arrival of Christmas celebrations. But here in this church we know that we await the celebration of the coming of Jesus – God’s Son, born in a dirty stable amongst lowly animals, the incarnation of God with us. A past event, one that happened 2,000 years ago, but one that becomes fresh to us each year. In this, we know exactly what to expect and what we shall be celebrating.

In our gospel reading, Mark refers to Christ’s coming again in the future, with signs such as the sun being darkened and the stars falling from the sky. Other gospels describe signs of Christ’s coming again as wars and rumours of wars, which sadly we see much of today. But with this, unlike the baby in the stable, we don’t know what to expect, and we don’t know how these things will take place.

There are many different understandings of Christ’s second coming, with various images to describe it and with much about God’s wrath and judgement. The book of Revelation describes Christ’s return as a time with no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21: 4). This sounds wonderful. But before that must come God’s judgement.

I wonder how each of us sees this – with fear, with resignation or disbelief? I think that when we stand before God in his holiness and righteousness, we will see where we have fallen short, where we could have done better, and will be sorry, repentant and – in God’s love – forgiven. But, as Jesus said, no one knows the times or seasons for this.

So how can we prepare in this Advent time for the first coming of Christ as a baby, and the coming of Christ again in glory? We live in the now and the not-yet, the time between Christ’s first and second coming. How can we be ready? Is there something we have to do?

As we begin this season we prepare again for the coming of Christ into our hearts and lives, right now, right here. In the preface to our Advent booklet there are words to help us; one sentence is ‘Advent is letting God’s will be done in our hearts and in our everyday lives’. We can’t make Christ more real to ourselves or each other, and the more we try the less we’re able to do this. What we can do is acknowledge our weakness and ask Christ to come afresh and anew into our hearts. It sounds easy, doesn’t it, and in a way it is – we have the grace and mercy of God to help us.

We prepare again for the coming of Christ into our hearts and lives, right now, right here.

But in this time of waiting and preparation for Christ’s coming we are called to repent of all that we do that hinders God from entering our hearts. It is so easy to be caught up with all the busyness and distractions of our practical preparing for Christmas – getting presents, sending cards, ordering the food – and as we walk through town we have no choice in the matter. But we do have choice in how we prepare to receive Christ. As Christians we are blessed to have the one faith where our God sent his Son to earth for us. We are blessed that we have God’s Holy Spirit to help us. How do we make time for him, for the one who has done so much for us, in our busyness?

I admire the dedication of people of other faiths. On being shown round a mosque in Southampton, I heard from the imam about their faith, about the sacrificial giving of money, about fasting, about praying towards Mecca five times a day – so dedicated. I admire the tenacity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on doors, taking time to do Bible studies with people. I have been reading a book about the Amish people, and their determination to follow God, to focus on him and to renounce all worldly things is staggering. I can’t believe what these people believe, but I do admire their living for God and serving him in the ways they do.

How do I, in my Christian faith, show such dedication and allow God to be the focus of my life? This is not primarily about trying to be better – telling people more about Christ, making sure I help at the Nightshelter – though these things may happen. As Christians we are able to know God for ourselves, know his love for us, and the only way we can do that is by opening ourselves more and more to him, giving him time to make himself known to us in prayer and praise, in silence and words. Because as we come to know God more, as we come to know more of his love, then that love emanates from us: in word, in deed, in presence.

Getting ready, preparing. When we prepare for a special occasion we take great care that everything is just right, that we are completely ready to go, and we have an expectation of a good time. Do we take as much care and have as much expectation in preparing for Christ’s coming? Our preparations should not be feverish but calm, peacefully thinking, what more can I do to allow Christ to be more real to me and, therefore, to others around me? What more can I do to allow Christ’s love to fill me and so overflow like ripples of water to others. Not being complacent in my faith, but always moving on.

We can never make ourselves fully ready to receive Christ, but we can make space for him to come into our hearts with his love. I finish with the refrain from a familiar hymn: ‘O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee’. Amen.