It’s Advent this week, the beginning of the church year: four Sundays set aside to prepare, watching and waiting for what is to come. Something’s coming and what’s to come is Christmas, isn’t it? The coming of Jesus. Yes it is, but which one may be the question.
The stories we hear in Advent remind us to be ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus over two thousand years ago, how we might see Jesus in the world today and also that Jesus promised to come again in the future. When, Jesus doesn’t say. And that’s the part that many people struggle with, especially those who believe that the return of Jesus is the “it” moment, the day of judgement, the end of things. It would be good to know when that will be, right? Well, no. It’s not about predicting the moment, it’s about being prepared for the moment. Hear me out on this.
The coming of Christmas each year reconnects us to the past, calls us to look around us in the moment and draws us into the future. This is how we prepare, by learning and living now. Jesus encourages us to love, giving his own living as the example. Jesus doesn’t call us to perfection, but to love. Right now. It’s only by taking to heart and living the love the adult Jesus teaches us that we can be ready for the baby Jesus in the manger, this year or any year.
And, let’s be clear, Jesus teaches us to live that love from the heart, not to simply behave as we’re told will get us into heaven. Jesus isn’t like an angelic Elf-on-a-Shelf, watching our every move. Nor is God like that guy judging if you’ve been naughty or nice, who “sees when you’re sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” I don’t think we get rewarded for behaviour.
Jesus did everything he possibly could, including give his own very human life, to bring us back to a relationship with God that was right and true. A relationship with a God who is love, who offers grace and peace to all and, in the end, welcomes us all home. It’s never about behaviour with Jesus, it’s about living the love that’s in our hearts into our lives. That’s life-giving. And I think that’s what it means to be ready, to be awake and prepared for “that day and hour no one knows.”
I think God means for us to live today and to expect Jesus in this moment and every moment. Not because the end is near, but because the next moment is a beginning, something new. We should expect to meet Jesus, not descending from on high in glory, but coming round a street corner. We should expect Jesus in the next person we meet. I think Jesus will surprise us by being least like what we expect and most like what we should be, so I think we should be open to finding Jesus where and when we don’t expect. We should look for Jesus, not in great churches or cathedrals, but in a stable or a barn.
The thing is, I think, we get all wrapped up in this all-encompassing, cosmic vision of Christ coming in clouds of glory. It’s a cataclysmic, universe changing moment and the universe is a big place. But what if it wasn’t about the universe out there, but your own “universe?” What if it was about just you?
Jesus may be speaking to us as a community, but what if Jesus is calling to each of us to be prepared for ourselves. Having met the Jesus of history and learned from him, having met the Jesus alive in those around us and learned from them, Jesus calls us to be prepared to meet Jesus in person when we pass from this life. Maybe it’s not a great cosmic moment but an everyday one. Are you ready?