34 “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise 35 like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. 36 Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Happy New Year! I know, I say it every year, but Advent starts our new liturgical year. And, as usual, the church starts our new year by reminding us that we are to be ready for the end of time.
I just read what we are to expect: people will die of fright as they look at what is coming to the world. It will not be a comfortable time for ANYONE. Jesus is warning us that this return of his will be so dramatic, so overpowering, that it will be hard to stand and face him.
He does tell us “stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.” But it will also be an “assault on everyone.” There are so many different places in the gospels where Jesus issues us a warning about being ready. The season of Advent is meant to help us get ready, not for Christmas, but for the return of Jesus.
As I have been preparing for this weekend, I know this seems to have been a topic that I keep repeating. But I have to ask the question yet again: “are you ready?”
Jesus tells us that if we remain conformed to this world, we are going to find ourselves NOT ready, but drowsy and anxious and we will be surprised at his return. The surprise will probably be because people are thinking, “I have all the time in the world!” But what if he returns before you are ready for that? Remember the story of the five wise virgins and of the five foolish?
This is the urgency of the Gospel. We dare not say “it has been 2000 years, so we have more time.” You do not know the hour, or the day that Jesus will return or when he will call you by name out of this life.
I think the biggest challenge that Jesus gives us in the Gospel today is to “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” It is going to be a fearful time when Jesus returns. But he is urging us to be ready!
We make all kinds of preparations for many kinds of celebrations throughout the year from birthdays, to Thanksgiving, to Christmas, to Easter – I could name more, but how much preparation are we making for either the end of our life or the end of time?
The reason we are here, today, whether it is at the front of our minds are not, is that we want to be ready for what is to come. The church, in her wisdom, has given us every year two great seasons, to remind ourselves of our need for Jesus, and his mercy.
Lent is a time when we recall the magnitude of our sins and what they cost Jesus. Advent is a time when we recall the reality that this world is not our final home. Our gospel today reminds us that we are to build a home, not for this world, but for heaven. What will our home in heaven be made of? I have said this before: the bricks of our good works, the mortar of our virtues, and the timber of the cross.
If we keep making bricks, if we keep preparing mortar, if we know what it means to rely on the timber of the cross, we will not become drowsy, or anxious, or be caught by surprise. We will instead stand erect, because we know our redemption is at hand. And we will have no fear the tribulations that are imminent. But we will be able to stand before the Son of Man.
Lord Jesus, as we begin our season of Advent, send your Holy Spirit to each one of us so that from this day we will struggle to be found looking for you at the end of our life, whether it comes in our own personal time, or at the end of time. Make this Advent a time of purification for our hearts, that we may be ready to stand erect and raise our heads and not be ashamed to be called your servants, your beloved children.
We want to be ready to stand before the world and you. Before the world, to proclaim your salvation; and before you to hear you say well done good and faithful servant. Enter into your master’s joy. Amen.