Isa 2.1-5, Rom 13.11-end, Mt 24.36-44
Today is Advent Sunday. The word ‘Advent’ is derived from a Latin word, which is a translation of a Greek word ‘Parousia’. It can just mean ‘coming’ used to refer to any person’s coming but it can also have a special meaning to refer to the coming of a royal or official personage, especially the Roman Emperor.
St Paul in his two letters to the Thessalonians uses the word in this special way when he speaks of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Last Day.
When a very important person comes to visit, it is normal to prepare by making the town look smart and for those who welcome the monarch to wear smart clothes. When our Queen visited Huddersfield a few years ago, all the stone buildings in George Square, including the splendid façade of the railway station, were cleaned to remove the effect of years of black smoke and grime. In ancient times when a king came to a city he held court and administered justice, punishing the guilty and acquitting the innocent.
When Christ comes again, we should be ready to welcome him. In 1Thessalonians 5.23 St Paul writes: ‘Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Jesus said that his coming would be a surprise. It may be at any time of the day or night. At an ordination of a new Deacon the Gospel reading is often a parable Jesus told about servants who must be ready at all times for the return of their Master. (Lk 12. 35-38) We must always be ready for the Lord’s coming. We should prepare by being sorry for our sins and by seeking to grow in holiness with God’s grace.
In the middle ages, most churches had a wall painting over the chancel arch depicting the Advent of the Lord Jesus on the Last Day. It is a painting of the Doom, the Judgment of all humanity, every person who ever lived. Those judged good are raised to heaven by angels; the wicked are dragged down to hell by devils.
As Christians we are required by our creeds to believe that Jesus Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. Moslems also believe that. Jesus said that Judgement Day will be like Noah’s Flood when all living creatures were drowned except those who were in the ark. But we need not believe in the imagery and pictures, whether in paint or words, which have been used to describe how the coming and judgement will occur. Our knowledge of the universe makes it difficult to think that the Lord will descend from the sky in a particular place
I find the marvellous Advent hymns give a much more acceptable idea of the Second Coming of Jesus than the sequence that begins ‘Day of wrath and doom impending’, which we used to sing at Solemn Requiems. New English Hymnal number524.
My favourite Advent hymn is ‘Wachet auf!’ The words and melody are by the Lutheran pastor Phillipp Nicholai, the translation into English by Professor F.C. Burkitt. New English Hymnal number 16.
‘Wake, O wake!, with tidings thrilling
The watchmen all the air are filling,
Arise, Jerusalem, arise!
The hymn is addressed to the virgins in Christ’s parable about the Bridegroom arriving at the bride’s family home at midnight to take his bride to his home. (Mt 25.1-13) He finds some are awake and ready to welcome him but some are asleep and not ready.
When we sing this hymn, I have a different picture in my mind. I visualise a large congregation in a great cathedral participating in the Easter Vigil. They are singing this Advent hymn at the point in the Vigil when the baptisms have finished in a nearby Baptistery and the great doors of the Cathedral open to admit the Bishop and clergy leading hundreds of people of all ages from all over the diocese. They are the newly baptised and confirmed with their sponsors and godparents. Those, who have been anointed with the holy chrism, wear white clothes and carry lighted candles as they process up to the High Altar where they will receive the Holy Communion for the first time.
It is a kind of Advent Coming of Christ for them and for all who in these Sacred Mysteries meet the Risen and Ascended Lord. Their Holy Communion is a joyful meeting with their Friend from heaven. That is how we should expect our meeting with Jesus at the great Last Day to feel and to be.
Crispin Harrison CR