“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” [Matthew 24:42]
In my sermons from past, I have said that we need to keep three things in mind when we think about Advent. We should, first, remember Christ’s birth, and how He was willing to humble Himself to be born of the Virgin Mary. Second, we should also remember that Christ was born for a purpose. He came to earth to save mankind from sin, and that purpose came to fruition through His crucifixion. And third, we should remember that Advent is a time of anticipation when we look ahead to Christ’s coming again.
The Gospel lesson for today deals with this third aspect of Advent. It deals with the anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming:
“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
This section is somewhat vague in that it may be speaking of Christ’s first coming. However, Jesus makes it clear that He is speaking of a future time when He says:
“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”
This passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew is very alarming on one level because Christ is asking all of us to be constantly prepared. It would be so much easier for us if we knew at least a close approximation of when Christ will come again. I would venture to guess that if we were allowed to know precisely when, then most of us would wait until the last minute to prepare. However, Christ is quite clear; we will never be given such signs. We just need to be constantly vigilant:
“But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”
Christ is telling us not only that we will not know, He also is telling us that it will occur when we least expect it. Such information appears disheartening, at best, and despairing, at worst. But the truth is that our lesson for today is really a message of hope. Appearances are deceiving.
There was a priest visiting a home where dessert was being served. Being good New Yorkers, the hostess apologized for not having any cheese to go with the apple pie. Hearing this, her little son slipped down from his chair and left the room for a moment. When he returned shortly, he had a small piece of cheese. He very shyly placed the cheese on the priest’s plate. “Well, thank you,” said the guest. “You must have very sharp eyes to have seen that piece of cheese when your mother didn’t. Where did you find it?” The boy flushed with pride and said, “Oh, it was in the mousetrap.”
Appearances can be deceiving. Things that appear to be good may not be, and those that may seem to be foreboding are really filled with hope.
Advent is really the celebration of hope. For us who are Christians, Christ’s coming again is an event we want to happen; it’s an event we wish to happen and are anxious to see happen. We want Christ to come again because we know, with Him comes real justice and real love. With Him comes a world we have only wished for, but never thought possible:
And he shall judge among the nations,
and shall rebuke many people:
and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks:
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
And with this knowledge, our reading really becomes a message of hope. We hope for the day when real justice is done in the world. And we hope for that day of peace when we no longer know how to wage war or how to live in hatred.
But knowing this, it becomes even more important to be prepared for Christ’s coming again. So how do we live so that we are always prepared and ready for Christ? Well, St. Paul wrote to the Romans on this very issue. He wrote:
Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet”: and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
To prepare for Christ means basically three things. It means believing in Christ. It also means loving God with all our hearts. And it means loving our neighbors. Loving God for most of us humans is much easier than loving our fellow man. The cartoonist Charles M. Schulz once said, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” I think most of us feel this way once in a while.
It is easy for me to stand up here and say, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” but it is much harder to know how to do this.
In order to love others, it is absolutely essential that we love ourselves. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not going to turn into a “self-help” lecture. But the fact that millions buy books trying to learn to love themselves tells us that there are many people out there who feel unloved. The problem with this statement, that we must learn to love ourselves, is that it can lead to self-obsession. There is a wonderful skit by Bob Newhart where he plays a psychologist. A woman comes in and asks for help. She explains that she has a fear of being buried alive in a small box. Bob explains that he can cure her in five minutes with two simple words. And the words are “Stop it! Just stop it!”
Loving ourselves is a matter of self-acceptance. Sometimes it is dealing with the reality of life. We may never be wealthy, or pretty, or popular, but that is just fine. If we can accept ourselves, then loving ourselves is not too far behind.
However, there must come a time when we have to go outside ourselves. We have to stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking of others.
Psychologists say that there comes a time in every child’s life when they finally realize there are others in the world, and I remember precisely when this happened to me. I do not remember how old I was, but I do remember riding in the car with my family and driving by a woman who was coming the opposite direction. As she passed in her car, I suddenly realized she had her own life. She did not cease to exist just because she was no longer in my life. She had a life of her own, a family of her own, and a destination of her own.
As Christians, we are supposed to be constantly aware of others. And we are to love them. Even though they may hate us, or persecute us, we are still to love them. We are to love them equal to ourselves. And this means treating them with the love with which they may OR may NOT treat us. It means giving others respect regardless of whether they earned it; and it means trying our best to emulate Christ. If we do this in conjunction with our faith, we will be prepared when Christ comes again.
The message of Advent, as I have said before, is love, but our lesson for today deals with love in conjunction with hope. As Christians, we hope for the future. We hope for and do not fear Christ coming again. And in anticipation, we try to live lives that are consistent with what Christ taught. And the greatest lesson, but the hardest one to live, is to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we do live lives of love for our fellow man, then we will be prepared no matter when Christ comes. And this is why Advent truly is the season of hope.