Newsletter Article for the December edition of The Hillside Messenger
Advent as Preparation for Christmas
The Rev. Charles Wesley, priest and hymn writer, described the Lord Jesus Christ’s Second Advent in these words:
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for our salvation slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.
– Stanza 1, Hymn 5, The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, 1940.
“This same Jesus,” said the men in white apparel, “which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b, KJV). The Lord Jesus Christ will come again to earth, not as a child, but as King, Judge and Savior of the faithful. For this great day, we must all be ready, and for it we must pray. In the Lord’s Prayer, the petition, “Thy kingdom come,” sets before us the necessity of praying for God’s kingdom to come. Whereas the attention of the Apostles was turned from gazing into heaven after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the attention of the Church now must be turned to making itself ready for the Second Coming of the Lord.
Someone might object, “But what about the world? It is nowhere near ready for the Lord’s coming. What about some other Christians who seem not to be eager for the Lord’s coming at all?” The state of the world, the state of our nation and the state of the Church, are all matters for deep concern and continual prayer. Yet one of the greatest priorities we must have is to ensure that we ourselves are ready for the Lord’s Second Coming. St. Peter the Apostle urges Christians, “But the end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7, KJV). Before all else, each of the faithful must set his own life in order by obeying God. For what if suddenly the Lord were to come, or any of us were to appear before the Lord, and the Lord were to say, “You may have done all sorts of wonderful things in your life, and for others, but you have not taken prayer or your relationship with me seriously at all!” Therefore the Lord warns us all, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33, KJV), and “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, KJV). What will matter in the end, is whether we have left all that we count dear, and have come before the Lord in prayer, surrendering all that we are and all that we have to Him for His use and to His glory.
Therefore in the whole course of our lives, we must all take care to build wisely and well on the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ already laid in our lives. Having begun with a great love for God who has saved us from the misery of eternal hell, and from a futile way of life, and has brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son, we must grow steadily in the love of God, and in bearing all the fruit of the Holy Spirit. In the light that Christ has caused to shine on us, we must live in prayerful vigilance, praying that in all things God’s will be done in our lives and in the lives of all for whom we pray. Sobriety here refers to spiritual wakefulness and alertness in spiritual discernment. This accompanies perseverance in prayer. In all we do, we must so live as to please God and redeem the time, by making the best use of it for the glory of God and the furtherance of the values and standards of God’s eternal kingdom.
Quoting Ecclesiastes 1:2, Thomas à Kempis wrote:
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, except to love God and be fervent for Him alone. That is the highest wisdom which through contempt of the world aims for the heavenly kingdom. Therefore, it is vanity to seek riches that will perish, and to hope in them. It is also vanity to court honors and to lift oneself on high. It is vanity to follow the appetites of the flesh, and to long for that whence one presently will be gravely punished. It is vanity to wish for long life, but to care little for a good life. It is vanity to direct one’s attention only to the present life, and not to see beforehand those things which are about to be. It is vanity to love that which passes away with all speed, and not to hasten to that place where eternal joy abides.
(Thomas à Kempis: Imitation Christi, I.3c-4, my translation)
Thomas wrote these spiritual counsels because he was concerned about the essence of the Christian life, and he was directing the Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life (a lay and clerical religious order) to live at the heart of Christ’s life, in close communion with him. In the Renaissance period in which Thomas lived, it was an age of human pride in increasing knowledge of the world through discovery. These spiritual counsels helped people then, as they do now, retain a proper perspective of the Christian’s priorities in the world, and to live life in view of eternal life.
This excerpt from Thomas’s writing helps us to evaluate what vanity is, and whether our lives as we live them, measure up to God’s call to “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16, KJV).
Living wisely and seeking to know God’s will for our lives is very important, and, as we prepare for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which could be at any time. Spiritual leaders in the Church are warned by the Lord Jesus Christ to be proper stewards of those entrusted to their care, and not to exploit or mistreat them, but to give their spiritual food at the appointed time (Luke 12:41-48), and all Christians are urged to watch over their lives, and to endure persecution and all the trials that come their way:
And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
(Luke 21:34-36, KJV)
The Lord desires none of the faithful to be caught by surprise when he comes again. That fate is for those who have refused to believe and refused to obey His word. Therefore, He commands us to live in vigilance, to watch and pray to amend our lives according to his word, to confess our sins, to live righteous lives, to love Him more than all else, to know his will, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and to persevere to the day when we stand before the Lord. Every Christmas reminds us both of the Lord’s first advent and his second advent. People might tell you they are ready for Thanksgiving, or ready for Christmas, but are they ready for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you?