A small fringe Christian group took flight to live in caves deep in the hills. They feared an imminent nuclear Armageddon, hoping to be survivors when the disaster would mean the day of the Lord had arrived. Yet the ‘Be prepared’ of the Gospel this weekend is not meant as a fearful threat – rather a glorious opportunity for new life, in Jesus Christ. His second coming in power and glory will, though, catch us on the hop unless we are permanently ready for His arrival.
Advent contains both promise and warning. The first coming of Jesus as a baby was sudden and it inaugurated the new age. He also comes every day, for every day is a Day of the Lord in which we must keep awake. Do we sufficiently recognise him in our human encounters? Jesus taught that He was mysteriously present in the poor, the sick and the hungry, just as he is mysteriously present in the Elements of the Eucharist.
The Russian writer Turgenev tells how once a man came up from behind him in Church and stood beside him. He had an overpowering sensation that the man was Christ; yet, when he turned round, it was just a face like any other. ‘What sort of Christ is this?’ he says, only gradually realising that Christ’s face is the face of any of his people.
Our preparation for the coming of Christ is watchful so that we can welcome him. Not trembling like the American group hiding in their caves, but with hope founded in love. In Advent we look forward towards Christmas, towards the time when Christ came to a largely unprepared world. Even his own people were not ready to receive him. Our Advent preparation is not just for Christmas, but that we can keep awake, ready at the end of time to welcome the Lord on his return.
Canon Francis Brown