Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent. I wonder how many sermons will mangle the readings trying to find something that’s not there. The plain fact is that they’re not about Christmas at all, preparation for that will come later in the season. These readings are about the Second Coming of Christ and that’s what the first part of Advent is all about. Our thoughts and celebrations should not be turning to cribs and managers, shepherds and angels this Sunday but to Christ who will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.
The Church does this deliberately. We are to prepare for Christmas by first thinking of the time when Jesus will come again. Many of the older hymns in the hymn book grasp this very well. We celebrate Jesus’ birth because of who he is – the eternal Son of God. The Creed similarly reminds us that he became incarnate to suffer, die and rise again – and that he will return in glory.
We are called to ‘stay awake’ because we must be ready for that return. As the shops fill with Christmas knick-knacks and the whole yuletide paraphernalia is unfolded we would do well to realise that this world is not all there is, it will come to an end. We have the Lord’s own words for that. But we can be hopeful because the one who will come to judge is the one who has come as a babe in the manager, and who is present now in his church through word and sacrament.