O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only son Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may have sure confidence to behold him when he shall come to be our Judge: Who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. (Gelasian Sacramentary, 8th century)
The Sunday Eucharistic lections leading up to Advent walked us through a string of passages in St. Matthew’s gospel about watchfulness and preparedness. I had the opportunity to speak on two of them as a guest preacher, so the passages are still fresh in my head as I spent a significant amount of time reading them over and over, mulling over their content. Throughout Matthew 24 and 25 Jesus speaks in parables and image-rich stories about the end, the coming judgment, the Day of the Lord. The reader is drawn into a world of apocalyptic symbolism — darkened skies, falling stars, sheep and goats — and is given quite a few hints about what the Lord will be looking for when he returns for his people.
Jesus shows us in these stories that there are, basically, two different kinds of people: Those who are watchful, prepared, whose belief radiates through their love and action, and those who are not too concerned, who “live for today,” who prefer their own comfort over charity and holiness.
Advent is the perfect time of year to re-examine ourselves and to ruminate on our journey as Christians who await the return of their Savior. The list of questions we might ask ourselves is endless, but I will list here a few that I’ll be asking myself this season. Some of these questions spring from the passages mentioned above. Perhaps you will find these helpful, or you will formulate your own to meditate upon during this season of waiting.
1. Am I living each day sub specie aeternitatis? The English translation is something like “from an eternal perspective.” Jesus is constantly trying to get his followers to see the Kingdom of Heaven in this way. He uses parables and stories to demonstrate that God is present now, and expects his followers to live like they believe in that Present-ness of God’s reign. Are there patterns and behaviors in my life that I’ve allowed to develop that deny the radiance of eternity and instead energize me to live for worldly, temporal ends? How should I ask the Lord to reveal unhealthy habits that I’d be ashamed of if he were to suddenly descend? And when I pinpoint one, with what will I replace it?
2. Am I being a faithful and wise servant? One of the themes in Matthew is responsibility. The Lord entrusts his people with Kingdom work. What are the gifts, abilities, callings that God has given specifically to me? Am I faithfully stewarding them? Is my ministry others-focused, producing fruit that brings glory to God? Or have I reasoned myself into burying my talent in the ground? Are there creative and imaginative projects I could be putting my time into to bless others? Perhaps the Lord will bring something to mind that’s collecting dust on the shelf and empower me to employ it in his service.
3. Am I serving the poor, sick, hungry, and imprisoned in a way that honors Jesus? Sheep and goats are not separated because one has heaped up more merit than the other. They are separated based on whether or not they possessed a true and lively faith that led them to action. The love of Christ compels them because they are “convinced that one has died for all.” Their hope is in the resurrected life where no one is forgotten, neglected, or hungry, and they can’t help but be motivated to partake in that vision by giving their time and energy to others. This story of judgment is not a social gospel, nor is it problematic for the belief that we are saved by grace alone. But it does give me reason to look at my life and ask some heavy questions. As Michael Green notes, the passage “tells me that I am accountable…It tells me that the heart of Christianity is relationship with Jesus himself, which shows itself in loving, sacrificial care for others, in particular the poor and needy.”
4. Am I living with great joy in the assurance that Jesus will return for his people? All of these introspective questions should challenge me, but they should also reinvigorate my life with joy. Isaiah reminds us over and over again that the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and this is occasion for rejoicing: “For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight” (Isa. 65:17-18). Life in God should be joyful because it is always looking forward to a future restored creation. Is there a lack of joy in my life that may be a symptom signaling a spiritual disorder, a lack of faith? Where is God trying to speak to me, to draw me closer into union with himself, and what are the earplugs that currently impede this divine work?
Advent is a season of waiting in which I must ask myself, ‘What am I waiting for?’ And while I wait, how am I giving birth to God’s work in my life? The task can sometimes seem too heavy to bear. Let me leave you with a brief word from Rowan Williams:
“How can one carry God, bring God to birth in the world? How can you carry the cup without spilling it? But what if the cup is no fragile container but a deep well that can never run dry? Then you know it isn’t just your resource, your decision, but God’s insistent generosity, carrying you as you carry God.”
Which questions are you asking this Advent?
– C. MacMillan ’16