Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is the season in the Church Calendar when the Church prepares its people for the arrival of Christmas, the coming of Jesus to earth when he was born as a baby at Bethlehem about two thousand years ago. ‘Advent’ is a term from the Latin word adventus meaning ‘arrival’. Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to the 30th November and concludes at midnight on Christmas Eve when we celebrate the birth of Christ as we move into Christmas Day itself. Traditionally, each Sunday in Advent has a different theme reflecting hope, peace, joy, love or centred around reflections on subjects such as The God who Comes (Second Coming), The God who Speaks (Bible Sunday), The God who Disturbs (John the Baptist) and The God of Grace (Mary).
So, although during Advent, Christians across the world prepare for the celebration of the arrival of the Lord into the world through the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ, Advent is also a time to look forward to when Jesus will come a second time, and this (as indicated above) is normally the theme of the First Sunday in Advent. Someone has calculated that whereas the Old Testament contains over 350 prophecies concerning the First Coming of Christ (each of which has been fulfilled in the birth of Jesus by the way), the Bible as a whole contains five times as many prophecies (over 1,500) concerning the Second Coming of Christ! These, of course, are yet to be fulfilled, but the ‘signs’ are there for all to see, and we all need to be ready! It is clear that when Jesus returns the second time it will not be as a baby born in a manger in order to grow into manhood and then die on a Cross all over again. Jesus himself spelled this all out for us on one occasion telling us, in effect, that when he returns at the End of the Age it will be as King of kings, and Lord of lords, with all his angelic train, coming to usher in the Day of Judgment, to judge the living and the dead, to right all wrongs, and to take all those who have truly committed their heart and lives to him (and demonstrated this by living lives dedicated to the glory of God and the good of others) to be with him in Glory (Mark 13:24-37) His First Coming made this possible for us, and his Second Coming will make it a reality for us!
But how are we to live in the light of the Lord’s Return? A Christian friend of mine has a wonderful T-shirt emblazoned with the logo: ‘Jesus is Coming … Look Busy!’ Contrast this approach with that of John Wesley who, when asked if he would do anything differently if he knew for certainty that Jesus would return today, replied, ‘I would do nothing differently but continue to live each day as I have always lived it … for the glory of God and the good of others!’ The Apostle John put it this way: ‘And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives’ (1 John 2:28 The Message).
Whilst all Christians hold to the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ, there are various interpretations as to how this will actually come about, usually revolving around us reading the signs of the time of Jesus’ Second Coming and of the end of the age. Thus Matthew tells us that ‘as Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”’ (Matthew 24:3). Sadly, this has led, over the years, to a huge amount of speculation on the part of many Christians as to what these various signs may be. Countless sermons have been preached, numerous books have ben written, literally millions of Christians have become obsessed, speculating on the signs of the times. Everything from wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes and comets, the importance of re-establishing of the nation of Israel in Palestine, the alleged heretical nature of Roman Catholicism, the supposed evil nature of the European Community (and therefore why Brexit was God’s will), the identity of the Antichrist (Donald Trump or Joe Biden depending on which way you voted), etc., etc., etc. Contrast this with James’ exhortation about how to really live in the light of the Lord’s Return: ‘Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival. You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong. The Master could arrive at any time. Friends don’t complain about each other. A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know. The Judge is standing just around the corner. Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honouring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail. And since you know that he cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you’ (James 5:7-12 The Message).
Back in the late 1970s I was the Pastor of a Pentecostal Church in the Welsh Valleys. Historically this particular church was nicknamed by the locals as the ‘Second Comers’ because of their emphasis on the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ, particularly in their early days. The founding Pastor of the church, Leonard Jenkins, was an extraordinary man, and there are many fascinating tales about him and his ministry. Apparently one Sunday he was preaching on the Second Coming of Christ, and his text was taken from the Gospel of Matthew: ‘And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world- from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven’ (Matthew 24:30,31). Each point in his sermon concluded with the words: ‘And the trumpet will sound … and the Lord will return … are you ready?’ He worked the congregation up to a certain pitch with an eloquence that only a Welsh preacher possesses … and he finished his sermon poignantly and powerfully with the (by now) oft repeated words: ‘And the trumpet will sound … and the Lord will return … are you ready?’ Unknown to the congregation, Leonard had hidden away his grandson (who was learning to play the trumpet at school) at the back of the gallery of the church. On cue, when Leonard had uttered his final words of the sermon: ‘And the trumpet will sound … and the Lord will return … are you ready?’ his grandson blew a great blast on his trumpet! Apparently the response was amazing. Half the congregation jumped up on the pews, looking to Heaven, with arms outstretched, crying out, ‘We are ready, Lord! We are ready!’ … and the other half of the congregation were trying to hide under the pews? My friends, Jesus IS coming again! Are you ready?’