The readings today point us to the need to be prepared, which is fitting as Advent is a season of expectant preparation, not of the birth of the messiah, but of his return. It is an annual reminder that we must be prepared for Jesus to show up on our doorstep at any moment; but what does it really mean to be prepared for his return? Is it even possible to prepare for such an event? Per usual, I have no real idea how to answer my own questions, and I suspect that they may not be the questions we should be asking because we know that Jesus, who was and is God incarnate, is already here in the form of the Holy Spirit, and the season of Advent is meant to be a season in which we remind ourselves of the things we already know. Much of the scripture chosen for advent is apocalyptic, which means that something will be revealed, it has nothing to do with the end of the world. Will there be a day when Jesus will return and sit in judgment of humanity? Maybe, I don’t know; frankly I don’t really think it matters. What does matter is that we are prepared to see God when we wake up in the morning; when we leave our house to go to work; when we stop to buy a cup of caffeine; when we greet our co-workers; when we sit at the lunch table; when we stop for groceries on the way home; and before we go to sleep. If we are not able to recognize the presence of God in these instances, then we can’t call ourselves ready to do Gods work in the world, because until we can see God moving in our own lives and in the lives of the people we see every day, we will not be ready to see God in the faces and actions of the perfect stranger, nor would we be able to recognize Jesus if he was walking down the street because he is not likely to look like the pictures from the 70’s.
The Presiding Bishop says that “if it isn’t about love, it isn’t about Jesus”, which is a simple way to reference the commandment to Love both God and our neighbors. I don’t know about you, but when I love someone I think about them all the time. I think about how they are; I think about what they might be doing; I think about what they might be feeling; and I wonder about how much they might love me in return. In our relationship with God, as revealed through scripture, we know that God loves us 100%; God loves us so much that there are no words in any language that could possibly help us understand what God’s love means. Nothing we can ever imagine could remotely come close to explaining God’s love for us; yet, we try to do so and sometimes even claim to understand it; we also claim to understand what it means to be ready, but we will never be ready? We will never fully understand God’s love for us; we will never be fully ready for the return of Jesus; and we will never be fully ready to do as God as commanded us to do; but, that should not trouble us, because when Jesus told us to Love God and neighbor he said it knowing that we would fail, probably most of the time. Accepting that God loves us, in spite of our failures, is the first step in being ready for God’s active presence in our lives. The second step is accepting that loving our neighbor means loving them in spite of their flaws, and the best part of this step is that we never have to do it alone, because God’s holy presence in the form of the Holy Spirit is ready, willing and able to do the work, with us, through us and even for us, if we just let it.
Advent reminds me that faith is not passive; it reminds me to think about my own love for God; to reflect on whether or not I actively think about God and our relationship, just like I do when I think about my grandparents, my parents, my wife, my children, and my friends. It reminds me to remember that God is not only found in church, God is not only found in the hearts of the people who gather on Sunday morning. God is and has been in the heart of every human being that has ever and will ever exist. While we struggle to prepare ourselves to embrace God’s loving presence, it is also our responsibility, as people of faith, to help others prepare themselves to do the same by being a witness to God’s love in the world.
As we enter our season of expectant preparation, I encourage you to take the time to reflect on God’s presence in your life. Think about whether you are aware of God’s loving presence and reflect on whether you think of God in the same way that you think of your loved ones. We must be ready, for the son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour and we do not know the form he will take. He may look like the pictures, he may look like one of us, she may look like the little girl who is hugging her father so tight he can’t breathe, they may look like the homeless under the bridge. The form Jesus will take upon their return is not important, what is important is the need to prepare ourselves to see and accept God’s presence in every person, beginning with ourselves.