Skip to content
Services and other gatherings are suspended until further notice. Live streams and other materials and updates are available at

The 1st Sunday of Advent: Matthew 24:36-44

Pretend for just a few minutes that you are an alien; you have absolutely no knowledge of this culture, but you do understand English. You have been observing closely what is happening in this community. Over the last six weeks or so you have noticed preparations for a major event. It started in stores and malls; pumpkins and witches, corn stalks and turkeys, which were everywhere, suddenly disappeared, and almost instantly store windows and mall interiors have become fantastical wintery scenes, often with strange animals and a bizarrely dressed fat human. Recently, streets and houses have been transformed with coloured lights and artificial tree branches. By now, strangely decorated pine trees have appeared almost everywhere. And there are warning signs: “Only x more shopping days until Christmas.”

You try to find out what this “Christmas” is all about. You learn that Christmas seems to be about that fat human, a very overweight gentleman in a red suit, with long whiskers. His picture is everywhere. You discover his name is Santa Claus. Lately, you have noticed him holding court in shopping malls, several shopping malls, seemingly having the ability to be in more places than one. After some questions, you learn an even more incredible fact about this Santa Claus. In the one night between December 24th and 25th he travels all over the world in a sleigh, drawn by flying reindeer, bringing an unbelievable quantity of gifts, hugely more than the sleigh can hold, to everyone in the world, but especially to all children, all who have been nice, rather than naughty. After careful mature consideration, you think this story is very unlikely!

However, you persist, and soon you learn that Santa Claus is just a myth. But the gifts, those many gifts, are real enough, and they are really produced magically and without effort. But rather than being brought by this fat, red-suited Santa Claus, they are in actual fact provided by some very powerful gods, and some lesser gods, who all compete with one another for the greatest number of followers. These gods are everywhere; no gift, now matter how large or expensive or rare, is impossible for them, and you easily learn that the names of the greatest gods, who make all things obtainable are VISA, MasterCard, and American Express, with some lesser gods who actually provide the gifts being Amazon, Costco, and Walmart.

Wanting to learn more about this coming festival, you have come to this church today, to see what Christianity, after all the nominally predominant religion of this society, has to say about this “Christmas”. And you discover that the church almost totally ignores what is going on in the rest of the world. Nothing in the church seems to have anything to do with what the rest of society is doing. Very little of what the world calls “Christmas” has anything to do with the Church’s understanding of that word, certainly not today.

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the season of Advent, a time during which Christians are expected to prepare for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, at Christmas. The Christ, this Messiah, comes not as a jolly fat man in a red suit with a sleigh full of gifts, but as a helpless, newborn child. Rather than being surrounded by glittering decorations and bright shining lights, this child is born in a stable. And it is not a romantic, sanitary, nativity set stable. It is a real stable, with real animals, and real straw, and real manure, and real stink.

But, gifts are indeed a part of the Church’s understanding of Christmas. The child born at Christmas brings a gift for everyone in the world. However, it is not a gift that is brightly wrapped, it does not require credit cards or cash, nor online or bricks-and-mortar stores; and it is just one gift, and the same gift, for everyone. That gift is that child itself. The child is the almighty God, coming to humanity, because humanity cannot come to God. With the birth of this child the separation between God and humanity, which the Church calls sin, and which we cannot overcome by our own effort, is overcome by God. It is for the coming of this child, the child called the Messiah, the anointed One, the Christ, that the Church prepares during Advent.

However, the Church’s preparation for the birth of the Christ is very unlike this culture’s preparation for Christmas. Out in the world, the closer it gets to Christmas, the more frantic and louder it gets. The fewer the shopping days before Christmas, the less money in people’s pockets, the more maxed out the credit cards, the more persistent becomes the urging to shop, shop, shop, even beyond when you drop! The Church, on the other hand slows down, becomes quieter, more plain, as it contemplates the anticipated birth of the Messiah. The Church urges you to slow down too; to pray more, to study Scripture more, to make yourself spiritually ready to receive the great gift God gives us at Christmas.

But, and however, on this, the 1st Sunday of Advent, we begin our preparation for Christmas, by not considering Christmas at all, but by looking forward to the end of time and the 2nd coming of the Christ, the Messiah, as judge of all! In our Gospel reading, the child born at Christmas is an adult, in Jerusalem, ready to die to save the world. The Messiah is about to accomplish the task for which he was born into our world; that task is to die on a cross to defeat sin and to reconcile the world to God.

Before he dies, he tells us that he will return, at the end of time, to judge the world. No one, certainly no human person, knows when that return of Christ, the Messiah, will happen. All we are told is that it will be unexpected. Life will be going on as usual, all will eat and drink, and go about their daily tasks. There is nothing wrong with this; however we are told that we must not give all our attention to life as usual. As we go about our day-to-day life, we are to be always ready to be judged, since Christ will come on a day and at an hour we do not expect.

How are we to be ready? St. Paul, in his Letter to the Christians in Rome suggests some answers. We are to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. In today’s language, we are called to reject much of the life-style and many of the values that our culture promotes. Much of what our world holds dear, Paul asks us to do without. We are to stop satisfying our constant appetite for more and more worldly goods and pleasures. We are to reject the false gods of consumption. We are to stop our neurotic preoccupation with ourselves and our own satisfaction. Instead, we are to work for eternal values; sharing with others, peace and justice for all, the end of poverty and hunger. We are to put others first, not ourselves.

To be ready at all times for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, means living differently from how our culture would have us live. To be ready for the Messiah means having values different from those of the world. It does not mean watching anxiously and in fear. It does mean not getting so caught up in the values of our world that we forget that there are greater values. We are called to remember, as we go about the routine of our lives, that the Messiah, the Christ, is coming, both as child, and as Judge.

It is very easy for Christians to accept that the Messiah came as a child, and to celebrate that birth at Christmas. It is much harder to accept that the Messiah will return, at any time, as our Judge. Possibly, that is because the birth of that child happened so long ago, and therefore makes far fewer demands on us than the promised return of that Child as Judge. Yet we believe, indeed we confess each Sunday, that the Child “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” at a time we do not know.

So, let me leave two intriguing questions for our Advent reflections, as we go through this season of preparation for the coming of Christ, both as child and as Judge. First, if we knew for certain that the child of Christmas was returning tomorrow, or next week, or next month, as our Judge, how would that change our lives? And once you’ve answered that, since it is a fact of our faith that the Child will return and that our life will be judged, even if we don’t know when, why haven’t our lives changed already?

Copyright ©2019 by Gerry Mueller