Advent 1: Prepare

Year A Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 | Psalm 122 | Romans 13:8-14 | Matthew 24:29-44

I spent several weeks anticipating Thanksgiving Day. For the very first time in my life, I was hosting a Thanksgiving dinner. My mom and stepdad were coming into town. My best friend and his family, including my godsons, were also coming over. I wanted everything to be ready. After all, I cared dearly for those coming and wanted the evening to be as great as possible for them. I bought food (way too much, as a matter of fact), tidied the apartment, and did everything I could to make sure everything would be adequately hospitable for my guests. It worked.

And yet, this Thanksgiving, like many, comes at a time of unrest in the world. A presidential election recently behind us, there is much unknown about current transitions in our country and around the world. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are persecuted around the world and, meanwhile, even here in the U.S., long-ignored racial tensions have boiled to the surface. We are in a time of great tumult.

Jesus spoke to such a generation in Matthew 24. The fragile relationship between Rome and Jerusalem was reaching a breaking point. Jesus himself was unleashing a brand new people of faith into the world who would not be looked upon well by either the Jews or Romans. Be prepared, for judgment is coming in this very generation, he says. Even as he comes into exaltation in heaven, Jerusalem fell to ruin, its temple destroyed, and the persecution of the church was great and bitter.

However, Scripture offers us a picture of a future time of the Lord in which unrest will cease. I have always found great joy in imagining Isaiah’s vision of a world where

They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

It feels unbelievable sometimes, yet it is a promise given to us. There will be a day when the nations of the world will not make war. The disunity of humanity will end, and the Lord will come to establish his Kingdom. But what do we do until that day of peace?
We prepare. As I spend weeks preparing for my guests to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner, so we should prepare for our Lord to come back. Part of that preparation, of course, is working towards making the world more a reflection of his Kingdom. Working towards peace in the world is Kingdom work, and when the Lord comes back, that great Advent promise, the work will not have been in vain. So, as the world wages war, let us wage peace. The old Franciscan prayer asks
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
 Friends, the days are dark and discouraging. Here at the beginning of Advent, as we descend into the darkness of winter, it can almost be too much. Advent, however, brings the promise of Christmas: the Lord that we anticipate is indeed coming. The light will pierce the darkness. As Paul reminds us, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.”