Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14
We can’t miss the season that has just begun. We are beginning to see glimpses of Christmas around us: radio stations playing Christmas music, black Friday sales, our kids, and grandkids especially, have already begun telling us what they want for Christmas and where they would like to go for Christmas. Christmas is in the air and the child that everybody -regardless of age- has inside, has begun to wake up. Colors, noises and arrival of relatives will be part of our daily life for almost a month. All this is a constant reminder that Christmas is near and what Christmas is about. It is about love, peace, hope and joy.
Today is the beginning of a new Christian year. Today, on the first Sunday of December we open the first page in the new Christian Calendar. Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Today is the first announcement that our savior is coming, and what better way to begin, than with talking about the Last Days and how to prepare ourselves.
When I read the scriptures for this Sunday, I noticed two things: 1) Seems that today’s gospel is not on the same page with the spirit of Christmas. Jesus described a world disconnected from God, full of hate, persecution and violence. And 2) It seems that there is a contradiction between the “last days” from Isaiah and the “last days” from Jesus. In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us in the whole 24th chapter of Matthew, about the “last days” and all the signs that will anticipate it: Destruction of the temple, wars, persecution, betrayal and hate among brothers and sisters, famines and earthquakes. Signs in the sun, moon and heavens will be, according to Jesus in verse 8, only the beginning of the birth pain.
But Isaiah describes the “last days” in a very different way: People will rush to Jerusalem, God will Judge between nations, weapons of destruction will turn into agricultural tools and the world will enjoy an everlasting peace because people will not train for wars anymore. The expression “birth pain” is important because it is the window thru which we will see Hope. Birth pain is the connection between the “last days” described by Isaias and the “last days” described by Jesus. They do not contradict each other, they complete the message of Hope. The “birth pain” Jesus is talking about will give birth a new world, a new society, the society described by Isaiah. This “birth pain” is a pain of hope. Hope is written all over the Bible. The prophetic message of Hope, the belief in hope, my brothers and sisters, kept Israel going. When Israel was in exile, the prophetic message of hope kept them trusting that one day they would return to the Holy city. The prophetic message of hope kept alive the flame of the promise of a Savior. Hope is what we celebrate today, the first Sunday of Advent. But, before continuing with the message of hope, let us remember one thing: Isaiah brought this message to a people who lived in a social, moral and religious chaos. If we read the first chapter, we will see it.
How can a person share a message of hope when everything is going bad? Because that is when it is needed. How could they see hope where no one could? Well, because Isaias as well as the other prophets knew God. They knew what He had done in the past. They knew what He was able and willing to do for His chosen ones. And most of all, they knew the love He had for His people. They knew for instances, that at the beginning, from the chaos God created all the beauty we see. This is hope in the middle of chaos. They knew that from the chaos caused by Pharaoh and his army, God brought hope by opening a path in the waters. They knew that from the chaos caused by thirst and hunger, God brought hope with bread from heaven and water from a rock.
That is the kind of hope we celebrate today. Not a sentimental, misleading hope, but the hope that comes from knowing that Jesus is our hope. As Paul has said in 1Timothy 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope”. The statement of Jesus as our hope is true even today, because in Matthew 24:35 Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Paul’s words in first Timothy were inspired by the Holy Spirit, therefore, they are part of His words. Ones that will not pass away. The kind of hope that we celebrate today, the one that comes from Jesus, fuels our imagination, gives us strength and new vision to see the world, not as it is, but as God means the world to be. Hope was central in Jesus’ message. The true nature of God’s Kingdom which Jesus preached was permeated with hope. Hope that the world is and can be different than how it appears. Hope that we, Jesus’ followers can make the difference in our world, the same way Jesus did.
We see that when people came to Jesus, they were hopeful. The sick was hopeful for a cure, the hungry for a meal, the tearful, for comfort and the prisoner for a second chance. Every time Jesus came into a town, he was surrounded by the least of His society because he personified the prophecy that the naked will be clothed, the blind will see, and the oppressed will be set free. When they saw Jesus, they saw hope.
Jesus’ hope brought and still brings the assurance that everything can change. With his strength and with His help and in His name, we will make all things new. We will make the difference for Him and for His glory. And that is what Advent is about. It’s about getting ready because “The hour has already come for us to wake up from our slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Advent message is not only that Christmas is near and we must go and buy gifts. It is a reminder that, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Advent is a season of looking for and listening for the hope planted by God within each of us. It is a time of shutting out darkness with His light and refusing to accept darkness and evil as part of life. Advent is a time to light our lamps and scatter the darkness. Advent is not a countdown of shopping days until Christmas but a reminder of the preparation we must make in our lives for God’s arrival.
How can we prepare our lives for His arrival? 1) Let’s be ready at any time. Matthew 24:44 says, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Nobody knows the day or hour; therefore, we must be always ready. Jesus gave his disciples signs before his coming, and ever since his ascension to heavens, every generation has seen these signs. This means that He is ready and can come at any moment. We may be living the final days. Nevertheless, God’s grace and mercy are so great that He can also wait for others to repent and that may be the reason He is holding His coming. As Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Remember, if Jesus said he will come back, He will; let us be ready.
2) Paul says in Romans 13:14 “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” with this, Paul is inviting us to be active, to show or to wear our hope. About the day and time of His coming, Jesus said he did not know. But the lack of knowledge concerning his second coming did not hold Him, and during his time on this earth he was actively healing, preaching and teaching, waiting for the day of His second coming. Now that He is in heaven, He is also active. He is preparing a place for us and interceding before the Father for us. We should do the same. We do not know when He is coming for us, but one thing is true: “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” While the moment comes, let us announce the message of salvation. Let us live our faith and let us show with our deeds our hope in our Savior Jesus the Christ.