Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Resolutions

Chapters 24 and 25 of the Gospel of Matthew teach us about the second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ and how to prepare for it. As such, throughout the ages these chapters have found themselves as frequent texts for Advent homilies. One parable Jesus employed was that of ten virgins who waited through the night for the bridegroom to come and to leave for the wedding feast (25:1-13). Five were adequately prepared for his coming, with plenty of oil for their lamps. The others, however, were not so wise, and did not bring enough oil. Consequently, when the wedding party arrived, they had to leave to buy more oil and were left to wait behind in the dark. The end result was that the foolish women were shut out from the feast. Jesus' concluding admonition is that we must, like the wise young women, "keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour [of my arrival]."

As I've been studying the Gospel of John, I'm reminded that Christmas isn't exactly always good news. For many, the arrival of the Word-made-flesh revealed their hearts as hateful toward God and his light (see, e.g., John 3:17-21). In fact, Jesus told the whole city of Jerusalem that their doom had been sealed precisely because God had visited them, but they had not recognized him nor received him (Luke 19:44). Elsewhere in the Psalms (2, 72, 110) and Prophets (Isaiah 9) we are reminded that when the Messiah comes, he will destroy all that is opposed to him and life under God's holy reign.

Jesus may, like the bridegroom of his parable, be "a long time in coming," but we need to be prepared for him. So in this vein I wish to repost something I had read and posted about a few years back--our need for "advent resolutions," if you will, rather than New Year's resolutions. (This was written by Michael Jacob, a Roman Catholic theologian.)

. . . what Christians do (or should be doing!) during Advent and leading up to Christmas is a foreshadowing of what they will do during the days of their lives that lead up to the Second Coming; what non-Christians refuse to do during Advent, and put off until after Christmas, is precisely a foreshadowing of what they will experience at the Second Coming.

We Christians are to prepare for the Coming of Christ before He actually comes -- and that Coming is symbolized and recalled at Christmas. Non-Christians miss this season of preparation, and then scramble for six days after the 25th to make their resolutions. By then, however, it's too late -- Christmas has come and gone. Our Lord has already made His visitation to the earth, and he has found them unprepared. This is precisely what will take place at the Second Coming, when those who have put off for their entire lives the necessary preparations will suddenly be scrambling to put their affairs in order. Unfortunately, by then it will have been too late, and there will be no time for repentance. The Second Coming will be less forgiving than the Incarnation. There will be no four-week warning period before the Second Coming, like we get during Advent. There will be no six-day period of grace after the Second Coming during which to make resolutions and self-examination, like the secular world does from Dec. 26 until Jan. 1.

What might such "Advent resolutions" look like? Here are a few Scriptures to mull over.

1) Find ways to actively serve others in love, especially fellow Christians. (Matthew 24:13; 25:31-46; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Peter 1:13, 22).

2) Pray that Christ would be your All, your sole joy and hope, rather than any vacation, year-end bonus, or Christmas gift. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:3-21)

3) Ask God to reveal unrighteousness in your life and show you ways to repent and to walk in obedience to his will. (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Peter 3:11-13; 1 John 2:28-29)

4) Give generously of your time, money, and abilities, living out your hope that investing in an eternal future is more important than your Roth IRA. (After all, the kingdom of God will never need a federal bailout.) (Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Timothy 6:17-19)

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