In the popular mind Advent is about preparing for Christmas but we’re also called to prepare for the Second Coming of our Lord. Wesley’s great hymn reminds us of this.
Revelation 1: 3 - 8
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him,even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Lo! he comes with clouds descending,
once for favoured sinners slain;
thousand, thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train.
God appears on earth to reign.
2 Ev'ry eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold him,
pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.
3 Ev'ry island, sea, and mountain,
heav'n and earth, shall flee away;
all who hate him must, confounded,
hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgement! Come to judgement!
Come to judgement, come away!
4 Now Redemption, long expected,
see in solemn pomp appear!
All his saints, by man rejected,
now shall meet him in the air.
See the day of God appear!
5 Yea, amen! let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the pow'r and glory,
claim the kingdom for thine own.
O come quickly, O come quickly;
alleluia! come, Lord, come.
So often, we spend the time of Advent looking back – back to the time before Jesus was born – we want to hurry towards Christmas as we hear the stories of Mary and Elizabeth and their babies, and to sing the Christmas songs and carols before the season of Christmas starts (but then stop singing them before the season ends!)
Advent, however, is not just about the past and remembering what happened. While we need to remember the past and learn from it, we also need to look forward to the future, and remember that God is always doing new things.
So, we need to keep Advent properly – a period of preparation. Preparation for Christmas, in the sense of remembering the amazing gift of God’s only Son, rather than the need to cook, shop and write cards. But also preparation for the time when Jesus will come again – in a way that no-one will be able to ignore.
Charles Wesley’s hymn pictures that future day of judgement described in Revelation. A day that some might fear: ‘deeply wailing’. A day that others wish would come: ‘O come quickly’.
At my school, this hymn was always sung at the last assembly of the autumn term (though there was also a carol concert). It reminds us that Advent is not just a taster for Christmas, but part of a long discipleship journey through life, so that we might confidently feel we belong to the group wishing the day would come quickly, knowing that God loves each of us as a special child.
This Advent, we may look back 2000 years, but let us also remember to look forward and allow God to do something new in our lives and in our churches.
Father God, you are always making things new for us, looking forward rather than back. Help us not to get stuck looking back to the past, but forward to the new future you want for us. Amen
The Rev’d Sue Cossey, NSM and Synod Pastoral Advisor, Bristol and member of Zion United Church, Frampton Cotterell.