Advent is a wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately, it is too short. It's purpose is to prepare us for the coming of the Lord; both His first and second comings. We prepare for Christmas, but we also (and more importantly) prepare for the day when He will return to judge the living and the dead. How do we prepare? By self-examination and repentance.
In today's Gospel we hear the voice of John the Baptist calling us to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," (Mt. 3:2). He speaks specifically to the more religious minded among us. He tells us that our outward acts of piety are nothing without a corresponding inward change of heart. "Bear fruit that befits repentance," (Mt. 3:8) we are told. He tells us not to trust in our pedigree (whether gentetic or spiritual). "God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham," (Mt. 3:9).
These are good words for our time. The world is in dire need of such repentance. But let judgment begin in the house of the Lord. We (the Church) are in great need of such a repentance. How many of us are already caught up in the worldly notion of covetousness (known popularly as consumerism) and thus we hand our hearts over to our idols? How many of us are glued to a television set night after night in which we vicariously indulge in adultery, fornication, and the love of this present world? How many of us have made ourselves the center of our own universe and evicted God for all practical purposes? We are in desperate need of hearing and pondering John's message afresh.
Advent reminds us that the bill comes due some day. Our Lord will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. On that day all the books will be opened. Our lives will be laid bare before Him. We will be judged (Scripture is abundantly clear on this) by our words and our works. These two things will show forth the true state of our hearts and God will be found just in His judgment. In light of that, how are we preparing ourselves today? For He can come at any time. No one knows the day or the hour.
I cannot say that I will pass this test with flying colors. In fact, there are times when I wonder if I will pass it at all. But if I do, it will merely be because of the all-sufficient merits of my Lord Jesus Christ. But it will also be because I was able to appropriate the Grace He died to give me. We are gravely mistaken to think we have nothing to do with our salvation. St. Paul told us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," (Phil. 2:12). We do indeed have something to do. As someone has said, we cannot do Christ's part and He will not do ours.
So as we head toward the midway point in this blessed season of Advent I ask you, where are you? Are you ready to meet Him when He comes? Will you be in that number to go out and greet Him when He comes? How are you using this Advent season?
For those who prepare now, there will be great rejoicing at His appearing. But for those who live slothfully now, it will be a time of great fear. May we all heed the voice crying in the wilderness and begin today to do works befitting repentance!