When I was a child I had a late autumn ritual. I would grab our copy of the JC Penney catalog, the one that was so big and thick, with glossy pictures of all the things they sold.
I would carefully look through it to determine what I wanted for Christmas. I would compile a long and detailed list for my family to make sure it was quite clear what my wishes were.
Now, of course, I realize this was a presumptuous exercise. The peculiar thing is that I do not recall ever receiving any of the gifts on my list and, perhaps even more peculiar, I do not recall ever being disappointed. When Christmas morning rolled around there were always plenty of gifts and many were beyond what I could have hoped for or dreamed of even with the JC Penney catalog as an aid.
I thought of this recently because, in the season of Advent, we find ourselves in a peculiar time. We are looking forward to two events, separated, it seems, by long distances of time and space.
First, we are preparing for the advent of the Christmas season. Though our culture celebrates Christmas in an ever-expanding season that seems to start just after Halloween, the Church begins the celebration of Christmas at the point of its focus: at the birth of Jesus the Christ.
The season of Advent is a time of preparation and hope. It is a time when we examine our lives for the entrance of Jesus Christ into our midst. But it is also a time when we take stock of our lives for the ultimate and final advent: the return of Jesus in glory. Though we prepare to celebrate the humble reality that God came and dwelt among us as a tiny child in a manger, we are also preparing that God in Christ will come again in all his glory and majesty. Just as the baby Jesus heralded a new age between God and humans, so will the glorified Christ usher in a new and eternal age of hope and fulfillment between God and humans.
Now it is one thing to prepare for the coming of the child Jesus within our midst. Such an arrival is beautiful, peaceful and mild. But what will the return of the glorified Jesus be like? How do we prepare for it? Where is our spiritual catalog that will help us make a list of our needs as we prepare for Jesus’ final return?
In the last sentence of today’s epistle reading Paul tells us all we really need to know. First, God is faithful. Second, we are called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
God is faithful. That is our hope and our salvation. We cannot hope to add one iota of merit to this amazing statement. We are not the Holy One, we are not the God of all, the All-mighty God and Father. We exist because we were created by God. We continue to exist because he loves us. We will continue to exist because he is faithful. And he calls us back to himself. He has called us to fellowship in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
In just a few weeks we will focus on the weak, timid and vulnerable child laid in a manger. At that moment our focus is not just on the son of God but on ourselves, the sons and daughters of God. For in that face we see our own value, our own vulnerability and even our own God.
In this season of Advent we find ourselves preparing for two events: the coming of the child Jesus among us and the return of the glorious Christ. But though these may seem as two antithetical preparations, they are truly but one. For in both our faithful God is moving and restoring us to salvation and hope.
May we be prepared to gaze upon the child Jesus and the glorified Christ. I believe if that is our primary desire, if that item tops our list, then indeed we will be prepared. For, as Paul tells us: God is faithful, by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.