Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Advent (from adventus, Latin for “coming”) marks the time when the church thinks about the first coming of Jesus Christ as a baby in Bethlehem, and also thinks about the second coming of Jesus Christ in the end times. The focus today is “being prepared” or “being ready”.
In the Old Testament Scripture, the Jews were exhorted to be ready for the coming of their Messiah. They were to look for certain signs that would tell them that the Messiah was present. Again, we see this modelled for us in the New Testament in Simeon and Anna who recognized Jesus as the Messiah.
Similarly, in the New Testament, believers are told of certain signs that will precede the second coming of the Messiah. However, even with these signs, we are told that the Messiah will come when we least expect it – “like a thief in the night”. Therefore, we need to be prepared or be ready all the time.
But, apart from the first coming of the Messiah and his second coming, how do we prepare for the present coming of Jesus. Jesus is with us today in the person of the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of Christ. Jesus is here – in many ways he is MORE here now than he was when he was physically present on the earth.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, Paul teaches the church in Thessalonika about the second coming of Jesus. He ends this teaching with the following sentence:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)
There was a purpose for Paul’s writing: to encourage and build up the Thessalonians. This is the same purpose that believers should have whenever they interact with one another. Whether we are meeting together formally or informally, on Sunday or Monday, in a church building or a coffee shop or a living room – at all times and in all places – we should seek to encourage one another and build one another up.
Why? Because in doing so we are preparing one another for the presence of Jesus Christ. He is here now, and we need to be ready to serve him at all times. We help one another to be ready to hear and to answer his call by helping one another grow in maturity toward Christ. So, each individual needs to be ready, but getting ready is not an individualistic activity – it is a community activity. We work with one another to help one another.
As Paul told the church in Ephesus, it is only when the whole church is working together through the gifts that Christ gives to each believer that the church is built up in love. In other words, if one believer chooses not to help prepare the body for Christ’s presence, then the church is lacking. If one believer chooses to exercise his gifts and chooses not to allow others to exercise theirs, then the church is lacking – regardless of how gifted, smart, or capable that one individual may be.
So, it is good that we look back to how the Jews prepared for the coming of the Messiah. And, we need to prepare for the future physical coming of Jesus Christ. But, we also need to recognize that Christ is with us NOW. We need to be prepared for his work among us today. We need to learn to prepare WITH Jesus.