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By Ted Schroder
December 3, 2005

How do you prepare for the coming of the Lord? I am not talking about being prepared for Christmas. Nor am I talking about his coming at the end of history. I am talking about being prepared for the coming of Christ in our lives today, in the present. Bernard of Clairvaux referred to the three comings of Christ. "The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. The intermediate coming is the hidden one. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation. In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself says: 'If anyone loves me, they will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them.' (John 14:23)" St. John is thinking that the believer will experience the immediate presence of God. We prepare for the coming of the Lord by keeping his word. We experience the immediate presence of God in Christ when Jesus comes to us in the here and now. How does this happen?

I believe that Jesus Christ comes to us as a baby, as he was in Bethlehem, and therefore in all babies. He comes to us as a child, as he was in Nazareth, and therefore in all children. He comes to us as a loved one, as he was to his friends, and in all loved ones. He comes to us as a stranger, as he was to the Samaritan woman at the well, and in all strangers. He comes to us in the needy, as he asked her for a drink of water. He comes to us in the poor, as he had nowhere to lay his head. He comes to us in the afflicted, as he was troubled by the multitudes. He comes to us in his Passion, in the disabled, in the abused, in the suffering, in our sorrows. He comes to us in our anxieties, in our depressions, in our crises. He comes to us in our opportunities. He comes to us in our challenges and difficulties. He comes to us in our triumphs. He comes to us in our joys, and in our griefs. He comes to us in our losses. He comes to us in our death.

Jesus comes to us to see if we will follow his guidance and obey his teaching. By keeping his words he said that he would come to us and make his home with us. This is hard to do, for we do not always, or often, want to follow his guidance, or obey his teaching, or keep his words. Jesus comes to us in the person we meet but would prefer not to get close to. Jesus comes to us in the lonely who demand more of us than we want to give. Jesus comes when it is inconvenient. Jesus comes and asks us to reveal ourselves when we would rather hide. Jesus comes as an intruder into our private lives. Jesus comes and batters on our castle doors, when we have pulled up the drawbridge and locked the gate. Jesus comes and asks us for a cup of water, he asks us to help, he requests that we drop what we had planned to do in order to do something different. Jesus comes in the person you are sitting next to, in the person who wants to get to know you, in the person who is unpopular and unattractive. He comes to test whether we will receive him.

Jesus comes to us every day in disguise. He joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, "but they were kept from recognizing him." (Luke 24:16) What kept them from recognizing him when he came? They were so preoccupied with their grief they did not see who was walking with them on the road. We can be so preoccupied with our lives that we do not recognize Jesus when he comes. It was only when he was at table with them. "He took bread and gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him." (Luke 24:30,31)

What does it take to be prepared for the coming of Christ? What does it take to awaken us from our preoccupations with ourselves, and our concerns, that we recognize the coming of God into our lives? It takes a messenger.

Isaiah prophesied that God would send his messenger ahead of the Messiah, who would prepare the way: "a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord.'" (Isaiah 40:3) St. Mark chose this text to begin his Gospel. He saw it as being fulfilled in John the Baptist. "And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (Mark 1:4)

John the Baptist came urging people to change their lives. He exhorted people to make decisions to straighten out their lives. He confronted his listeners with a choice to be prepared or not. If they wanted to be forgiven and ready for the Messiah, they needed to show their willingness by being baptized. Huge crowds responded to his call. They confessed their sins and were baptized in the Jordan River, just as Naaman the Syrian general washed himself in order to be healed from the disease of leprosy.

The messenger urges us to change our priorities, to make room in our agenda for Christ. He tells us to let down the drawbridge and let Christ in. He tells us to unlock the door and welcome Christ in.

God sends us messengers to prepare us for his coming. The messenger may be a preacher or teacher like John the Baptist. It may be a passage from Holy Scripture. It may be an article in a magazine. It may be a poem or a piece of music. It may be a painting. It may be a sunrise or a sunset. It may be an experience of nature. It may be a crisis, or a serious illness. It may be a wake up call. It may be a song or a sermon. It may be a dream or a nightmare. It may be a conversation or a Holy Communion. God is speaking to us all the time but we have to recognize it. It requires us to pay attention.

When Christ comes, and our eyes are opened and we recognize him, what can we do? We can respond to the messenger, and put our lives in order. We can respond to the need we recognize, and put our lives on the line. We can respond to the personal crisis we face, and listen to what the Spirit is saying to us in it.

Jesus said, "I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:3) How do we prepare for his coming? We prepare for it by responding to every person and situation as to the coming of Jesus. We don't want to miss the coming of Jesus by failing to recognize him.

In his popular tale, "Where Love Is, God Is", Leo Tolstoy tells the story of the cobbler, Martin Avdëich. Martin seeks to find out how to live for God by reading the Gospels. One night he heard a voice which said, "Look out into the street tomorrow, for I shall come." While looking out for Christ coming to visit him, Martin sees an old soldier shoveling snow, to whom he gives several glasses of tea and shares about the voice he heard. He then sees a peasant woman with a baby trying to keep warm in the cold wind. He invites her in, feeds them, and gives her an old cloak to keep warm, while telling her about the Lord's voice. He sees an old woman and a boy arguing and reconciles them by telling them about God's forgiveness. At the end of the day he heard the voice again. "Martin, Martin, don't you know me?" Then out of the dark stepped the old soldier, the woman with the baby in her arms, and the old woman and the boy. And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the Savior had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.

An audio version of this sermon is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel,

Amelia Island, Florida

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