There are 4 Sundays in Advent. Every year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is observed as the first Sunday in Advent. This year, however, the first Sunday of Advent falls on the first Sunday in December. Advent simply means “coming.” For us as Christians, it reminds us of the second coming of God at the end of times. However, with every Advent we are reminded of our place between the first Advent, which came to us in the birth of Jesus and second Advent with the coming of the Lord in all His glory. Preachers, not only in this season but also, during other times speculate the coming of God with precision. They even offer us exact dates of Christ’s coming while looking at the signs that surround us. We are not called to speculate or predict but to live in faithful anticipation as if the coming will happen today. This, living in faithful anticipation for the coming of the Lord amid all our Christmas preparation and celebration, is the central message of Advent. Do we live our lives in faithful anticipation? Every scripture reading during this time will call us to live watchful lives.

I like to read the stories that surround the birth of Christ and look for details that invite us to do something or ask of God while we wait for the coming of the Messiah. Matthew and Luke are the ones that record the birth of Jesus. Matthew, like a photographer, keeps Joseph as the subject matter in all his narratives. I think we would have missed Joseph’s struggle to believe and finally accept the child to be born if not for Matthew. For Luke, Mary is the center piece and everything that Mary says and does is his way of telling the story. Both Matthew and Luke tell us about the other characters that surround the Christmas story. They (like the Magi, the soldiers, Zechariah, Mary etc.) ask thoughtful questions as they wrestle with the deep things of life. I hope you will find yourself asking the same as you go through the different seasons of your life.

On the second Sunday in Advent, we are introduced to John the Baptist who is on the banks of Jordan. He is calling people to repentance and embrace a new way of life because the Messiah has come. The crowd that comes to hear is a mixed one. Luke says that there were tax collectors, soldiers and others. After hearing the message, the crowd, the tax collectors and soldiers ask, “What should we do then?” John answers, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3: 10-14). So, as you begin this season of Advent ask yourself what are the amends that we will make to prepare the way of the Lord. What are the things that we will refrain from doing and what are the things that we will do more to make God’s name known to others who do not know or follow this God who came to us in Jesus.

Let me offer one more question and leave you to find the other questions that surround the birth stories of Jesus. Sometime during this season, we will also meet Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the cousin of Mary, who is somewhat older and the only one who understands the struggles of Mary, who conceives out of wedlock. This is a serious crime but Elizabeth shows “radical hospitality.” Zechariah and Elizabeth are old, and the scripture says that they were way beyond the “childbearing” age. Given all of this, God thru the angel Gabriel offers this hopeful message: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. (Luke 1:13) In response to this message, Zechariah asks the angel this question, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Luke 1:18). If we are in this season of facing impossible situations and asking God questions of this nature, be assured that questions of this kind is not new to God. God knows your fearful and doubtful heart and will journey with us during this season of Advent.

It is my prayer that you will consider reading thru the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke and make note of the questions surrounding the Christmas story and make them yours. Remember, God knows your sincere wrestling, hears, and will meet us in our anxious moments thru the person who is called Emmanuel, God with us.

Rev. Kamalesh Stephen