“I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:29
A traditionally Eucharistic passage may seem like an odd place to begin Advent. A passage from Isaiah prophesying the first or second coming of Messiah is more traditional during Advent, yet, while unconventional, this Eucharistic passage fits well with Advent themes.
Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of Messiah. This preparation usually takes on two tracks. The first is preparation for the celebration of Christmas, where we look to the Old Testament and remember the waiting of Israel as they longed for the coming of Messiah. The second is preparation for the second coming of Messiah.
The Eucharistic passage fits into this second track. Many Old and New Testament passages incorporate a meal or banquet into the final inauguration of the Kingdom of God at the second advent of Messiah. As with any banquet, much preparation is necessary: invitations to be sent, food prepared, a banquet hall made ready, and food to be served. Scripture even provides a picture of what this banquet will be like.
Invitations have been sent: “And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Rev 19:9). An abundance of food is ready: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Isa 25:6). A hall will be ready: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn 14:2-3). And the most amazing part of this banquet is that Christ, who is the Host, will also serve the guests: “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves” (Lk 12:37–38).
All this talk of banquets may still seem far afield of the topic of Advent, yet Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of Messiah. Not only must the Host prepare for the banquet, but the guests must prepare for the banquet as well. Scripture even encourages the faithful to be prepared: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks” (Lk 12:35–36).
An Advent figure himself, John the Baptist tells how to prepare for the second coming of Messiah and the following banquet. John calls out to all who will hear: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt 3:2), and he encourages us to prepare for the coming of the King by bearing “fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt 3:8).
What does it mean to bear fruits worthy of repentance? The prophet Micah answered this question many years before John: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Preparing for Advent simply means that followers of Jesus must faithfully serve Him, which, really, is something that faithful followers of Jesus should be doing every day until He returns, not just at Advent.
Advent, however, marks a special time when followers of Jesus can take stock of their lives, a time for the faithful to remember the promises of Scripture regarding the second coming of Messiah and to confess their failures to serve Him faithfully, as the Book of Common Prayer says:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved thee with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we earnestly repent. For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in thy will, and walk in thy ways, to the glory of thy Name. Amen.
As Advent is also a season of preparation for the celebration of Christmas, let those of us who are preparing for the second coming of Messiah take hope in that Christmas celebration, that our preparations are not in vain. Christ fulfilled the promises of Scripture and came once, so too will He fulfill the promises He made in Scripture to come again.