The thing about the Christmas story as told in the gospels is that it is unpredictable. We could not have come up with this. The thing about the Christmas story as it is told in our cultural celebrations of Christmas and even in our churches is that it is predictable and we take it for granted. So much so that our focus is on the trappings of Christmas and not on the real story (we know how it comes out).
Bernard of Clairvaux, in one of his Advent meditations, spoke of the three comings of Jesus. The first, of course, is the one we celebrate at Christmas when God became flesh. Bernard reminds us how that turned out. Not well, as we know. Jesus ended up on a cross rejected by all. Even his closest friends on earth had abandoned him because they were so confused by what had happened and scared for their own skins. God came to earth and no one got it. This might suggest to us that we have a hard time recognizing God when he is in our midst and, even if we do, we have other things on our minds. In Matthew 3, which is the New Testament reading for Advent Sunday 2, John the Baptist uses the word, Repent, to describe what we need to do. Here, in Matthew 24:36-44, the reading for Advent Sunday 1, the key words are "Keep Alert". Those words may not be on our Christmas lists unless it is to remind us of the deadlines we have for mailing packages, or shopping sales, or baking cookies. Jesus was talking about the time he will come again. Keep Alert for that coming. That is the third coming Bernard said. The second coming is now, how Jesus comes to us now. He comes to us as we Keep Alert for the third coming. This "keeping alert" Bible scholars point out is literally, "be always on alert". It is what we do. "It is the obedience that takes shape as hope, future expectation, specifically the future expectation of Jesus coming at any time for his judgment on life." (F.D. Bruner) It is the obedience of everyday life. It is a shout out to make sure our own faith is real. A double check on where we see our life coming from and why we are doing what we are doing. Where are we seeing Jesus in his second coming? And are we following him there? Later on in Matthew's gospel, he will ask us if we see Him in the "least of these"? So, in these days of Advent, what are we doing to Keep Alert?
Here are a couple ideas: Read through Matthew this advent season to sharpen your skills of observation. Include in your Christmas giving a couple checks to those organizations who work with the "least of these". Get the children's book by Eve Bunting entitled, We Were There: A Nativity Story and read and discuss it with some children, and adults, of course.