Wait a minute! Can you guess how long a minute is? Let’s try a little test. Yes, a little pop quiz. I want you to see if you can figure out how long a minute is. Here we go…ready….set…go!
That was probably a lot longer than most of us were used to. I know for me, the only time minutes fly by is when I’m running, especially when I’m trying to beat a time goal.
Waiting is not something that we do well in our American culture. After all, we have instant text messaging, microwavable foods of all kinds, instant rice, instant banking. We are used to being able to get what we want when we want it. There’s even a commercial. It’s my money and I want it NOW!
Today is the beginning of the Advent season. As you may remember from years previous, Advent is a season of preparation – more specifically – it is a season of preparation for the Lord’s coming. As you may have guessed from the songs that we sang this morning, it is not only a season where we remember Jesus’ first coming, but remember what he had promised his followers 2000 years ago – that he was returning – that he would come again.
Earlier this week I was talking with some of our young people about the decorations this week in the church. You may have noticed that there is little if any decoration in the church this morning, save for the blue cloth on the table and the Advent candles. This is all by design and very intentional. Today we begin a season of watching – a season of preparation where – yes, we prepare our hearts (as the Christmas carol, Joy to the World states) for his first coming, but we want to make sure that we are prepared for his second coming. The people in first century Israel had been promised a Messiah – a Savior. They were waiting, but they didn’t know exactly when this Messiah would appear. They were tired of the constant captivities – the constant occupations of Babylon, the Meades, the Persians, the Greeks, and now the Romans. The Jewish people were looking for someone to free them from all of that.
In a way, it’s not much different in our world today. People are still in need of a Savior. We are bound by so many things – we are in need of a Savior. Yet, the people in first century Israel were unaware of the signs of his coming and we in the 21st Century are, perhaps, just as blind to the signs of His coming.
Jesus reminds his disciples in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24:36-44:
36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.
37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.
40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.
42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.
I think Jesus’ words ring very true for us today. Jesus is coming back again – whether we want him to or not. People will not be ready. There will even be some in the church who will not be ready. Jesus warned us about that as well.
In many ways, we have been jaded to this fact that Jesus is coming back again. We don’t prepare our hearts because we have heard about it all of our life. How many of you remember the “Thief in the Night” movie? Or perhaps you remember the “Left Behind” series. These were attempts to get people to think about the idea that Jesus is coming back again and to be sure that their hearts are ready.
Then there are those, despite Jesus’ warnings to the contrary that think they have finally figured out when Jesus is coming back again. Remember Harold Camping? He said Jesus would return on May 21, 2011. He had made several other predictions about the time of Jesus’ return that were incorrect as well. Camping is not alone in this. There was the infamous book, “88 Reasons Christ will Return in 1988” and many, many more. We seem to have a fascination with Jesus’ return and yet, are we really doing anything about it.
If we look at Jesus’ own words about his return, we find these words: “42 ‘So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.’”
I think Jesus understood that we all would be concerned with the timing of this event. After all, the Jewish people waited about 400 years between the Old and New Testaments and we have been waiting 2,000 years for his return. Look at what happened in the first chapter of Acts.
6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
The two men were asking the disciples, “Why are you just standing around? Get busy, do the things that Jesus told you to do. There is much work to do. Wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon you and then get busy – preaching and teaching the gospel. Go make disciples of the entire world. Teach them everything I have told you.
What do most of us do when waiting? Several weeks ago I ran the Richmond Marathon – 26.2 miles – (Believe it or not I paid good money to run 26 miles and experience the joy, the anguish and the excitement of running 26 miles.) This was the first time that I ever went to a race by myself. I have always drug James and Pam with me to the various races I have run – drug is a bad word, because they usually go willingly. But I was by myself – in a unknown city – with plenty of time on my hands. I had to go Friday night to pick up my race # and packet. After work on Friday, I got in the car drove to Richmond, secured my hotel room, picked up my packet, picked up some dinner and then went back to my hotel room and waited. It was crazy. I went over every possible scenario in my mind – in fact – the waiting kept me up most of the night. Not that I didn’t try to sleep – I really did – but sleep did not come easy. By 5:00 AM, I was raring to go. I got in the van and drove downtown – being I was so early, I was one of the first of 20,000 runners to show up. Again the waiting – until 8:00 and the beginning of the race. What did I do during most of that time – worried! I was anxious about how I would run 26 miles for the very first time.
I’m sure the disciples felt the same way – in many ways we are much the same in our day. We know what we are supposed to do, but we worry and fret and we don’t do what God has commanded us to do.
Jesus told us to watch and pray. This is not a spectator sort of watching – like the fans in Richmond – no this is being awake, alert – in a state of readiness. While we are in this state of readiness, we need to be praying.
What should we pray for?
- We need to pray for those who are lost – for those who aren’t ready for the return of Jesus.
- We need to pray for urgency – we need to get busy. To many times we are like the disciples in the first chapter of Acts – we are just standing around waiting for the Lord to return.
- We need to pray that we would keep our hearts pure. Listen to Paul’s words in Romans 13:11-14
11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.
Paul gives us an idea of what God expects out of the believer. One of the things that I didn’t understand about running a marathon a year ago that I understand now is that running a marathon requires great discipline and great training. You have to treat your body right. Even if you do – even if you do everything right, it is possible to be tripped up – you have to be on guard at all times – you constantly have to be in preparation mode – you have to make sacrifices. Can you imagine (and I’ve heard people who have tried) to go out and run 26 miles without any training. It would be a disaster. Hey it was bad enough and I had trained. The people who do that are the people Paul talks about – participating in the darkness of wild parties, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, immoral living, quarreling and jealousy. What does Paul tell the believer to do? He tells them to remove the dirty clothes – put on the new shining armor of Christ. Instead, he says, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a sense of urgency in both the words of Jesus and the words of Paul. Even more than urgency, there is a call to vigilance. One writer puts it this way:
To wake up is to become aware the time has come for action. To be on watch is to sustain the response to the wake-up call over time and not lose heart. It is to wait with expectation.
The call to such expectant waiting—waiting that remembers the end– is the hallmark of Advent every year, and indeed is to characterize our lives as disciples of Jesus at all times. Yet we live in a culture in the United States that has forgotten how to wait, much less wait expectantly. We want what we want now. We expect it to arrive on time. We’re anxious if we don’t get what we want promptly and bored or annoyed if the coming is delayed.
What are we looking for? Are we looking for the end of the world as a massive disaster, or for God’s ends to be revealed in the world and thereby already start transforming it? Signs of the “coming of the Son of Man” can happen anywhere, anytime, so look everywhere and always.
And how do we look? Are we filled with anxiety, fearful lest we miss something and find ourselves “left behind”? Have we lost faith in the coming of the Son of Man? Have we gotten bored with the looking and moved on to other things? Or have we tuned our hearts and honed our vision to discover every sign of his coming with wonder and joy, so we can offer our own witness to the coming One?