Advent is a season for waiting. As we get ready for Christmas during Advent, we remind ourselves that as surely as God once came into the world as the baby Jesus, that same Jesus will one day, on what the Bible calls the Day of the Lord, return to this world.
Advent, of course, nothing but a human invention, a tradition that Christians are free to keep or ignore. There’s nothing sacred about Advent in itself.
But as a reminder to you and me to wait (and how to wait) for Jesus’ return, Advent is useful.
It reminds us that when Jesus returns, He will put everything finally and fully right, and usher all who have trusted Him into life in His new creation.
It’s when that happens that we will fully appreciate the meaning of God’s promise given through the prophet Isaiah centuries before Jesus’ birth: “They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, English Standard Version).
Until that day, we “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
We trust that the God Who once took on human flesh (John 1:14), then died, rose, and ascended to heaven, will return.
All who confess Jesus as their God and Lord are waiting for that day of the Lord.
But, as Jesus makes clear in today’s gospel lesson, for the disciple of Jesus Christ, waiting is not a passive thing. Take a look at the lesson, please, Mark 13:24-37. Jesus has been talking about two events at the same time. One is the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The other is the Day of His return. He’s shifted mostly to talking about His return and the deterioration of life in this world that will precede it when He says in verse 26: “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”
Both the living and the dead will then be brought together to meet their King and receive His welcome into His kingdom.
Because of this promise from the crucified and risen Jesus, we confess: “...if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8).
Next in our gospel lesson, Jesus talks to us specifically about waiting. Verse 28: “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.”
The fig is one of the few trees in the Middle East, where Jesus lived in the first century, that loses its leaves in the fall. When its leaves begin to reappear in late spring, people know that warm weather is on its way. It’s a sign of things to come.
Verse 29: “Even so [Jesus goes on], when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
The these things that Jesus speaks of here are all the calamities that will happen in the world before His return, things like wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines. In other words, life will continue to go pretty much as it has in this world from the moment that Adam and Eve fell into sin.
And Jesus tells us that these things--all the sin and sadness that permeates our fallen universe--will not be the last words over the lives of those who trust in Christ.
His Word--the Word of and about the Word made flesh, Jesus--will never pass away, will give all who have persevered in trusting in Him, a new and everlasting beginning.
So, we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged by these things--whether they’re injustice or corruption, disasters or holocausts, personal tragedies or illness, gun violence or racism, sexual harassment or selfishness.
Jesus has conquered them all and even in the midst of the things of this world, we can know God’s peace.
We can hope.
Life in this world is short; eternity lasts forever.
If we focus our hope on this world, we will, at most, gain only what will fall from our grasp when we draw our last earthly breaths. “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world,” Jesus once asked, “yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36) But when we trust in Christ above all, our grasp is on eternity with God, which can never be taken from anyone who believes!
As we trust in Christ, persevering in living life for Him and to His glory, the hope of eternity will splash into our daily lives here, empowering us to keep on following Jesus and living useful lives when the world loses its way.
We will live more fearlessly, with greater willingness to fail, free to love and care for others, knowing that whatever we may lose in this life, is nothing compared with all that God has in store for us in eternity.
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ,” the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Our faith in Christ empowers us, obliges us even, to always hope, to live in hope! Not to hope in this world or in the things or the people of this world, but hope in Jesus Christ.
When we hope in Christ and live in that hope, we know the truth to which 2 Timothy 1:7, points us: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” We can live our lives at home, with our church family, and in the world at large with God’s “power love, and discipline.” We can live in the power of knowing thta if God has called us to do something, the Holy Spirit will empower us to do it. Period. End of subject.
And in telling us to see the signs of the inevitability of His return when He will bring our hope in Him to its fullness, Jesus is not telling us to waste our time in trying to game out the exact moment of His return.
Nor is He telling us to go along with our lives as though we’d never encountered Jesus, people indistinguishable from the unbelievers, agnostics, or atheists who surround us.
Verse 32: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.”
Listen: This is how a Christian disciple waits for the return of Jesus. They fulfill their calling as disciples first, as members of Christ’s Body, the Church and second, as people who live in the world with families, spouses, friends; as people who are students or workers or retirees.
Every follower of Jesus Christ, every disciple, has a vocation, no matter what their work or daily activities.
We’re to be and make disciples.
We’re to repent and believe in Jesus, to hear His Word and take it to heart, to love God and love neighbor, to love our fellow disciples with the same passion Christ has for us, to pray, and to make other disciples.
Each of us will have our own “assigned tasks” within that vocation. I can’t be as effective a witness for Christ among your friends, co-workers, neighbors, or classmates as you can be, because I’m not you and I'm not there with your friends, co-workers, neighbors, or classmates like you are. You may not be called to be Christ’s witness at the grocery deli counter in the same way I seem to be. But each of us who bear the name of Christ is called by Christ to wait and watch for Him.
We faithfully wait and watch for Jesus’ return when we go about what it is God has called us to be and do, with faith in Christ.
The chorus of one of my favorite songs by the late John Ylvisaker, Jesus Was Sent, says,
Jesus was sent that our eyes may be open,We faithfully wait and watch for Jesus’ return when we let Him break all the fences and doors we hide behind to hoard our lives and to feed the delusion we all have that our lives are our own and don’t actually belong to the God Who made us and died for us and rose for us.
So we might witness the day of the Lord.
He will make sense of our loving and hoping;
He will break fences and open the door.
We wait for Jesus rightly when we trust in Jesus and keep on trusting in Jesus all the time.
God help us to do just that. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]