THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The four Sundays before Christmas form the season of Advent. The word advent means “coming”. We are talking about the coming of Jesus, past, present, and future.
The prophets of old long foretold the coming of the Messiah, God’s anointed one. During this season, we will wait and watch for the coming of our savior. We will learn about John the Baptist, who prepares the way for the Messiah. We, too, will long with Jerusalem for his coming.
When we celebrate Christmas this year, we will do a little pretending. We will express great joy that on this day our savior is born. During the season of Advent, we prepare our hearts for his arrival. It is a time for a little house-cleaning; time to examine our spiritual failures, and resolve to serve the baby Jesus better in the future.
We are told, and know that Jesus will return again. Part of our preparing for his arrival on Christmas Day is to remind ourselves of his second coming. Our self-examination isn’t just to get ready for his pretend arrival on the 25th, but his promised arrival at some unknown time in the future.
If you’re like me, you want to go straight to the manger, and sing Silent Night and other favorite Christmas carols. But first, we have some work to do. We will begin in the future, and work our way backward. This week, we will discuss his second coming.
Things are not looking good for Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel has been overrun by the Assyrians. Many have been carted off to Babylon. Now, they are knocking on Judah’s door. In the midst of all the fear, God speaks a word of promise through his prophet Isaiah
- God gives Judah a glimpse into the future. In the future, God will dwell once more in His house on a high hill (in Jerusalem). (vv. 1-2)
- People from all over the world will come to Jerusalem to learn about God. (v. 3)
- God will reigns as their king, and do what kings do—act as a judge in cases of dispute between nations and people. (v. 4a)
- God will do this in a remarkable new way—He will do it peaceably. There will be no need for weapons of war, because there will be war no more. (v. 4b)
- “House of Jacob” is another name for God’s chosen people living in Judah. He encourages them to live their lives with this hope in their heart. (v. 5)
These words of hope must have sounded strange to those who first heard it, since they were expecting to be wiped out by the Assyrians. After their defeat and movement into captivity, perhaps they held this glimmer of hope in their hearts. More hopeful words would be spoken, but these were the first. That is what it meant to those who first heard God’s Word, But we Christians now read this passage through our “Jesus Glasses”. With the coming of His son, all nations do flock to the New Jerusalem, his church, to receive God’s abundant grace. We are still working on the “war thing”, so the work is not yet completed. We’ll talk more on that below.
This letter was written by Paul to the church in Rome. That church consisted of a mix of Jewish and Gentile Christians. It was written before he travelled there. In this section of his letter, he offers some good advice on how to get along together and behave as a Christian family.
- Verse 11 begins with “Besides that…”, which always makes me wonder what was said previously. In the previous verses (vv. 8-10), Paul tells them to focus all their attention on loving one another. That all the laws can be summed up in loving one another. In this verse, he shifts gears with his “besides that”. Besides loving one another, he wanted to talk about how to behave as Christians, knowing that Jesus could come at any time. (v. 11)
- Paul uses the imagery of light and darkness to make his point. They have turned away from their former religious lives (darkness), and now follow the Light of the World, Jesus. In the same way, they should put away their former ways of darkness (our bad behaviors), and let their little lights shine, as the song goes. The text really says to “put on the armor of light”, but that is the same thing, really. (v. 12)
- We are encouraged to live honorably, and not follow the desires of our own. Paul often calls these “desires of the flesh”, which includes not just licentiousness, but jealousy and quarreling, too. (v. 13)
- Paul tells us to “put on Jesus”. Just as we have put on Jesus in our baptism, like a baptismal robe. We should clothe ourselves with Christ-like actions and attitudes. In other words, practice the love he mentions in verses 8-10. (v. 14)
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of all these sins of the flesh. When someone crosses you, for example, it is easy to forget about the law of love, and get angry. Here, we are reminded to live each day like Jesus will be here tomorrow. Let it go. Love one another. Live in the light.
Since we are beginning a new church year, the source of our gospel readings will change. Last year, most of our readings came from Luke. This year, they will come from Matthew. Occasionally, every year, readings from John will be used. Most of the time, the readings cycle through Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in a three year cycle.
Today’s reading from Matthew focuses on the end times—on Jesus’ second coming.
- Jesus makes a bold statement that many like to ignore: NOBODY knows when he will return. Not even Jesus knows! Yet, many preachers make a lot of money claiming to predict this event. (v. 36)
- Jesus goes on to give some examples. His first example is Noah and the Flood. Nobody knew when that event was going to take place. Even Noah didn’t know when. It is important to note that the evil people are swept away, not Noah and his faithful few. (vv. 37-39a)
- Jesus says that it’ll be just like that when he returns. (v. 39b)
- He gives two more examples. Two are working. One is swept away, and the other left behind. This might sound like the rapture, but I will offer another point of view below, in the takeaway. (vv. 40-41)
- Jesus makes his point clear. He wants us to keep awake, because we really don’t know when the day is coming. (v. 40)
- Jesus gives one final example. It is about a homeowner who gets robbed. If the homeowner had been alert to the fact that he was about to be robbed, he could have been prepared, and chased them away. (v. 43)
- So, in case you haven’t gotten Jesus’ message by now, he tells us again—be ready! He will return when we least expect it.
Jesus came on Christmas Day a long time ago, and will come again. The Kingdom of God that Jesus taught us about has already arrived, at least in part. It will be brought to completion when he returns. We live in the in-between time.
Christians have been teaching and expecting Jesus’ return for over 2,000 years now. It is only natural that people have become complacent, and “fall asleep” about Jesus’ second coming. When they fall asleep, so can their faith also fall asleep. Jesus wants us to remain constantly alert and engaged.
Advocates of the rapture warn Christians not to be “left behind”. At first glance, three of Jesus stories above seem to support this teaching. But take a closer look. In the “left behind” concept, the unfaithful or unworthy are left behind, and the faithful are taken away. But in the first story, Noah and his faithful family are left behind, while the wicked are swept away. In the stories about the field workers and miller women, it does not say whether those left behind were good or bad. But if the story about Noah is Jesus’ first example, it follows that the good workers are left behind. This is the exact opposite of what the believers of the rapture teach. Therefore, according to this teaching of Jesus, we want to be the ones left behind!
Whether you agree with me on this or not, Jesus point remains the same—do not become complacent in your faith. Keep awake, alert, and engaged. He just might be coming soon and very soon!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Who do we keep awake and prepare for his return? Today’s reading from Romans offers a few good suggestions. Can you think of more?