The Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent
When I was a child in school we were taught that any of us could grow up to be president. Apparently my older brothers took this seriously; when we were all middle-aged about thirty years ago, the third oldest asked which of us was blowing it, because one of us by that time was supposed to be president! We had done okay, and we were all leading satisfactory lives, but none of us was president or even trying to be, and we didn't mind. A dream is not an expectation.
The difference between a dream and an expectation is that dreams depend on circumstances, while expectations are based on promises. . When we expect something to happen, our heads are not filled with "what-ifs" but whens. Sometimes the when is part of the promise, and sometimes not. The great expectation of the coming of the Lord does not have a when attached, but it is certain. It is guaranteed.
The world lives on dreams, the church on expectations— In Advent, a great expectation. It rests entirely on the promise of God. Jesus is coming because God said he is going to. That's what Bible teachers mean when they speak of the "imminent return" of Jesus. It doesn't mean that he will come in the next few moments, or days, or weeks, or years; but it means that he could.The longer history continues, the closer we come to the end—which is the coming of the Lord Christ on the clouds of heaven.
The kingdom of God is near,' said Jesus. Paul reminded the believers at Rome, our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
The NIV says, "Be always on the watch." A more exact translation is, "Be on watch at every opportunity," or "It is always the right time to watch for the coming of the Lord." We dont know when, on the clock or the calendar, that Jesus will come; but we know that, because his coming is sudden, it is always the right time to watch for it! How soon will Jesus come? We don't know. Will he come? He sure will!
But in these words Jesus is not only telling us what to expect; he's also telling us what he expects of us. Since his coming is certain, he expects us to be certain of it. If we aren't certain of it, we'll stop expecting it. In his words, "that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap." Many Christians today have gotten out of the habit of thinking of the coming of the Lord in this practical, life-changing way: to live a life pleasing to the Lord because we dont know how much time we have, and because the righteous judge is returning to claim his world, and we want to be on the side of righteousness.
Second, Jesus expects courage of us. As the world faints with terror at the signs of the coming, the church does not; we are to stand and lift up our heads!
Two famous English writers, both women, faced the opening years of the second world war, when England was in danger of falling to Nazi Germany, very differently. The more famous one , Virginia Woolf, drowned herself after leaving this note behind: "I have the feeling that I shall go mad and cannot go on any longer in these terrible times." The novelist Elizabeth Goudge, alone with her widowed mother, took courage and kept writing her stories in the midst of the privations and uncertainties of war. She was a Christian who knew that the end of the world was not in the hands of Adolf Hitler or Winston Churchill, but in the hands of God. She stood on her feet and lifted up her head.
If you have certainty and you have courage, then the third thing Jesus expects of you becomes possible. he expects diligence. "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life. . .be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
Jesus names two of the ways to lose your diligence—the first is to escape from the cares of this life into dissipation and drunkenness: The other is to escape into the cares of this life, by replacing faith with anxiety. Either way you stop looking for the coming of the Lord and stop living as though the Lord is coming. . Running away is the sign of the careless disciple. Diligent disciples walk with the Lord. We don't run from him.
Jesus wants us simply to look for his coming by living this day as faithfully as we can--a diligence we will not exercise if we forget that he is coming. We need to remember that there may not be a tomorrow when we can serve faithfully.
So the coming of Jesus is not a dream, like the hope of a child becoming president someday; it is a two-fold expectation-- our expectation of him, based on his promise, and his expectation of us, based on his command. He calls on us to honor both. In Advent we are doing more than look forward to the coming of Christmas. We are looking forward to the coming of Christ.