Mark 13:24–37; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9
First Sunday in Advent
It is the first Sunday in Advent Season. A time of expectation, waiting and watchfulness. A time of prayer for hope, peace, joy, and love as the dawning light of the promised child approaches. This time of the year, once again, we feel the urgency to prepare for Jesus’ coming on Christmas day. So, let me ask you. How are you feeling in the wait? Are you anxious? Are you sitting or standing? How you wait matters.
Many people think that our tradition might have changed the concept and the doctrine of Advent and Christmas. This sounds convincing to me. Because narrowing down the Advent season to only four weeks’ counting in our culture, seems to shade the whole meaning of the season. Advent becomes more secular and money-oriented, as everyone buys Christmas gifts for loved ones. Then Advent becomes a four week and Christmas as onetime event every year. Also, church seems to pause from the watching and waiting when Christmas is left behind.
However, Jesus reminds us today and calls us to watchfulness and to be alert as we wait for his return (Mark 13:24–37). This means we are to observe the three phases of advent: The first advent (Jesus is born in Bethlehem), (the everyday Advent), the resurrected and the now present Jesus, and the Second Advent (the ascended and the returning King Jesus). If the scripture is true, then, any time before and beyond the season of Advent, is considered as the season of anticipation for the church. Our faith journey and everyday life is part of the Advent Season.
Our gospel today calls our attention to the Second coming of Jesus, not as a baby, but as a judge and King. King Jesus, as we learned last Sunday, will return with a multitude of angels. He will sit on his glorious throne and separate the sheep from the goat. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Jesus talks about his second coming and I agree it doesn’t sound promising. But let us remember that, there is no first Advent without the Second Advent. “By the same token, confidence in the Second Advent is possible only when the church recollects the fulfilment of the first advent” says Charles B. Cousar.
The old testament refers to this day as “the day of the Lord” and our passage today is dense with OT quotations. The prophets: Joel, Isiah, Jeremiah, Micha, Malachi, Daniel, etc. referred to this day as sudden, beyond our control and our predictions. The day of “tumult and trampling and terror,” a day of battering down walls, a day of tribulation. A day filled with darkness and awful crisis. For this reason, the prophets had been calling on the people of Israel to be prepared and be ready if they wish to be spared from the judgment of the Lord (Malachi 3:16-18). “Who can endure the day of his coming?” Malachi asked. This, indeed, doesn’t look like the day of Advent we are waiting for this season.
Like many of you, I would love to hear a more promising message this season as we are battling the Coronavirus pandemic. We can relate the Second Advent to our current situation and the hope for a vaccine. We are hopeful, as the news has been reporting that, soon, the scientists will deliver a vaccine to help contain the virus. But the vaccine will not help those who are not willing to be vaccinated. Only those who receive vaccination will have confidence in the protection of the vaccine, they will feel secure in the face of the virus. They will be careful but not fearful and terrified, even if there would be another wave of the virus.
This is true with the Second Coming of Jesus for those who believe. The PCUSA doctrine of the Christ’s Second coming affirms this fact. The doctrinal statement correlates to my theme for this first Sunday of Advent. That “The doctrine of Christ’s Second Advent is not intended to terrify. Rather, it is aimed at motivating faithfulness in time of tedium as well as in times of crisis. Believing in Jesus’ certain return provides encouragement when life seems purposeless or when evil seems to be too powerful to overcome. Rather than being anxious and pessimistic, God’s people trust hopefully and live joyfully because in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has revealed the divine purpose of well-being for all.” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
What an affirmative statement! I must stop here, I guess. This doctrinal statement says-it-all and provides us with the truth of the Second Advent. Besides its awfulness, tumultuous and terror, the Second Advent comes with rewards for those who believe. It provides healing and enlightens hope: The day of the Lord comes with hope and healing. Malachi says, “for you who revere [the name of the Lord], the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Malachi 4:2. The day of the Lord, will elevate the desire for relationship. The Lord will appear to those who desire life, open their hearts, confess their trespasses, and repent from their past. This process is compared to a process of a refinery and washing with fuller’s soap. Then, the Lord they are seeking will come to the temple of their hearts and made a covenantal relationship (Malachi 3:1-3). And this day will bring New Life and New Beginning: The day of the Lord brings final restoration of God’s people to God’s Kingdom. And the dwelling of God will with men and God will live with them and God will be their King and their light forever (Rev. 21:3; Micah 4:1-2). A new partnership is established!
Therefore, “anticipation of Christ’s return enables us to enter this struggle as vigorously as if it were the eve of the last day. It exists in us as an expectation that God continues to redeem the world.” Charles Wiley. Charles tells us the truth, if I read that correctly. That we should live our lives as if we are in the eve of the day of the Second Advent. Jesus also cautioned us on how we are awaiting the second coming. He encourages us to be alert and patient because how we wait matters.
They said there was a man at one of the packed Delta ticket counters in one of our airports: All of ticket agents were doing their best to politely process each passenger as quickly as they could. Toward the end of the snaking line was a passenger obviously impatient and very frustrated at having to wait so long in the slow-moving line. He finally decided to march right up to the counter and demanded that he be given a boarding pass. The ticket agent turned, looked at him, blinked, took a shallow, deep breath and said, "sir, as you can see there are many passengers ahead of you. We are doing our best to process the passengers as fast as we can. I'm afraid you'll have to get back in line." Outraged and red in face, the man yelled at the ticket agent saying, "do you know who I am!!!? The ticket agent turned, looked at him, blinked, took another shallow, deep breath, picked up the public address system microphone and said calmly, "There is a man at the Delta ticket counter who does not know who he is. Anyone who may be able to identify this man is asked to please step forward and identify him. Thank you." (5jokes)
How are your feelings in your waiting? Are you getting frustrated? Many of us are impatient like the man at the Delta counter and think that the end is getting further away. We submit to the deceit of our emotions which unconsciously make burnt out like the "not-wise" virgins in parable of Matthew 25 :1-13. Then we forget "who we are." Some of us lose hope and stop moving in the line of faith; some of us want to skip the line overall and start to speculate about when the day of the Lord will come. Some of us become skeptics and reluctant when we are pressured by life circumstances. For this reason, Jesus warns us to “learn a lesson from the fig tree,” and remain alert and watchful because—the Second coming is “unknown and Sudden.” It comes with no warning and no one predicts it. Beware of the false teachers who will lead you astray from the truth, Jesus said.
The Scriptures do not deny the side-effects of the long waiting. We are informed that with the long wait, we will be facing numerous challenges. There will be:
The Son of Man, the owner of the house, the church, is coming back! He warns the church and the members to be alert. His warning helps us to avoid being trapped in what I termed the five Side-effects of waiting. You are advised to be alert but hopeful in his return. Yet, let us remember that, "Advent is neither a time of silly optimism nor an invitation to self-indulgent despair, nor even a hope built on the shaky foundations of experience. It is the hope, the only hope worth having, hope for the confidence that translates our dangerous impatience into expectant living in the here and now. It is the hope that aspires toward the future that is in God and for which the farmer is the example." Everett C. Goodwill.
However, the loving God did not leave us empty-handed in this waiting. God has blessed us with hope that rests on the conviction that we are destined for life-eternity, not for his wrath and destruction. God has enriched us with the blessing of heavens: we belong to Christ; God equips us with discernment and knowledge; he sanctified believers through the blood of Christ. Paul assured us of God’s promise, saying, "God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9).
Therefore, know that you are called to help one another by utilizing your gifts and offer encouragement to make everyone strong in faith as we keep watching and anticipating Christ’s Second Coming. Whether Jesus comes as a baby, on Christmas Day, or now as he is present in the Holy Spirit, or when he comes as King to judge and reward the elect, you and I are warned to wait and be watchful! Remember that “we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth [the Lord] has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).
ADVENT IS HERE!
We pray for Hope
MATTHEW 25: 31-46, EPHESIANS 1: 15-23
I once heard a joke about a king who sent his soldiers to an operation and his Knight was leading the operation. Then the Knight and his men returned to the castle after a long hard day of raiding.
“How are we advancing?” The king asked.
“Sire,” the Knight replied, “I have been robbing and plundering ruthlessly, burning the towns and farms of the enemies to the west.
“What?!” shouted the king. I don’t have enemies in the west!
“Oh, no…” says the Knight. “Well, you now do.” (5jokes)
After reading this passage, one would see Jesus having more enemies to the left when he returns to separate the Sheep from Goats on judgment day. While scriptures teach that salvation is by faith and not by good works, one may assume that this passage presents a reward for good works.
Here is the fact. The Protestant Reformation was built on the Biblical truth of salvation by faith and rejected any form of church systemic principles and concepts attributed to human salvation. Salvation is unmerited favor of God and it comes by God’s grace. Salvation cannot be earned, nor achieved on the basis of human endeavor, but it is solely a gift from God alone. It is God's initiative and action.
Yet, this passage seems to present something different when we read that the sheep are ushered to the Kingdom of God because they have done good to others. But is it true that the sheep are received in the Kingdom of God because of their charitable works? Did Jesus demand good works as the basis for our salvation? These are few questions anyone reading this story would struggle to understand--
Remember, Jesus used parables in most of his teachings. His Parables were based on life experiences, cultural practices, and allegories of his time. People understood, reflected on them, and applied them to their faith lives. In a few cases Jesus would tell the disciples what the parables means. Yet, parables are hard to comprehend, to find meaning and apply, mostly for us in the 21st century. Our trust is in the wisdom and knowledge of the Holy Spirit, the counselor— (John 14:26).
In Matthew 25 alone there are two parables and the third part of the passage, is the teaching of Jesus about his return. We learn about the parable of the ten virgins—(about saving faith); the parable of the talents— (about Service faith); and the story where Jesus put forward the kingdom future— (Gracious faith).
Let me refresh our memories for a few seconds and explore the background. Jesus was in the temple with his disciples in the prior chapter, (Matthew 24). They left the temple passing through the Kidron Valley to mount Olive. In the later chapters, this would be the same path for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and too, where he would be praying at Gethsemane, and then when he would be led to Golgotha.
The disciples lagged after church. They kept gazing at the temples’ beauty. When they came up, they tried “to call his attention” to the features of the temple and asked him of his return and the signs preceding his coming (Matthew 24:1-3)
Now, they were on the mountain top. They sat down and Jesus began encouraging the disciples to be alert and cautious of the false Christs who might come in “between” and the time when he would come back. Jesus exhorted them to remain faithful stewards of the gospel. “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns,” Jesus said (Matthew 24:45-51)
Then Jesus moved on and told them the parable of ten virgins and the talents and the last sermon he preached in his lifetime on earth. When you explore this passage, you will find it interesting that this story is not a mere parable. The story of the Kingdom and judgment is different from the rest of the parables Jesus had told and taught in the book of Matthew. It does not follow the features of a parable. Jesus began saying, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…” His desire was for the disciples to look back to the parables he had taught them for the last three years. That they would say Ah, ah… Jesus was the Bridegroom, the Master with talents, and now Christ is the King who is coming back from a distant county to subdue the authorities under his feet (1Corinthians 15:25-26).
This passage is the last sermon of Jesus on earth. He concluded his teachings with this simple passage. You may say Jesus left the best for last! — “I am returning, but to judge.” From this story onward, Jesus will be going through the last chapter of his life on earth. Matthew said, that when Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “as you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matt 26:1-3).
Today, Jesus tells us what is going to take place when he returns. When Jesus comes, the Kingdom comes with him; he comes to separate and judge. Just try to envision the court room and the proceedings. You can feel the intensity, the silence of the multitude around the throne and the smell of fear as the judge proceeds to sentencing. King Jesus will be sitting on his gracious throne. He will not be rude but gentle. Nations will gather anxiously for the hearing session. But you may ask, how would someone know who is a sheep and who is a goat? Good question, but I do not have a straight answer either. Yet, three things stand out in this passage and Jesus wants to convey that
1st Good works and charities do not have any place in our salvation— (the sheep did not know they did it to the Master)
2nd You and I were once goats, but when Son of man came:
a. He found us lost, naked, and he clothed us with love (Luke 15:1-10)
b. Jesus visited us while in our prison of sin and disobedience (Romans 5:8)
c. You and I were hungry and thirsty for truth and Christ gave us grace and mercy (Matthew 9:31)
d. You and I were strangers and refugees on earth, but Jesus called us friends (Ephesians 2:3)
3rd Transforming Grace—Though we were sinners, You and I are born again in Christ through the love of God. The good works in this passage are simply the outpouring of grace. We do good works freely and without expecting to receive a payback. Jesus did it first and now we are encouraged to pay-it-forward (not payback). Remember, the Sheep did not know when they had done so to the Master.
Therefore, your charity, love and compassion for others are the overflowing of grace. Your generosity springs from God who gave his son freely, from King Jesus who surrendered his authority to the cross and was humiliated for your sake and atonement (Philippians 2:5-11).
As Christians, the “Will” to serve others is in your loving DNA (Sheep). The sheep did so not for self-glory, neither for self-righteousness nor fame, but as an action of their faith. They did so as an outpouring of praise and thanksgiving to God. This simplicity of life and good works happens when we are created anew in Christ, renewed through the power of the Holy Spirit, and transformed in God’s love. In this new birth of our baptism, a new relationship is established, a new identity is formed, and a new name is given— a Sheep not a Goat.
What make sheep different from goats is not their features. You cannot distinguish between Christians and non-Christians based on their outfit or hairstyle. It does not depend on the fact that goats have beards, neither on sound of their voices. It is not because goats have ears sticking out and hear more. But because goats disobey. Goats run away. Goats are stubborn. They claim to be independent and active in their own world. They brag on their efforts and say they do not need any help from the master. Goats are sneakers and like to put their shepherd in trouble. There is a lot we can say about goats, which are non-believers according to our passage.
On the contrary, sheep listen and follow their shepherd; they depend on the provision and compassion of the shepherd—the shepherd leads to still waters (Psalm 23). Sheep cannot stay in the bush by themselves when they are lost and are easily attacked by enemies. Sheep trust their master, but goats do not. For this reason, eternity will be the last blessing for the sheep. For they have passed through hardships on earth (Revelation 7:10). The King will say to them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” For those on the left, they “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)
Therefore, Jesus tells us today not to “leave anyone behind” while he is returning. King Jesus encourages us to help, and support others with little things we can do. It could be a meal, a bottle of water, a warm blanket, lifting the spirit of a sick person and talking to a stranger on the sidewalk.
Help without expecting a pay back—those at the right, did not even think they were helping Jesus when they did so. They did it only because they could. Doing good works was natural to them and we should do the same from our hearts. Paul said to the Corinthians, “you must each decide in your heart how much to give. And do not give reluctantly [not with regret (GNT)] or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully” (2 Cor. 9:7). “Whereas on the other hand, the attitude of those who failed to help was; “if we had known it was you, we would gladly have helped; but we thought it was only some common person who was not worth helping,” said William Barclay.
Yahweh tasked his people Israel to look after the disadvantaged and foreigners among them and not to glean their harvest but to “leave [some produce on the ground] for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:22). You and I are given same responsibility to look after and be our fellow-human-keepers. We are called to love others as King Jesus first loved us. And when we give generously and freely, we are rewarded with the gift of joy. As Sheep we will rejoice in life eternally with Christ and with the angels of Heaven in the Kingdom of God.
Now, I leave you with this message as Paul said to the believing community in Ephesus: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Amen!