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