Scripture: Luke 21:25-36
“Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:25-36
Waiting can be hard at the best of times. Several years ago at Christmas time, you’ll remember that there was the ice-storm. Christmas services across the city were threatened as many people and churches experienced days without power. For many of us, it was a back-and-forth week. Is the power on yet? We knew that the power would eventually come back on, we just didn’t know when. We watched the lights come back to streets nearby and wondered if we would be next.
The waiting and uncertainty were agonies.
My wife and I were pretty lucky with both our kids. They both arrived exactly on the day we expected them. We have many friends, and likely many of you or your children, however, for whom this is not the case. Some have been early, while others have been late. In many ways, our fairly recent ability to pinpoint due dates by ultrasound has impacted the way we prepare for having children.
In many places in the developing world, a specific due date continues to be a foreign concept. Women prefer to use a due month knowing that, in reality, babies rarely show up when expected. While we might convince ourselves that knowing the exact date of a child’s expected arrival allows us to be more prepared it does the opposite. Not knowing encourages us to be more prepared in the long run. We are on constant alert and yet the timeframe is so far-reaching that at the same time, we must carry on with the regular activities of life while we wait.
The people of Israel in Jesus’ day wanted a due date. They wanted an ultrasound or a hydro-coverage map that would point them to the exact date and time of the promised day of the Lord. The Day when God would vindicate Israel when the promised Messiah would come to make all things right again and restore Israel’s place in the world. Jesus’ disciples were waiting for a day too – they were waiting for the day that Jesus would come again when the age would end and God’s reign would flourish on the earth.
And Jesus’ response is nothing if not cryptic or seemingly downright terrifying. Jesus’ response to the disciples is to tell them there will be signs in the heavens, roaring of waves in the sea, people will faint and the heavens will shake, and then Jesus gets to about the need for watchfulness and our need to stay alert. Wouldn’t it have been easier if he had just told them when and where? Part of us wants to say yes, but the answer is likely no.
The Israelites and the disciples along with them lived in a politically and religiously charged climate. Jews expected the Messiah to come, they expected victory, they expected God’s righteousness to overcome. They expected God’s action now. And Jesus’ answer was a word of caution, a word of warning about what the Day of the Lord was about. Jesus’ response was a word about being prepared even though they didn’t know when or where it would come.
That same word is meant for us today. The Church has been waiting almost two thousand years longingly waiting for the due date, longingly waiting for the day that Jesus said he would come. Throughout the years, Christian movements have risen and fallen based on the prediction that Jesus’ Second Coming was imminent. In our day and age, premillennialist preachers and movements have used numerology or suspect readings of the Bible to predict the exact date of Jesus’ arrival – and each one has passed with the leaders backtracking and offering empty excuses for why this or that date wasn’t what they expected.
Over the last two years of the pandemic, more so than before, I’m sure that some of you have probably thought to yourself “Oh why doesn’t God just come down and fix things… I hope Jesus comes soon so that there can be an end to all the violence, all the pain and suffering.” We should hope and pray for this, we should expect that Jesus will come again – not just amid everyday life but also with power and great glory at the end of the age, but…
Jesus’ warning reminds us that we will not know the time of his arrival, even when the signs appear right: even as wars rage across the world, even as Christians are persecuted more than any other century in history, even as great suffering exists in every corner of the world – and Jesus’ response is to wait, wait patiently, be watchful, be prepared.
Today in Advent we begin a season of waiting. A season of waiting for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, his first coming – but Advent is also, in fact, it is primarily about, Jesus second coming. We wait, we prepare, we as a Church remind ourselves that this is a sacred endeavour. But what does it mean for us to wait – do we as a church or as followers of Jesus remain idle? Do we go to great lengths to cut all ties with the world so we are ready when he comes? Do we go about trying to predict when it will come so that we feel secure that WE know when Jesus will be here?
What does it mean for the Church to be on guard or to be alert at all times for the coming of the Lord?
The answer I think lies earlier in the Gospel of Luke which gives us insight into the type of waiting the Church is called to live into. Earlier in his teaching, Jesus told the disciples to keep awake, he told them to be watchful and did so by illustrating with a small parable about two slaves: a faithful and an unfaithful slave. The unfaithful slave decides that because his master is delayed he would beat his fellow slaves and live frivolous and dissolute life, not tending to the duties of the master and so he is punished. The faithful slave however is blessed by the master because he is found doing the daily labour of the household. Nothing extraordinary. He wasn’t preparing a party for his master, he wasn’t waiting expectantly at the door for his master to arrive, he was faithfully discharging the duties he had been assigned, faithfully completing the mundane work of the master’s estate.
Faithfulness in the task we have been given: that is what it means for the Church to wait. Yes… we wait with expectation and anticipation for the glorious return of Jesus, but we do so by faithfully doing the work of the Church: faithfully gathering to worship together, faithfully seeking God in the Scriptures, encountering God in prayer, coming together to share the Eucharist, sharing the good news of Jesus with the world, loving our neighbours as ourselves, faithfully serving our communities with the resources we have. This is how we are called to wait, this is the watchfulness that Jesus demands of his disciples – faithfulness to the mundane, the ordinary work of the church. Word and Sacrament. Service and Mission.
For us at Grace it means that we are called to pray together, to sing together, to break bread with one another. We are called to get out into our community here around Kennedy road and share the Good News of God, share our resources and be with our neighbours. We are called to forgive one another, to love one another. This is what it means to be watchful, this is what it means for us to be prepared for Jesus’ coming. It doesn’t mean we will try to predict the day of his arrival, it doesn’t mean that our lives will be overhauled because we think he will come on a certain day – it means we will faithfully do the work we have been called to do. Because after all “the one who is faithful in very little, is faithful also in much.” (Luke 16:10)
Let us pray.