Are You Ready for Advent? (Matthew 24:36-44)

Advent Starry Night #5 by Virginia Wieringa

Jesus said, “But about that [judgment] day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (New International Version)

The best way of observing the first advent of Christ, his incarnation, is by preparing ourselves for his second advent, his return to the earth.

Just because there is sun today doesn’t mean everyday will be that way. The storm clouds are gathering; the Day of the Lord is at hand. Will you be ready?

Satan once called to him some demons of hell and said he wanted to send one of them to earth to aid women and men in the ruination of their souls. He asked which one would want to go.

One creature came forward and said, “I will go.” Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell the children of men that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.” 

Then another came forward, darker and fouler than the first. Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that not only will good be triumphant, but that evil will be defeated. You may not go.” 

Then one last creature came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. Satan said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid them in the destruction of their souls?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

Most people’s crime in not some gross sin, but indifference, without much thought to a coming judgment. It seems we are all spiritual procrastinators. Why do today what we can put off till tomorrow? 

But the spiritually indifferent won’t know what hit them. 

So we need to be deeply concerned for the coming Day of the Lord, which may be very soon. 

The question for us is not, “When will Christ return?” Rather, the question is, “Are you ready for Christ’s return?” We must:

  • Keep watch, stay alert, and be ready, like a watchman on an ancient city wall scanning the horizon for an advancing army.
  • Remain vigilant and not forget that Jesus is coming again. 
  • Live every moment of our lives in light of the promise of Christ’s return. 
  • Be busy (not busybodies) because we don’t know the day of Christ’s second advent.

What does it mean to keep watch, be ready, and stay alert? 

In between these two advents of Christ, believers are to bear witness to a world going about their merry way unaware of the judgment that is about to overtake them. Like Noah, we actively build the ark of the church instead of living as if Jesus weren’t coming.

Noah was a preacher of righteousness in both word and deed, building an ark in a place and around a people who had never seen rain. What’s more, constructing the massive ark took a solid one-hundred years. This was no easy feat.

Like Noah, we must plug away and be faithful stewards, doing the tedious and patient work given to us. We aren’t supposed to be like the irresponsible teenager who, when given the responsibility of watching over the house while the parents are gone for the weekend, throws a big party and trashes the place. The parents will come home at a time that the teenager does not expect, and then there will certainly be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

When the Lord returns, we don’t know who will be taken and who will be left. Two different people might look the same on the outside, doing the same work, but each of those persons working side by side can really be very different on the inside. So, let us be patient as we await the coming of Christ and avoid losing sight of what is truly important.

One day a man named Denis Waitley was trying to catch a flight but running late. So he literally ran through the airport terminal and got to the gate the split second the flight attendant closed the door. Denis explained his situation, that he had a speaking engagement and needed to be on that flight, but the attendant didn’t budge. 

Denis stormed out of the boarding area and back to the ticket counter to register a complaint and reschedule his flight. His anger intensified as he waited for more than twenty minutes in a line that barely moved. Just before he got to the counter an announcement over the intercom changed his life. 

The plane he missed getting on, Flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles, crashed on takeoff and killed every person on board the plane. Denis Waitley never registered his complaint. In fact, he never returned his invalidated ticket.

He took the ticket home and pinned it on a bulletin board in his office to remind him whenever he got frustrated or upset that life is more than day to day impatience and worry and complaints. It’s about serving a lost world destined to slide away from God apart from the grace that can turn judgment into blessing.

It could be today. Every day we must live with the reality that Christ’s return is imminent. Until that happens, we are to be faithful servants of God by serving a world that is tremendous need of getting on the ark and being saved from the judgment that will come. 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Time Is Near (Revelation 22:8-21)

“The Time Is Near, Revelation 22:10-12” by Anthony Falbo, 2019

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes, take the free gift of the water of life.

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (New International Version)

“St. John the Divine” by David Raber, 2013. The top corners are the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, representing the Beginning and the End; the corresponding letters in Hebrew are at the bottom corners. The Apostle John holds a scroll, a symbol of Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The very last chapter of the big thick Bible let’s us know that the time is near for the end of the world as we know it. Jesus himself tells us that he is coming soon. That might sound weird, considering we are reading Christ’s words two millennia later. There’s nothing soon about 2,000 years in the past. So, how can the time of Christ’s return be “soon?”

Time is viewed differently by God than by us, especially in this modern and/or postmodern era. Whereas we orient ourselves around chronological time by measuring minutes and hours, the Lord is much more event oriented.

Throughout Holy Scripture we have major events of creation, fall, and redemption. Now, there is only one event left on God’s celestial timetable: Christ coming to judge the living and the dead, and the full establishment of a world without any sin or Satan. In that sense, the time is near and very soon.

“Time” itself is really a human yardstick. It’s merely the relationship between events – and we humans like our measurements and metrics. Yet, the Lord is above time. God simultaneously sees the past, present, and future. And when all things are eventually made right, there will be no need for time anymore because all events have run their course.

But how does any of that stuff about time help me in the here-and-now?

We still have time. As long as it is still Today, everyone has the opportunity to change, to do better, to “come” to the eternal wellspring of living water.

None of our lives can ever be reduced to a single event or action. The screw-up or outright sin that we did back there in our lives doesn’t define us. If it did, all of us would be soundly condemned. Instead, it is the habitual offenders, the ones who repeatedly and intentionally do wrong and/or chronically ignore their fellow humanity (and God); it is they who shall be on the outside of a restored Paradise.

So, it’s not too late. The call is out. Jesus himself invites everyone who hears to come.

And since the call is out there, ringing in history for the past two-thousand years, a warning is there for those who either subtract or add to the simple invitation.

Yet no matter the past guilt nor the present moment, grace is the final word. It is, quite literally, the final verse of the Bible.

In a book filled with a vision of end time judgment, it is divine graciousness which has the ultimate and final say. Even with a world under a curse, and with the earth facing judgment, divine blessings abound. The word “blessing” in Scripture simply means to have God’s stamp of approval. Within John’s Apocalypse, we have several instances of blessing:

God blesses (approves) the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3, NLT)

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Put this in writing. From now on, the Lord will bless everyone who has faith in him when they die.” The Spirit answered, “Yes, they will rest from their hard work, and they will be rewarded for what they have done.” (Revelation 14:13, CEV)

“Keep watch! I come unannounced, like a thief. You’re blessed if, awake and dressed, you’re ready for me. Too bad if you’re found running through the streets, naked and ashamed.” (Revelation 16:15, MSG)

Then the angel said to me, “Write the following: Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9, NET)

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6, NRSV)

“Listen, I am coming soon! Great blessings belong to the one who obeys the words of prophecy in this book.”

Jesus (Revelation 22:7, ERV)

God’s grace allows us to have solidarity with one another as believers throughout the world, no matter the culture, no matter the church or particular Christian tradition.

Grace strengthens us to persevere and labor in hope, no matter the naysayers around us.

Grace gives us courage to face both our present troubles and future uncertainties, no matter the anxiety which fills the earth.

The presence of God is grace. Christ is alive and will come very soon. Be ready, my friends. The time is near.

May you walk in a manner worthy of our spiritual calling and draw near to Christ so you can triumph over the sufferings of this present time.

May you taste and see the goodness of the Lord and be assured of God’s great love for you.

And may the blessing of almighty God – Father, Son, and Spirit – abide with you always. Amen.

Jesus Is Lord (Revelation 21:5-27)

“The Risen Lord” by Chinese artist He Qi, 2001

Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!” He also said to me, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.” And he said, “It is done! I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end. To anyone who is thirsty I will give the right to drink from the spring of the water of life without paying for it. Those who win the victory will receive this from me: I will be their God, and they will be my children. But cowards, traitors, perverts, murderers, the immoral, those who practice magic, those who worship idols, and all liars—the place for them is the lake burning with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came to me and said, “Come, and I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” The Spirit took control of me, and the angel carried me to the top of a very high mountain. He showed me Jerusalem, the Holy City, coming down out of heaven from God and shining with the glory of God.

The city shone like a precious stone, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates and with twelve angels in charge of the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of the people of Israel. There were three gates on each side: three on the east, three on the south, three on the north, and three on the west. 

The city’s wall was built on twelve foundation stones, on which were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The angel who spoke to me had a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city was perfectly square, as wide as it was long. The angel measured the city with his measuring stick: it was fifteen hundred miles long and was as wide and as high as it was long. The angel also measured the wall, and it was 216 feet high, according to the standard unit of measure which he was using. The wall was made of jasper, and the city itself was made of pure gold, as clear as glass. 

The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation stone was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh yellow quartz, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chalcedony, the eleventh turquoise, the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls; each gate was made from a single pearl. The street of the city was of pure gold, transparent as glass.

I did not see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it, and the Lamb is its lamp. The peoples of the world will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their wealth into it. 

The gates of the city will stand open all day; they will never be closed, because there will be no night there. The greatness and the wealth of the nations will be brought into the city. But nothing that is impure will enter the city, nor anyone who does shameful things or tells lies. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of the living will enter the city. (Good News Translation)

“The Risen Christ” by He Qi, 2004

So, I’m just going to put something out there and see if you resonate with it, or not:

Sometimes we long for Christ’s return, the end of time, and eternal bliss because we don’t want to deal with being our true selves right now in this present moment in time. We just want out of our current reality.

At times, we take ourselves so darned seriously that the true self never comes through to others. Yet, when I’m real, authentic, and genuine, I connect with others from the very core of my being, and not from some contrived self that I’ve put up for others to see.

I say all this because, if we want to see the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, and experience the very presence of God and the Lamb, then it comes because you and me are being our real selves. Only the true, the brave, and the vulnerable shall have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

I think the reason why we have such a detailed description of the New Jerusalem is that this is a sure thing; it’s real, man. And only real authentic people can inhabit the city.

Please know that, even though we may want things to change from the way they are now, things will not always be this way. Life will not always consist of heartache, suffering, and tears. The world, as we now know it, will eventually pass away with its constant barrage of war, famine, hunger, sickness, misunderstanding, conflict, and pain. 

There is a coming a day when Jesus will return and make everything new. The vision of this next-to-last chapter of the Bible portrays a sovereign Lord who is in charge, and whose authority, in the end, shall be seen for what it truly is. 

Everything wrong will be made right; all that is crooked shall be made straight; and the endless struggle to do what is right and just will prevail once and for all.

Whenever we get caught in some seemingly endless cycle of addiction, or insecurity, or fear; whenever we find ourselves having to endure yet another day of undeserved backtalk; and whenever we see that perseverance has become our abiding companion; it is in those times – much like the original recipients of the Apostle John’s vision of the final apocalypse – that we are strengthened and encouraged with the truth that Jesus is Lord. 

Jesus Christ reigns as King over all creation; his rule will be revealed to all nations. In Christ’s benevolent kingdom, everyone who is thirsty for justice will receive from a life-giving fountain; and all who hunger for righteousness will be filled and satisfied.

Yet, until that time comes, we hold to our hope that Jesus shall return to judge the living and the dead. 

For righteous persons, this is truly good news. For the wicked, not so much. 

Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be in the celestial city. 

So, today is the day to be a real, authentic, vulnerable Christian who puts on words and deeds that are appropriate for God’s kingdom.

Lord Jesus, you are making everything new. You are the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. All things hinge on your gracious rule in this world. Help me to so embrace your kingdom ethics that every word I say and each deed I do is consistent with your divine justice and mercy through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. Amen.

A Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God’s power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time.

Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

You love him, although you have not seen him, and you believe in him, although you do not now see him. So you rejoice with a great and glorious joy which words cannot express, because you are receiving the salvation of your souls, which is the purpose of your faith in him. (Good News Translation)

There’s no need for hope if everything’s going just the way you like it. I remember when I was a college undergraduate, I hoped for Christ’s return toward the end of every semester. The prospect of all those final exams and the pressure of grades had me longing for heaven.

But that’s life. Maturity, resilience, perseverance, and just about every virtue you can think of comes as a result of life’s trials and sufferings. The Christian has hope, precisely because things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.

Faith has to be tried and tested. And hard circumstances are the way of purifying it. Like gold being purged of any dross by being exposed to extreme heat, so our faith becomes strong, robust, and genuine by the purgative fires of life’s many large and small sufferings.

The whole point of it all is to make us people worthy of our spiritual calling. Resurrection only happens because there’s been a death. Glory is only realized through suffering.

New life, the Christian life, isn’t a matter of making a new set of resolutions, as if it were nothing more than aspirations at the beginning of a calendar year. Rather, Christian faith is a response to the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.

One of my all-time favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It’s a story of grace and new life, of a hopeless man given the chance at hope.

The main character is Jean Valjean, who spends nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. The experience in prison caused him to become a bitter and cynical man. After his release, Jean Valjean has nowhere to go. 

In desperation, he seeks lodging one night at the home of a Catholic bishop, who treats him with genuine kindness, which Valjean sees only as an opportunity to exploit. In the middle of the night, he steals the bishop’s silver and skedaddles. 

The next day, however, Valjean is caught by the police. When they bring him back to the bishop’s house for identification, the police are surprised when the bishop hands two silver candlesticks to Jean, implying that he had given the stolen silver to him, saying, “You forgot these.” 

After dismissing the police, the bishop turns to Jean Valjean and says, “I have bought your soul for God.” In that moment, by the bishop’s act of mercy, Valjean’s bitterness is broken. Hope springs to life.

Jean Valjean’s forgiveness is the beginning of a new life. The bulk of Victor Hugo’s novel demonstrates the utter power of a redeemed life. Jean chooses the way of mercy, as the bishop had done. Valjean raises an orphan, spares the life of a parole officer who spent fifteen years hunting him, and saves his future son-in-law from death, even though it nearly cost him his own life. 

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Throughout Jean Valjean’s new life, there are trials and temptations all along the way. Yet, mercy keeps his faith strong, and hope kindled. Whereas before, Valjean responded to mercy with a brooding melancholy and inner anger, now – after being shown grace – he responds to each case of unjust suffering with gratitude, deeply thankful for the chance to live a new life full of grace.

Hope is kept alive because of suffering. Faith is strengthened by means of adversity. And both originate because of mercy and grace.

Christianity is a worldview perspective that enables one to rejoice in difficulty. For the Christian, there is no empty meaningless grief; there is the hope that our suffering means something. Like the athlete who endures all the painful practice in order to realize a future hope, so the believer in Jesus goes into strict training for the development of faith – all in the confident expectation of a fulfilled salvation.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, this seemingly weird alchemy of faith, suffering, hope, joy, and new life. And every generation of Christians needs to experientially discover it. Each believer eventually learns, in the crucible of hard circumstances, that the promises of God are the ballast to persevere in faith and patience throughout life.

Christian hope is a confident expectation that the promises of God will be completely realized.

A Christian’s salvation encompasses past, present, and future.

We were saved back there in the past when Christ died on the cross for us. We were crucified with him.

We are presently being saved from the world, the sinful nature, and the devil, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit in making us holy.

And we will be saved in the future when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Then, our salvation will be fully realized. Since that hasn’t happened yet, we have hope to sustain us.

It was hope that sustained me in college. I endured all the hours of study, all the exams, all the various courses taken, with the confident expectation that I would someday walk across that stage, receive my diploma, and graduate with my intended degree.

We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25, NIV)

The Christian’s hope for ultimate deliverance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. This means we can live through a difficult day or week or month or a year, or even decades, with spiritual endurance. Our goal shall come in all its fullness. 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them and be their God;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, NRSV)

Eventually, suffering will have done its work and we will be with Christ forever. Until that day, let us explore all that God has for us, embracing both the meaning and the mystery of faith. 

Since our salvation is assured, let us live with confidence and run the race marked out for us.

Heavenly Father, you created us and lovingly care for us. We accept all our sufferings willingly, and as truly obedient children we submit ourselves to your holy will. Give us the strength to accept your loving visitation to us through adversity, and never let us grieve your heart by giving-in to impatience. We offer you our pains to be used for your honor and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.