Advent is a time of expectation; a time of waiting for Christmas. Most of us, however, do everything but wait during the holiday season. We bustle around decorating, shopping, wrapping, partying, and working. As if the rest of life isn’t hectic enough on its own, we get caught up in all of the steady stream of chaos brought during the holidays. We may have even vowed to simplify and slow down in order to appreciate the blessings of Christmas, but in reality we can’t wait to get through the holidays in order to get our lives back.
Advent is a time of drawing near. This is the time when we remember and celebrate God’s drawing near to us in Jesus Christ, beginning with a focus on his final coming in glory to judge the living and the dead and bring forth a new creation. Whoa. Baby Jesus we can deal with, but apocalyptic talk is a bit beyond most of our understanding of Christmas.
Here’s what the gospel writer Luke has to say:
‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man’ (Luke 21:25-36).
If you made it this far, I’m certain you’re wondering: what are we supposed to do with this information? How does this remotely relate to me, today or even Christmas?
Believe it or not, the world – at least Jerusalem – was pretty much a mess when this passage was written. The Roman emperor Titus had completely destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. This was the second time the great temple had been destroyed. It was less than a generation since Jesus had been crucified and his followers were trying to figure out what exactly they were supposed to be doing with their new-found faith. Needless to say, everyone of Judeo and Christian faiths were trying to stay alive in this time of great chaos and conflict.
This is the backdrop to what Luke was writing. The situation was bleak and the reality that Jesus was not going to be returning imminently and save them from this mess was settling in. Many were hanging on to hope by a thin, brittle thread. How were they to endure any more? How long would they have to wait? What were they supposed to do in the meantime?
Sound familiar? Sound contemporary? Yep, there’s nothing new under the sun. Today, just as it was then, people are struggling to make ends meet putting a roof over their heads and scraps of food on the table. There are the homeless, the chronically ill, the addicted. There are wars and regional conflicts, violence and mass slaughtering of people in places we can’t pronounce. Let’s not forget the natural disasters: tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and drought brought on by our missed stewardship of our planet. And we ask: How much more can we endure? How long do we have to wait? What are we supposed to do?
Tucked inside his message, easily missed is the clue Luke gives us: stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. We’re being reminded of what is expected of the faithful in these times. We are to watch expectantly, avoiding excesses and anxieties that would distract us from watchfulness.
We typically hear the how, the what we must do now, but we rarely hear that watching or expectation is – in and of itself – an act of faithfulness. That’s the real secret of Advent and surviving, not only the holiday season, but the chaos of life. We stand up and raise our heads, willing to be seen and heard in a world that is quaking all around us. As we step into and move through life’s heartbreaks, we meet Jesus where he’s always been – in our midst. Jesus is always waiting to show us the way to new hope, new joy, and new life.
Here’s something to ponder this week: How it is that expecting something transforms, redeems, even saves us?