Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
aiting is the worst. The only thing in all of creation that has the power to slow down time is anticipation. The longest month of the school year is the one right before summer break. And it doesn’t get better as an adult either. The two weeks before a much-needed vacation seem to stretch on forever, each new email seeming to punctuate how much time stands still between you and your goal.
At least in those situations, though, we know exactly when the object of our anticipation will arrive, however long the intervening time may feel. We know when the school year will end. We know when the package will arrive. We know when vacation will begin. All we must do is be patient, as hard as that may feel.
What is far more agonizing is waiting for those things for which we know neither when or even if they will come. A response after you put in your application for a job you really want, or really need. A call from that cute person you just met and to whom you just gave your phone number.
You wait eagerly at first, but with each passing day, doubt creeps in, ever closer. It is a terrible feeling, trying to hold onto hope even as you prepare yourself for disappointment.
In the time after Jesus walked the earth, in the time after his crucifixion and resurrection, in the time after his appearance and ascension, his disciples waited. They waited eagerly for Jesus’ promised second coming. They waited for the time when God’s Kingdom would come to them and God’s justice be restored.
At first it was not hard to wait. After the pace of events during Jesus’ ministry and during his crucifixion, the disciples felt that every day could be the day of the Lord’s coming. It gave them a sense of urgency in their daily work and ministry. They felt an immediacy in their interactions and in their faith. The second coming was at hand, so they strove always to be at the ready.
The days turned to weeks. The weeks turned to months. The months turned to years. The years turned into decades, and still that day did not come. There is some thought that the codification of the gospels began in the second half of the first century because the first generation of the Jesus movement had started passing away. Writing down the words of Jesus, the gospel message, had seemed like a frivolous luxury when Jesus could come again tomorrow. Preparing yourself for his coming was a far more pressing and a far more important task.
Now there were new generations of believers. They were people who had never known Jesus in the flesh. They were people who had never known his first disciples in the flesh. For these new people, how would they be taught what it meant to wait? Who would teach them how to wait urgently? How could this next generation even understand what it was that they were waiting for? And for those who had waited with such urgency for so long, doubt had begun to creep in. Perhaps they would not live to see Christ coming in glory. Perhaps they had misunderstood what it was that they were waiting for.
In our reading today, we hear this first generation of the Jesus movement trying to preserve for future generations a core aspect of our faith and identity. Waiting, it is not meant to be a passive thing. It is not an activity to be taken lightly, something we do idly while tending to other matters.
We are warned to be ready, my friends, for the coming of Christ will happen quickly and without warning. It will be as if two went into the field to work, and suddenly there was only one. It will be as if two sat down to grind grain and suddenly only one remained. Waiting with urgency requires that the thing which we anticipate be at the forefront of our lives. It requires that every action we make, every relationship we navigate, be undertaken with the anticipation of Christ’s coming.
If that sounds difficult, it is because it is. That kind of anticipation is hard to maintain. It is hard to maintain through life’s challenges, through love and loss, through health and sickness, through peace and war. The first generation had direct relationship with Jesus and the original disciples in which to ground their anticipation. But the second generation, and every generation since has had to ground that anticipation elsewhere. They had had to ground their faith elsewhere.
One generation turned into many. Many generations turned into centuries. Centuries turned into millennia, and still that day has not come. Two thousand years later, here we are. Truth be told, after all this time, we’ve actually become worse at waiting. I’m not even talking about one-click buying and next-day delivery on Amazon, or the continuously updating newsfeed that is the internet, although those things don’t help. I mean we the church, the body of Christ in the world, have become bad at waiting.
Starting today and continuing through the fourth Sunday of Advent, the annual clashing of wills plays out. In countless churches, all over the world, faithful parishioners are pressuring their stubborn clergy to allow them to start singing Christmas carols during the season of Advent. We conduct stewardship drives and pass annual budgets so that we can make payroll and pay the bills, but rarely are these things done with any anticipation of Christ’s coming. We organize fundraisers for mission outreach and plan fellowship activities, but if Jesus were to show up at one of them, we would be floored. We wouldn’t know what to do!
Looking at my own self, I come to church on Sundays seeking opportunity for prayer. I come with the hope of fellowship and song. I come to hear scriptures, to worship in community, and to find respite from the world. I have never come to church with the hopeful expectation of the second coming. I have never come to church because I am waiting urgently for Christ.
Is it the same for you?
It does not have to be this way. We can learn to wait again. On this first Sunday in Advent, we are reminded of what we have been given to help us in our anticipation. The church, it is not a house of the faithful. It is where we come to learn how to be faithful. It is where we come to learn how to wait with the urgent expectation for the Lord’s coming.
My friends, we have been given one another, we have been given the stories, and we have been given the sacraments so that when we find ourselves forgetting who it is we are waiting for, we might come here and be reminded. When we find the mundanity of daily life—the stresses of work, the havoc of raising children, and the difficulty of navigating our marriages and relationships—when we find these things supplanting the urgency of our expectation for Christ, we come here to be strengthened and fed so that we might persevere together on this journey of the faithful.
Likewise, when we have caught glimpses of the Lord, when we have seen Christ in our daily work and ministries, we come here to share it with one another. When we feel the urgency of our expectation burning brightly, like a candle in the darkness, we come and share it. We share it with one another so that flame might be kindled in us all and we might all burn brightly as we watch and wait for Christ together.
Keep watch, my friends, and stay awake, for the Lord is coming. Like a thief in the night, Christ is coming. Like a baby born in the still darkness.
Preached by Adam Yates