There are a lot of things to love about Advent and one of them is that it forces us to slow down, if at least for this hour on Sunday morning. With this season in full swing how many people in America took a moment Monday through Saturday to consider that Christ will return and when he does it will be like a thief in the night? I’d really like to know, because I think we would all agree more moments were spent this week planning, spending, and being anxious about all the busyness of the season.
Advent says “Slow down…” to the Church and world. It exposes our neurotic tendency to focus on the here and now which only causes all sorts of panic, stress, and exhaustion. Advent says “Slow down…” and learn the blessings and benefits of delayed gratification. With all the commerce, planning, and worrying at this moment most have in mind that Christmas has arrived. The Church says differently. This is a time for repentance for the King of the heavens and earth—the Lord and Creator of all has come and is coming again. “Slow down!” Meditate on the Advent message and you will find all the worries and frustrations that accompany your Monday through Saturday of any season pale in comparison to the eternal weight and everlasting joys of Advent.
We hate waiting though. We live in an instant message—on demand world where we have food where and when we want it and entertainment at the press of a button. A father told me about how they learned that they needed to teach their children about delayed gratification. Their kids had grown up with Netflix. They had instant access to thousands of videos at the click of the remote. You want Thomas the Tank? ‘Click’ here it is. No? Elmo instead? Okay, ‘click’. Years later they purchased cable service. The kids saw a commercial for a show the first day they watched a channel. They looked at their parents and said “We want to watch that.” Their parents answered that they’d have to wait two days. The kids didn’t get it. What do you mean we have to wait? Once the reality of the situation set in their kids sat there with a defeated look.
Advent is like that. It’s a counter to the culture reminder that you don’t get the goodies right away. It’s a counter cultural message that says that not every moment is one for entertainment, wine and song. Advent beckons us to times of reflection, fasting, repentance and prayer. It’s a season of waiting for the high festival of our Lord’s Incarnation. It’s also a reminder that we are always waiting—waiting for the return of our Savior Jesus. Most of all Advent says “Slow down.” Advent tells us to think on ultimate things, eternal things, things that will remain after all the presents are unwrapped and the eggnog runs dry. For the material things of this world will with heaven and earth pass away, but Christ’s words will not pass away.
That’s Christ’s Advent message for you today. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” We see the world and those around us blissfully unaware of what Advent means and distracting themselves year around with shopping malls and festivities. They don’t heed or concern themselves with Christ’s words. It can cause us to despair. It can even distract us from the meaning of Advent. We can just as easily forget what Advent and Christmas are really all about, namely Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit born of the Virgin Mary.
It can frustrate us, but at the same time it’s a good reminder. Because this is a picture of exactly what Jesus warns about in our text this morning. He says this is the way things are going to be. When the world least expects it and is distracted by many things the day of Christ’s Second Advent will arrive. Those who weren’t waiting for it will be overcome by fear and foreboding. Yet, to those who are waiting Jesus says, “Straighten up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near.” This is a happy message for those who long for his return. Advent is a reminder to allow our faith to interrupt the rhythm of our lives, to change our priorities, to constantly wake us to God’s reality and to change our expectations for the present and the future.
Christ has come to be our savior. God came in the flesh not as judge or harbinger of doom and gloom, but rather as our redeemer and friend. He lived a life that because of sin we could not lead. Jesus is all the things the world so desperately wants and needs this time of year; love, justice, forgiveness, peace, and goodwill. He is those things and achieved them not in the fickle and easy way of the world which says, “To each his own.” That kind of thinking does not deal with injustice, hatred, bigotry and the like that reside in every human heart. Jesus went the costly way, counter intuitive to the world, and paid the price that we could not. Jesus received the judgment we deserve and gives us the forgiveness we do not deserve. Jesus is just and justifier at once. He is risen. This same Jesus will come again. He comes to judge the living and the dead. He comes to raise the dead in the resurrection and to change those still living in the twinkling of an eye. He comes to judge in light of the cross, promising eternal life to all who repent and desire his forgiveness and to condemn all those who have rejected God’s goodness.
So this is the Advent message: Slow down and know that Jesus will come again. We in the Church have been called to bear this message and proclaim it to our neighbor. We are all called to give the Advent call to slow down and think on the important things; the things of God and the glorious thing he has done by sending the Christ child. We are called to keep awake, while the world sleeps. We are given to pray for the world and call our neighbors to wake up and receive the great thing that the Lord has done.
Jesus warns that our hearts not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness. Dissipation is like a hangover where you’ve had too much food and too much drink. You know what I’m talking about. Dissipation is accompanied with the sore stomach that can’t even handle daily bread. Your head is cloudy, you can’t think straight, your eyes need sunglasses because they can’t stand the light. Imagine if Christ the Eternal Light returns shining brighter than the sun. Jesus knew the disciples. He knows us too. He knows how weak we can be. How the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. How he can find us sleeping even when we have the best of intentions.
He tells us not to have heavy and burdened hearts, but that’s all we often find this time of year. Packed calendars, family stresses, and all the planning is more a burden than a joy. It’s really our sin, our idolatry that brings this about. We allow the penultimate take priority over the ultimate; the temporal presses out the eternal. We meditate more on our calendars that are here today and gone tomorrow more than we do the Word of Christ which will never pass away. Our hearts indeed become heavy.
The funny thing is that Jesus is telling us that the good news is that he does not intend for us to be burdened. Indeed, he has made quite the opposite possible. His cross and resurrection are the source that make us free and happy people—light hearted people who posture ourselves around the Advent of Christ and the promise of salvation, not our calendars, not our trials, not our sins. We focus on his forgiveness and we see the struggles and troubles in this world and can straighten up and know that our redemption is drawing near.
Now it’s not that we’ll know the day or the hour. We won’t. No thief sends a reservation before he robs a house. Jesus said his return will be like a thief in the night. Since he promised that he would be crucified and rise from the dead before it all happened we should take him on his word when he says he will come back. To reassure us Jesus gives us the lesson from the fig tree. Jesus’ point is that anything that could burden us should actually remind us that the winter of our sin is ending and the spring and summer of our redemption is closer and closer.
So this Advent slow down for a moment; especially at those moments when you’re distracted and things get hectic. Remember your Lord’s first Advent and wait for His Second Advent. Slow down and enjoy the delayed gratification that Advent brings before Christmas. Watch and pray for your Lord’s coming with the church. Go and tell the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.