So, here we are in the third week of Advent. It’s really a terrible cliché to say that time seems to fly by as we come up on Christmas. But cliché or not, somehow it seems to be true. Maybe it’s because we crowd these weeks full of events and “to-do list” items and expectations, and we allow ourselves to get so busy that we can barely keep track of ourselves. And we do that at just the season we could be slowing our lives down in order to allow ourselves time to reflect on what God has done through Christ, what God is doing now in our lives and world through Christ, and especially in Advent, what God will ultimately do through Christ to set this fallen right.
As I’ve been pointing out in these Advent reflections, the Church has historically considered Advent to be a season to give our attention to the promise of the return of Christ at the end of the age to bring to completion his wonderful work of redeeming our broken world. But I think it’s important to emphasize this point, that focusing on Christ’s return doesn’t mean sitting back and waiting passively for some future event.
In fact, our crazy Christmas busyness might teach us something about what it means to prepare for the return of our Lord. Of course, with the coming of Christmas, we know the exact date and time. With the return of Christ, we don’t. But the idea is still much the same.
Our crazy Christmas busyness comes from all the elaborate expectations we create for ourselves about the perfect Christmas. We make large lists of people that we “need” to give a gift to—and not just a gift but the perfect gift for each of them. And that ends up requiring lots of searching, planning, shopping, wrapping, delivering. We decide that our holiday season has to involve a lot of parties and gatherings and events—all of which require lots of planning, inviting, preparing, shopping, decorating, cooking, and, of course, cleaning up.
Now, I don’t want to come off like a terrible grump. Some of this holiday celebrating can be nice, and it can allow us to build new friendships and nurture old ones. It can become a problem, though, when the stress and exhaustion that it produces takes more out of our lives than the activities add to our lives.
Anyway, I don’t want to get distracted by that. Just pay attention to your busyness level. But my point here is that with Christmas we recognize that an event is coming. And for better or worse, we pour our efforts and energies into making a good preparation for this event. The fact of the return of Christ should be for us an event just like that, one that we prepare for.
Christ will come again. And he has a grand and glorious and blessed vision for what that return is meant to accomplish. And we should be captured—captivated—by his vision. It should become our vision for our lives in the world. And we can be and should be pouring our efforts and energies into preparing the way for Christ’s return.
That’s what Advent should be and can be for us. What does it mean for you and for me that Christ is coming again to fulfill his mission of setting our fallen world right? We know how to prepare for Christmas parties and family gatherings and gift-giving and Christmas pageants. What does it mean for us to be living our lives in preparation for Christ’s coming again to bring his blessed kingdom to consummation? How do we get ready for that?
Let’s look at a passage from Matthew 11 where we can find some guidance about this question. Here’s the passage:
2 John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3 “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
4 Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— 5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” 6 And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.” (NLT)
So, let’s get the context of this. As you may remember, John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Messiah. When John baptized Jesus, God told him that this Jesus was the Messiah. After his baptism, Jesus began his ministry. And somewhere along the way, John got arrested and put in prison. He continued to hear about what Jesus was preaching and doing. Apparently, there were some things about what Jesus was doing and teaching that just didn’t fit with John’s expectations of what the Messiah should be all about. And so, he raises this question that we read about here in Matthew 11.
Now, it’s certainly true that Jesus’ ministry didn’t fit the expectations of the Jewish people of his time, including John. But Jesus’ ministry fit exactly with what the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would be about. Let’s look, for example, at Isaiah 61:1-4:
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
2 He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
3 To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins,
repairing cities destroyed long ago.
They will revive them,
though they have been deserted for many generations. (NLT)
What Isaiah describes in these is exactly what Jesus refers to in our passage from Matthew 11: “5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”
That’s Jesus’ vision for the kingdom of God in this world. When he was born into the world at Christmas, that’s what he was born into the world to do. That’s what he did in his first earthly ministry. That vision is what he will bring to perfect completion when he comes again. And that is exactly what we should be doing to prepare the way for his coming again.
To prepare for Christ’s return is to continue the work of the kingdom that Jesus began and that he describes here in this passage in Matthew 11. Jesus has come to set right a broken and sin-damaged world. Jesus did not—DID NOT—come simply to save souls. Jesus came to save an entire fallen world so that we can be raised up—body and soul—to live eternally in a new earth where “there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.” (Rev. 21:4 NLT)
That world without “death or sorrow or crying or pain” is the world Jesus was describing in Matthew 11 when he answered John the Baptist’s question. It is also the kind of world we followers of Jesus are meant to be busy working toward now as we prepare for his coming again
Tell people about what Jesus is doing. But don’t just tell them. Show them. Do the work of the kingdom of God. We are surrounded by brokenness—spiritual brokenness, physical brokenness, emotional brokenness, relational brokenness, social brokenness, economic brokenness, racial brokenness, political brokenness, all sorts of brokenness. Jesus has come to heal a broken world. He’s given us that work, too. This is not a work we do by dominating our neighbors. It’s a work we do by serving them in humility, mercy, and kindness. As followers of Jesus, let’s be busy about his work until he comes.
© 2021 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.
Pastor Note #115: Advent Reflection #1
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