Advent is the season of the church that prepares us for the Lord’s coming.
1) We will celebrate His coming on Christmas. But that was His coming in the disguise of humility. Only those knew Him to whom He chose to reveal Himself.
2) This One comes to us today (and every day if we so choose) in the Gospel. Just as in the days of His passion, we also only know Him to be the Coming One because He chooses to reveal Himself to us.
3) We also remember that He will come a second time, in glory, when every eye shall see Him.
The first time He came to be our Savior. The second time He will come to be our Judge. So we celebrate His coming in the disguise of humility (1) in the past on Christmas, and (2) in the present in the Gospel, and we celebrate His coming in glory (3) when He comes to be our Judge.
Advent is therefore a season of Expectation, Preparation and Joy. We live everyday in expectation of His coming. So we prepare ourselves to meet our Judge. And we rejoice that our Judge is also our Savior who does not lose us in His judgment but who keeps all the promises that He has made to us.
Jeremiah was a prophet hundreds of years before Christ was born. He lived in a harsh time, when the Assyrian Empire had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and taken its people into exile, and now the Babylonian Empire was about to do the same to the southern kingdom of Judah. He warned the Jews that the time of God’s judgment was come, but few people believed him. And he witnessed the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of the people to Babylon.
But Jeremiah was also given a vision of a future time when Israel and Judah would be forgiven and God would give them all the blessings of the Promised Land. This would happen when God causes “a righteous Branch of David to spring forth,” who is Christ the Lord, and Jeremiah saw that He would execute justice and righteousness on the earth, and Judah and Jerusalem would dwell in safety, and the Lord would become Jerusalem’s righteousness.
In other words, He foresaw the coming of Christ, the Son of David, and he foresaw that through Christ God would fulfill all His promises of mercy and forgiveness and grace and spiritual abundance. Through the cross Christ would become our righteousness; through the Holy Spirit He would be for us the richness and fatness of the Promised Land; and through His resurrection, as Firstborn from the dead, He would become the glorification of the whole creation, its transfiguration by its imbuement with the glory of God.
The prophets foresaw these things, though they saw them dimly, as an intuition; they did not really know what it was that they were looking at. Having known the fulfillment of what they saw, the coming of Christ in the Gospel, we need to fill in the outline that they give us the best that we can.
Now we come to Jesus, to His last sermon to His disciples before His Passover. Like Jeremiah, He too foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, again—this time by the Romans—and He speaks to His disciples about His second coming in a time when God will judge the world. There will be war and destruction in which men turn against each other, but in the end the environment itself will turn against humanity, and then the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory. He will redeem Israel; the church will come before Him and every believer will have to give an account of him or herself; and the people of the world will be separated as sheep and goats.
Jesus says, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” In other words, do not be bent down looking at these things. That is distraction. You will not be ready if you have your eye on these things. Instead look up, at Him. Keep your hand on the plow. Be a faithful disciple.
“When you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.” This means that the kingdom of the world is almost over. Do not be invested in it. Be invested in the kingdom of God, for it is coming with complete certainty.
Then He says, “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life,” because if you are, that Day will catch you unprepared. It will come on you suddenly like a trap. Think of an animal trap. The animal trips the string and the weight or the cage (or whatever) falls on it and it cannot escape. Jesus says that this “trap” will come upon all those who dwell on the face of the earth. But it does not have to come down on you, if you “keep on the alert at all times,” and pray. For then God can give you the strength to escape what will come on everyone else as a trap; God will give you the strength to stand up and not be ashamed before the Son of Man.
So take out these words or instruction or command, and pay special attention to them:
- “Straighten up and lift up your head.” (Do not be discouraged but look up to Him.)
- “Recognize that the kingdom of God is near.” (It is neither far away nor far off.)
- “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life.” (Be not wasting time, disoriented, or distracted.)
- “Keep on the alert at all times” by praying. (Be fully conscious and aware, in the presence of God.)
Now, let’s look at the psalm. “I lift up my soul to Thee.” “In Thee I trust.” Jesus said to lift up your head. Who are our enemies? the devil, the world, and our own sin. The psalmist prays that we may not be ashamed before Him. Do not treat me according to my past sins, the sins of my youth and my past life. Give me another chance. The psalmist comes before the Lord as a sinner, with humility. Then he asks, “Make me to know Thy ways … teach me Thy paths … lead me in Thy truth and teach me.” The goal is to keep God’s covenant and His testimonies, His Word.
So Jesus’ words tell us not to be distracted by all the things that are happening to us and around us, and not to be caught off guard by dissipation—you know what dissipation is? It is to waste our time or resources on indulgence in pleasure, to indulge in the extravagance pursuit of pleasure; it is a word that describes our culture: do not be caught off guard by this. Do not be caught in a state of drunkenness when we cannot act as we need to in a crisis. And do not be caught off guard by worrying about life. Worry also distracts us. Instead, lift up your head and look to Him and put your trust in Him. The Psalmist also warns us to approach God with humility, and not to assume that we know anything. We have enemies that can pull us down: the devil by his deceit, the world by its distractions, and our own sin by its rebellion. Look to God to teach you the path that you must walk, the life that you ought to live.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
So then at last we come to the apostle. Paul was driven out of Thessalonica by persecution, and he left the church there to deal with the persecution without him. His coworker Timothy has just arrived and given him a good report about how the Thessalonian Christians are doing. So Paul writes about his thanksgiving to God and all the joy he feels in the presence of God for their sake. They are not complete; he wants to supply what is still lacking in their faith; so he prays that he may return to them.
But this is what he prays for most: that the Lord would make their love for one another and for all people to increase and abound. In this way God will establish their hearts unblamable in holiness “before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” This completes the picture.
We are to look forward to the Lord’s Coming, for He is coming to bless us ENORMOUSLY. But He is also coming to be our Judge and our spiritual enemies can cause us to be ashamed in His presence. How can we be prepared? First, by waking up and being alert and on guard. Secondly, by not wasting our time on an over indulgence in pleasure or entertainment; by not impairing our faculties by drunkenness and stupidity; and by not being distracted by worries and fears. These first two things go together as two sides of the same thing: being fully awake and looking to Christ, avoiding what prevents that.
Third, with an attitude of humility and trust and openness, by looking to the Lord to teach us His “way” through His Word (His covenant and testimonies). Fourth, by increasing and abounding in love for one another (believers) and for all people. Again, these two go together: His “way” is the way of love. The goal is for God, by His grace, to establish our hearts in holiness so that we will be without blame, without an accusation, when we come before Him.
If I am not mistaken, this summarizes the Lord’s command to us in our lessons. With an attitude of humility and trust and openness before God, (1) be inwardly fully conscious and aware, looking to Christ—both the One who has come and the coming One—with our full attention, and (2) outwardly abound in love more and more to our fellow believers and to all people.
THE WORK WE ARE GIVEN TO DO
Today, as we hear God’s word, we confess our sins and turn to Christ, receiving Him into our hearts by faith. Today I ask you to dedicate yourselves to Him afresh. Make this morning, this service, count. God is present to us through His Word and the sacrament—these are the means of grace—do not lose this opportunity; do not let this time be wasted. Decide that you will live each day for Him, to do His will.
1) When you wake up in the morning, do not allow the things you must do immediately crowd your attention. Instead, pay attention to nature to get yourself grounded, as God’s creature, and lift your heart up to God. Use this time to quiet yourself, and humble yourself before Him, to meditate on His Word and to pray for yourself and others, before you rush into things. This is how Christians need to live. Sometimes we are negligent, but this is a habit that we need to form by committing ourselves to it. Also we should end our day by putting aside all the distractions of the day and turning to God again. This deliberate and habitual turning to God should be like the bookends of our day, the beginning and ending of each day of our life.
2) This will help us work on what takes place between these two ends of the day. We have been given something to do with our lives. Before we meet our Lord and Owner and Master, we need to prepare ourselves so that we are not ashamed when we appear before Him but can enter His kingdom with as little hindrance as possible. Before we come before Him we need to establish our hearts in holiness. This is the work which He has given us to do. So whatever you do during the day, dedicate it to Him and do it with love—love to Him and love to everyone with whom we have to do. Do it for Him, and offer your work up to Him as a prayer, an offering and a sacrifice. Practice this every day.
3) And when you are not working, when you are resting and taking your leisure, do not do it in forgetfulness of Him, as though you could or you would want to put Him aside. Let your recreation and entertainment and rest be in His presence. Let your distraction from work and responsibilities not be a distraction from Him. I do not mean that you should make it an effort to concentrate on Him. Now is the time to rest in His presence, to fall into it, to trust in His realness, His reliability, His solidity, and His unfailing care. These are matters that we establish firmly as the foundation of our being and the background of our thoughts through our morning and evening prayer, and that we now settle on without effort or strain. Faith is not something that we have to try to do. It is there when we let go of trying to hold ourselves up. It is restful.
(If we have to try to believe we might be fooling ourselves. Instead, let us act as if what we believe is true, whether or not we believe it, and let God take care of our believing. This way we don’t have to worry about our faith, which is unhealthy anyway, because it focuses too much of our attention on ourselves instead of on Him. In work or focus is on Him. In leisure we take Him with us and rest in Him.)
Make this Season of Advent work for you. Let Jesus Christ, let His Gospel—through the Holy Spirit—change you. Begin by being here now. Be fully engaged in the worship.