Keep awake this advent

Published 6:29 pm Sunday, December 4, 2022

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Are you ready? We are moving into the Advent season now. For many churches the world over, Matthew’s gospel brought us in with mention of the second coming of Christ.

Take that in for a second. This year, this first Sunday of Advent was about the second coming. Seems some years when we do things like this we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Then again, maybe there’s a reason for all this. 

What if we trusted, and looked a little more deeply into this odd scripture today before we start distrusting. Because the second coming brings us to expectancy. Advent is about that, you know.

It was hard for me to get to sleep on Christmas Eve when I was young. I know I wasn’t the only child who struggled with that. I’ve mentioned that to you before. The expectancy of Santa kept me wide-eyed. Most of you have been there yourselves, if you’re willing to admit it. 

Then again, there are other things that can keep us awake with expectancy. Leaving on a trip can sometimes make it tough to sleep if you’re excited enough. Having company over for a big event can keep you awake with expectancy and maybe a little anxiety. 

A big day at work that is soon to come can run through your head at night. Anticipating surgery will of course make it a tough night’s sleep for all the understandable reasons. This is what we humans do when we’re waiting for something big.

When we read Matthew 24: 36-44, everything in us might have said, “Hey, let’s get the chronology right. Let’s get Jesus born before the second coming happens.” Let’s at least have an angel visit with a message of good news and calling upon Mary and Joseph’s lives.

Let’s listen to Mary and Elizabeth singing songs of joy. Let’s go with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem before we talk about the Second Coming.” But that is not the way things always go as we build toward Christmas through the movement of the Advent season. 

Many people point to a segment of this to establish dispensationalist and rapture type theories. Yet, here in our scripture it’s actually the blessed person who gets to stay and is found faithful when Jesus arrives. 

Fred Craddock, a sublime preacher, once observed that people who are obsessed with the second coming of Jesus may secretly have been unimpressed with our Lord’s first coming. Then, as now, the healthy message is that we have faithful work to be done while God is working everything else out.

To be clear, the penalty in this scripture is not in being left at all. The point Jesus made was not to get saved so that you wouldn’t get left behind. Of course, the point of Jesus telling this (and other similar parables) was not to establish a rapture-like concept in the first place. His point was for us to be ready, to be found faithful when he returns.

Maybe this is why this text leads us into Advent this year. So much about our faith is summarized with “waiting.” That’s what we do in these weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. But this waiting is not passive or quiet at all. Instead, staying awake and being fruitful is quite active. 

We live in times just now that keep us a little uncertain. Everything and everyone feels a little out of sorts in our world, and in our culture. We have some things that we keep our eyes on because we can’t be sure what’s going to happen. It’s been that way ever since the pandemic came our way. If ever there was a time for hope, now feels like that time! 

People are still looking for a deeper hope and a future for their lives. So Matthew gives us a few glimpses. Only the Father knows the time of the Son’s return. Only the Father knows what that will mean for the rest of time. The Son and Spirit don’t know, and they won’t know until the time comes. 

Odds are, then, that we won’t either. So, we get this story from Jesus that urges us to be ready. This Advent, once again as always, that is solid advice. We are told to stay awake. This is not spiritual insomnia being prescribed. Rather, we live our lives awake to each other. Awake to the most important things in life and awake to what is important to God. 

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.