Why We Need Advent

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God an Savior Jesus Christ…” 
Titus 2:11-13

We desperately need a renewed sense of Advent. No. I don’t mean the kind of Advent that is just a countdown to Christmas. Put away your Advent Calendars; those get the whole meaning of Advent backwards. We don’t need to countdown to Christmas, or any more reminders of how many shopping days are left. The world’s got that taken care of.
If you do need help, here’s Toyboy and Santa:

I grew up with this on TV in Wichita. Toyboy was the greatest!

No, what I mean by Advent, and what was originally meant by Advent, was an expectation of the eminent return of Christ. Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth as foretold by Scripture some 2,000 years ago. Advent is the time to refocus our attention on Jesus’ return, as foretold by Scriptures as well.

Christ is coming back! Have you given that much thought today? If we aren’t watching and waiting, if our greatest hope is not the coming again of our Lord and Savior, then do we really know Him? Are we really living in Him? Are we really living for Him?

We need a renewed longing for the return of Christ.

His return is taking time, but rather than absence making the heart grow fonder, it has instead made our heart go wander. Instead of watching and waiting and being prepared for His coming, we have dug in deep roots here and have become entangled in the business and concerns of this madding world. Instead of laying up our treasures in heaven, we have amassed fortunes here on earth, and thus fight and toil to preserve and protect our dynasties from rust and moth and thief (Matthew 6:20). While we tip our hat to the promise of paradise that awaits us, we live as though this life here and now is all that really matters. We think that justice must be swift, and that we must see the results in our lifetime, or the cosmos will be out of balance for generations to come. We continue to put ourselves in the middle of the garden, where God alone belongs, and we think we are fit to reign and rule in His stead.

This is why we need a renewed sense of Advent. We need to be reminded, regularly, that Christ is returning so that we may live accordingly. Perhaps every day should begin with the question, “If Christ were coming tomorrow, what should I do today?” To live each day in faithful obedience, so that when our master returns he will find us as faithful and wise servants (Matthew 24:45-51). We need to be reminded that the treasures of this world are fading, but at God’s right hand are eternal pleasures (Psalm 16:11). We need to be reminded that vengeance and justice are the Lord’s work (Rom 12:19), that the Lord comes with a sword (Isa 66:16; Rev 19:11-16), and He alone will make all things right. We need Advent, to help us lift our eyes to the heavens where we expect his return.

This is why Titus 2:11-13 so perfectly summarizes the Christian life. We begin with the grace of God that has appeared – the birth of Christ, and His life, death, and resurrection – bringing salvation for all people. This is the gospel, the beginning of new life in Christ. Then passage describes the ongoing sanctifying work of Christ in the lives of believers – the training in righteousness, renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions, learning to live self-controlled and upright lives. But then there is the arc of the story, that which is there from the beginning (Gospel) and the middle (training) and through to the very end; namely, Our Blessed Hope in the Appearing of the Glory of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. We are born again into this living hope, the watchful anticipation of His coming glory.

The last words of the book of Revelation remind us of Christ’s promise, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’” And the reply of all the faithful is, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” Until His return, may the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Red Moon Rising

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.
See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”
(Matthew 24:6)

bloodmoonDid you get up to see the lunar eclipse this week?  If you’ve been paying any attention, then no doubt you’ve picked up on the talk about the Tetrad, a series of 4 consecutive total eclipses occurring at approximately six month intervals.  The first total eclipse on April 15, 2014 will be followed by another on Oct. 8, 2014, and another on April 4, 2015, and another on Sept. 28 2015.  Such an occurrence is pretty rare.  According to the NASA website, “During the 21st century, there are 8 sets of tetrads, but this has not always been the case.  During the three hundred year interval from 1600 to 1900, for instance, there were no tetrads at all.”

Coinciding with the beautiful pictures of this rare phenomenon has been a lot of buzz from “End Time” Prophets that the Blood Moon is a sign of the coming apocalypse.  Please remember, when the article begins with “best-selling author and televangelist…” that should say quite a lot about the reliability of what you are about to read.  Keep in mind, Tetrads have happened before, and were probably received with the same caliber of hype and doom-saying from the prophets who profit off fear.

I recently concluded a series of sermons working through Matthew 24-25, never knowing that this whole “tetrad” thing was coming.  Still, I thought, given the current attention of the news, it might be good to offer a quick reminder of the basic premise of Jesus’ teaching about the signs of the end times.

  • Christ is Coming – While it’s easy to get caught up in the signs and mysteries of the end times, the primary purpose of Jesus’ teaching was to remind His disciples that He is indeed coming back.  In each of the gospel accounts, Jesus’ teaching on the “signs of the close of the age” are always found just prior to his betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion.  Jesus is about to be taken away, about to give up His life for us, but He wanted His disciples to know that He would be returning.  Not only would Jesus return, He would return in great glory, to gather His people to Himself (Matt 24:30-31), and to judge the nations (Matt. 25:31-32).
  • Watch for the Signs – Because He is coming, we are instructed to watch and wait for His return, and part of this watching and waiting involves knowing the signs of the age.  Jesus wanted His disciples to be prepared that in advance of His coming, there would be wars, famine, natural disasters, persecution, tribulation, lawlessness, and even a great falling away from within the visible church (Matthew 24:3-14).  All these are but “birth pangs,” signs that something greater is coming.  Therefore, when we hear of wars, when the moon turns red and stars fall from the sky, when there is division within the body of Christ, these things should not cause us to panic, but should serve to remind us that Christ is coming, and we are to be prepared.
  • Do Not Be Deceived – While we are instructed to watch for the signs, we are not to be deceived.  Jesus made it very clear, “See that no one leads you astray… but concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”  It floors me whenever I hear a “preacher” (and I use that term cautiously) say, “THESE ARE THE SIGNS THAT JESUS IS COMING” (aren’t they usually shouting?).  No one knows the day or the hour.  The signs have been happening for centuries.  There were natural disasters in the NT era that made people think they had missed the return of Christ.  There have been wars to end all wars – I remember when the first Gulf War was the sign of the apocalypse – and here we are almost 25 years later.
  • Be Prepared – Rather than becoming preoccupied with end time signs and hoarding up for the apocalypse (remember Y2K, anyone), how should Christians wait for Christ’s return – by being prepared.  We do not know when He will return, so we must assume He will be back at any moment.  The parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats teach us to watch and work – supplying ourselves with the means of grace that have been given (oil for the lamps), putting that grace to work for God’s Kingdom (the talents), and caring for the least of these (sheep and goats) as we would care for Christ.

Ultimately, there is nothing for those who are in Christ to fear.  He is coming for His elect.  The signs may be alarming, disturbing even, but do not be dismayed.  These are signs to remind us that Christ is coming, and before His coming there will be trouble and struggles for His people.  Yet through it all, God is on His throne, He holds all things in His hands, and there is nothing that can separate us from His love for us in Jesus Christ our Lord.