"Hurry Up and Wait!"

Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44 

Waiting, Preparing, & Expecting

What I’m about to say may or may not come as a surprise to some of you…  But I’m glad that you’re all sitting down, just in case.  Advent is not the same as Christmas.  Advent is not about shopping, or trees, or lights, or sleigh rides.  In fact, the season of Advent isn’t really even about the birth of a newborn baby King in Bethlehem.  Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, Advent isn’t an extension of the Christmas season, but a season all its own.  The two seasons are related, but they are not the same.

So, what IS Advent?  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which is the translation of the Greek word parousia – which is used throughout the New Testament to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.

Advent is about waiting, preparing, and expecting…  But what we wait for, prepare for, and watch for with a spirit of expectation isn’t that first Christmas morning 2000 years ago, but a different advent altogether – the advent of the return of Christ and the bursting forth of the fullness of God’s Kingdom.

Wait

So, as the Advent season begins, we wait.  We wait, because Christ promised to return to us and finish the transformation of God’s Kingdom that began with the birth of Christ, but which we still long to see fulfilled.  We wait, because we know that something amazing is about to happen.

Waiting patiently isn’t something that comes easy to most of us, and this is particularly evident at this time of the year.  Our lack of patience and our need for immediate gratification is reflected in how our culture celebrates the Advent and Christmas season – beginning earlier and earlier each year.  Halloween decorations weren’t even put away before the Christmas decorations were put out this year. 

At Starbucks, on the morning after Halloween, I literally had to walk past a Jack-O-Lantern on my way to the counter, where I received my drink in a festive red holiday cup.

Our culture tries to tell us that Christmas begins immediately after Halloween, and is in full swing by the end of November.  It’s impossible to get through the Thanksgiving weekend without getting sucked in to the hype about Black Friday sales.  Whether you receive the newspaper and have to weed through all of the ads, or you watch the news and hear about violence breaking out in department store parking lots, or perhaps you even braved the crowds in person.  And we actually hit a consumerism milestone this year – for the first time ever, the Black Friday sales were actually moved up to Thursday evening – some beginning as early as 5 or 6 o’clock on Thanksgiving Day.

I can’t help but wonder if we are the ones trying to tell Jesus to wait until we’re ready for him, rather than us waiting expectantly for Jesus to come.  “Wait, Jesus!  Don’t come too soon!  We’re not done shopping yet, we need a little bit more time!” 

We all seem to be in such a hurry we forget to wait.  We spend so much time and energy preparing our decorations, our letters, and our calendars that we neglect preparing our hearts.  No matter how early we begin, we always seem surprised when Christmas morning arrives.  We get so excited to celebrate a birthday that happened 2000 years ago that we forget that there’s another important day that still awaits us.

Prepare

We are called to wait, but not to stand around and twiddle our thumbs as if we have nothing to do while we wait for the second advent of Christ.  We need to see this waiting as an active verb, rather than a state of inactivity.

There is a phrase that I like that comes from the film industry – “Hurry up and wait.”  It is used to refer to the scenario where the film crew is required to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, each person prepared for the director to call on them to perform their specific role.  If they are actors, they may spend their time running through their lines.  If they are camera operators, they may be scoping out the perfect shot.  They’re waiting – but they’re doing so with focus and purpose.

The same is true for us as we prepare for the return of Christ.  Waiting isn’t done passively, but is something that we actively participate in, and we do it with gusto, and passion, and joy and determination.  We have to be ready, not just waiting for God to do something, but understanding ourselves as a part of God’s ongoing story.  “You should be prepared,” Jesus says, “because the Son of Man will come at a time that you don’t know.”  We may not know the day or the hour, but what we do know is that we are supposed to be prepared.

But how, exactly, does one prepare for Jesus’ return?  We know how to prepare for a birthday party, but it’s more complicated to prepare for a day that we don’t know much about –when it will happen, where it will happen, or even, what exactly it is that is going to happen. 

I think the question of how we prepare is answered in the chapter of Matthew’s gospel that follows today’s reading.  Jesus says:

The king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.[1]

In Matthew’s understanding of the Christian faith, to prepare for the return of Christ “doesn’t mean that we quit the job of being the Church in the world; rather, [being prepared] calls us to take up the job with even more urgency.”[2]

We prepare for Christ to return by doing what he has asked us to do.  We prepare for the Kingdom of God by living, as well as we can, as though it is already here.  We prepare by loving and serving and sharing and being in relationship. 

Expect

While we wait and prepare for the new advent of Christ, we are reminded to do so in a spirit of watchful expectation.  Literally, Jesus tells the disciples, “Stay awake!  You don’t know what day the Lord is coming.”  However you prefer to translate Jesus’ command – Stay awake!  Keep watch!  Pay attention!  Be alert! – he seems to be telling the disciples to be in a constant state of expectation for the presence of Christ to be made known.

It’s time that we reclaim Advent as the time of watchfulness and expectation for all of the ways that God is at work doing new and exciting things in the world.  I think that’s one of the most appealing things about Santa Claus at Christmas – every year, Santa does something new and wonderful in the hearts and homes of children across the world.  We expect it.  We watch for it.  Children stay up late on Christmas Eve looking to the sky in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer.

All the while, we are content with Jesus staying in the manger.  But we are given the gift of expectation – and we are invited not to look up to the sky, but to look to the people and situations all around us and catch a glimpse of the presence of Christ who is already at work in the world, even as we long for the day that is to come.

How might the Advent season be different if we approach it expecting for Christ to be fully and wholly present with us, rather than to simply look forward to commemorating another birthday by giving gifts to your friends and family members who already have more than enough? 

What if we take seriously Jesus’ words – that he is present in every person in our midst who is lonely and hurting and struggling to get by – during this season and every other season?

What if we put less emphasis on decorating our homes and running up our credit card bills, and instead focus on preparing the way for the new advent of Christ in our hearts, our lives, and our world?

What if we truly recognize and participate in the season of Advent?



[1] Matthew 25:34-36 (NRSV)

[2] M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 448.

Comments