Over the past few months, as I have struggled with some health issues I have become re-acquainted with an old military concept I had almost forgotten … “Hurry up and wait.” Even if you are unfamiliar with the phrase, if you have ever had to deal with doctors and hospitals you are well aware of the concept. An early morning rush to the emergency room, only to sit and sit and sit before being admitted. An afternoon appointment that you nearly kill yourself to get to in time, only to find that the doctor is running over an hour behind. An urgent request for tests that don’t get scheduled for weeks or months.
Hurry up and wait. It really is a way of life. Time and time again we find ourselves rushing around for a few minutes just to wait for hours. Given such a state of affairs you would think that some of us would wise up and just take our time. Or better yet, get ready as you are asked and then go do something else until the time comes. It’s a nice thought but it never works that way. You never know when the test will happen or the doctor will be ready. When the time comes you had better be ready to comply, or your spot will be given to the next poor soul who has been waiting just as long as you! Not only do you have to wait, but you have to be watchful and ready. Life waits for no one! Hurry up and Wait.
In a very real sense, we are reminded in the season of Advent, and especially in the text for this morning, that the life of a Christian is also one of “Hurry up and wait.” Be on Guard! Be Alert! Keep watch! Jesus told his disciples. You do not know when that time will come. When Jesus was saying this to the disciples, it was the Tuesday of the Passion Week. Within only a few short days, Jesus would publicly teach and preach in the temple grounds, institute the Lord’s Supper, be taken prisoner, tried, convicted and crucified. He would die and be buried. Then He would come back from the dead and make many appearances before the disciples before he would ascend into heaven.
To put it mildly, Jesus and the disciples were looking at a very busy few days! Isn’t it curious then, that his message to them would be to Wait, Be Alert, and keep watching. And this was a message that He echoed over and over again to those men gathered around him. In Matt. 26:41, two evenings later in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus again said: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.”
With so much that needed to be done, you might think that Jesus would have the disciples focus upon the tasks they needed to carry out to in order to get everything ready for the “Big Event.” Instead, His message is to Watch and Be Alert. He knew that it would be all too easy for the disciples to get caught up and swept away in the events of the day. They were in the midst of the Hurry up, and Jesus was telling them to Wait.
The season of Advent is for many people a very hurried and harried, time of year. It is a time of preparing for the coming Christmas season. There are programs to organize and put on. There are meetings to hold, extra services to plan. There are parties and social events to plan and attend. Presents to buy, extra baking to do, family and friends to visit. This is the time of year rightly called the Christmas rush. For the church it is also the start of a New Year. This is day one. That means there needs to be plans made for the coming year. Projects, and goals, and budgets all need to be prepared. You can easily begin to see how a person can quickly become overwhelmed and swept away.
Does that mean that your Pastor is telling you to drop everything and quit working for God. Boy I sure hope you’re not hearing that! Too many people have taken this approach within the Christian church already. Who knows when Jesus will come to get us? Take it easy for now, we can work later. That’s not what this text is all about. Not at all! In our text Jesus compares our time to that of a man who was going away for an indefinite time. As our text reads: “He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task…” Each of us in God’s kingdom has a job to do. We each have varying gifts and opportunities to serve. For some of us that does mean meetings and budgets, making plans and entertaining.
The problem is that many times these become all encompassing. They take over our lives and narrow our focus from Jesus to the task at hand. Even if that task is just or right or needed, it can still become nothing more than just something else in a long line of ‘somethings’ that needs to be looked at. That’s the danger, when you get right down to it, our Christian life isn’t about what we’re doing or what still needs to be done to get ready for heaven. Listen to the words of Jesus in Luke 21:34: “But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.”
Jesus has promised that he will come again to judge the world and usher in the kingdom of heaven for all believers. This is the day that Jesus is speaking of here and in our text; the Day of Judgement. This promise of Jesus’ coming has been already been a while in the making. It is all too easy to fall out of watchfulness and into the cares of this day and this life. If our Christian lives were about nothing more than what we did or failed to do, we would be in a sorry state come that Day of Judgement.
Our Christian life, however, is not about what we do, but what has already been done in those last hectic days of Jesus ministry. It is good in the season of Advent to stop and look back to the days of Jesus; to prepare for the celebration of his coming to earth in frail human flesh. For it is only because of his being born a man, his growing as a man, his ministry, his great suffering, his death and resurrection; that we have a Christian life and hope in the first place. Not through anything we can do now but through the past actions of Jesus Christ, are we made the children of God. Through the accomplished deeds of Christ we are forgiven of our shortcomings and failures, and are made pure and spotless in God’s eyes! There is certainty in only this because it is already accomplished, the task is complete.
And yet we would be missing out on the full wealth of Advent if we were to only look to the past. Advent is as much about looking to the future. The word Advent means ‘arrival or coming’. In the past we have the certainty of Christ’s completed atonement for us; but in looking to the future we have an equally sure hope of his return as Lord and ruler of Heaven. Because of that which Christ himself has accomplished in the past for us the last day is no longer a threat of judgment and punishment; but rather a time for great joy and hope. Why can we as Christians hope in his Second Coming?
As we are told in the preceding verses of Mark: (13:26) And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. No longer will Christ make himself know in humbleness but in all his divine majesty. Hebrews 9:28 puts it this way: “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” When Christ returns our salvation will be fully realized once and for all. That is the Christian hope in the Second Coming of Christ!
We have seen God working for us in the past and his promises for the future, but what about right now? God has not limited his grace for us to only the past or the future, he is at work in our lives right now while we are watchful and waiting for him. He has given each of us the Holy Spirit. The holy Spirit works in each of us to bring us faith, and to make us holy. In 1Peter 1:5 we are told: “You through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of salvation.” This is faith given us by the Holy Spirit; and which is strengthened through hearing the Gospel and taking part in the Lord’s Supper. Each of these means are ways in which God continues to be with us as we wait and watch for him.
You have been given sure hope in what Christ has done for you in the past, and you have a sure hope of that salvation in the future. But more than that, we can wait and watch for the Lord, because we know that he is with us even now. As we are told in Prov. 5:21: “A man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he watches all his paths.” While we watch for Christ’s return, we ourselves are being watched over!Today, as we begin the first day of a new church year, my call to you is to “hurry up and wait”. Let this be your motto as a Christian in the next twelve months. Continue to serve him in whatever ways you have been gifted and called, but do all of this while being alert and ready for his coming. For he will come again, as surely as he once did, and as surely as he is even now with us.