On Guard and Actively Preparing
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down …
When I was a kid growing up in cold Minnesota winters, I would build snow forts and have snowball fights with friends. Sometimes we ran around the neighborhood and attacked each other. Other times we were stationed as guards, holding down the fort. We stayed in the base, but we didn’t just sit there. We spent our time in preparation, diligently making snowballs in readiness for the next encounter.
Advent is not just about waiting for Christmas. Traditionally, the season of Advent has been a time for the church to prepare for both the first coming and the second coming of Jesus. We remember how Israel anticipated the original coming of the Messiah, and we remember that we still await his return.
Jesus’ words in Luke 21 and parallel passages have often been debated. Many Christians have tried to decipher the signs of Christ’s return, looking to geopolitical events as indicators that the second coming is near. But Jesus is clear. No one knows the day or hour of his return (Matt. 24:36). What is more important is our continued vigilance and readiness.
“Be on guard,” Jesus says. Not only that we don’t miss his coming, but for our own good! “So that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Jesus knows that life is challenging and discouraging. Our own addictions and self-medication only bring despair. He wants to free us from all that. So be on guard. Be alert.
The kingdom of God is near. Theologians describe the kingdom as being both “now” and “not yet.” It has already been inaugurated by the first coming of Jesus, but we still await the fullness of the kingdom at his second coming.
In between, we live like fig trees, already growing, already alive with the power of the kingdom, sprouting with signs of vitality, spreading seeds and bearing fruit. In this season of Advent, we live with anticipation between the comings of Jesus. But it is not a passive waiting. It is an active time of growing and living into all that God has called us to be.
May our waiting be generative. May our lives be refined and our character purified. May God grow in us good fruit, as we become the noble citizens he desires to inhabit his kingdom.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:
During Advent, we anticipate Christmas. What about Christmas are you looking forward to? Some people feel like the weeks leading up to Christmas are a time of distraction rather than preparation. How can you use the time of Advent to prepare your heart for Christmas? What good fruit is God growing in you?
King of All, we anticipate the coming of your kingdom in its fullness. Help us live faithfully in the tension of the now and the not yet, as we pray that your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
READ THE PASSAGE IN CONTEXT:
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
"Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."