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The season is now upon us. The process has now begun. The countdown has started. It is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent literally means, coming or arrival. It could also be defined as ‘arrival that has been awaited.’ We are in a season of waiting for the coming arrival of the God Man into the world. We are in a time of preparation and hurry up and wait. 26 days from now we will awake to find presents under the tree, food cooking in the oven, and people excited to celebrate that the day is finally here. But that is 26 days away. It isn’t right now. So we wait.
This waiting stuff is so hard and it kills most of us. In the second week of October Alycia and I went to K-Mart to attempt to find a Halloween costume for Dean. What we found was a person putting together the Christmas displays. Two and a half weeks ago we were driving back from Winston-Salem and low and behold, someone on 109 had put out their Christmas lights already. Those radio stations have already started to play the Christmas music. If you squint just right, some might think Christmas is already here.
Christmas is comfortable to us and we love to bask in its glow. The longer we do it the happier we seem to be. We love the image of the babe in the manger. We are like Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell’s movie character in Talladega Nights, who prefers to pray to the baby Jesus. While saying grace before dinner he prays, “Dear 8lb, 6oz, newborn, infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant and cuddly, but still omnipotent.” Although this is irreverent humor, there is truth in it. We love the baby Jesus and we hurry his arrival to suit our desires to be with him longer. We love to feel the presence of the newborn King, and so we hurry his arrival by starting Christmas in October.
Mark’s gospel is about the second coming of Christ, something we talked about a couple of weeks ago. We always start off the season of Advent talking about Christ’s Second Advent. We do because we remind ourselves that there is something we are waiting for beyond celebrating the Christ Child. We start off the Christian year reminding ourselves that soon, Christ will come again. Mark’s Gospel tells us to be on our guard, be alert, to watch, because you never know the day or the hour.
Being alert or on your guard for something that you know is coming but you don’t know when is horrible. It is painful and difficult. It is like waiting on the cable guy to show up at your house. You don’t know the hour of their arrival but you have to give up half of your day to be at your house and wait. They lady told you that they would be there any time from 1-5. So you wait, and wait, and wait. At 6:30 they finally show up and the waiting is over. Until they come though you feel trapped and paralyzed. You can’t leave because they might show up while you are gone. So all you do is wait.
That is what we are to do. We are to wait on Christ; we are to wait on Christmas. Yet, we live in an impatient society and so although Christmas is 26 days away, we want to speed things up. This is true in the stores we visit who start cramming Christmas down our throats in October and it is true in our hearts, we aren’t good waiters. I told the Worship Team I was going to use this as a sermon illustration and I am a man of my word. We sat in the fellowship hall in the beginning of November and we started to plan out the worship services for Advent. I’m not going to name names, but there were some people, okay the majority of people who wanted to sing Christmas songs this week and sing them every Sunday between now and Christmas. I tried to explain to them that Advent is a season of preparation and we have to wait for the Christ child to be born before we can sing about it. Each week they wanted to sing more Christmas songs and I fought them hard on the first couple of weeks but eventually gave in as we got closer.
We don’t do this in Lent. We don’t have a problem taking our time and letting Easter come, unless you gave something up that is really hard for you to give up during that time. But it would be silly for us to start to sing resurrection songs on the first Sunday of Lent, because the preparation has just begun. The same is true for Advent. We need to sing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, or Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus before we can sing Away in a Manger or The First Noel. But society around is singing them, why can’t we?
We can’t because we as Christians need to be comfortable in the now and the not yet, the in-between times. We celebrate Christmas because Christ came to earth but we are also waiting for his second coming. Christ has already come, Christmas just celebrates his birthday. But he promises he will come again. And so we wait. We wait for “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” And when they do, good times, good times will be upon us.
Until that time we wait patiently. But there are different types of waiting. There is passive waiting and there is active waiting. It is the difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ. We know Christmas will come, obviously, in 26 days we will celebrate and we know what that day will look like. We passively wait for the time to come and we find joy in the traditions that happen between now and then. Yet, waiting on Christ is different. We are told to be alert and to be on our guard. We don’t know the day or hour, so we actively wait for his return, ready at every moment. But we don’t know when he will come.
It is like a hunter. I know the hunters of this church passively wait for the season to start. They are chomping at the bit for bow season to hit. September 13th couldn’t come fast enough, but it came. Hunters found it taxing to wait for it to begin but it began, it always does. Yet once the season is upon us they have no problem hiding in their blinds for hours upon end waiting for the right deer to come. During the season the waiting is a joyous time, full of actions, planning, preparation, and anticipation. There is fun in that type of waiting.
That is the different between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ. We passively wait for Christmas, counting down the days and being as eager as children for the Christmas day to arrive. We actively wait on Christ to return though. We are busy doing God’s work before his return. We stay alert by loving God through worship and loving our neighbor by serving them. Then when he does come we are ready because we have been doing his work.
Christmas reminds us that Jesus has already come. He has already set up the means by which we can have a relationship with God. But then again the work is not done because there will be a time when heaven and earth will become one. There is a time that is coming in which the lion will lie down with the lamb. There is a time when everything we know will be changed for the better and we will commune with God again. Until that time comes, we wait.