Advent means “coming,” as in the coming of Jesus.  It is a time of waiting and anticipation.  Do you realize how hard it is to slow down and wait in our culture?  We’re a Netflix generation.  On Friday, Boom!  A whole season of some show drops.  Don’t lie to me—you binge watch the season in a weekend, don’t you?  You probably get impatient waiting 1 minute 30 seconds for a bag of popcorn that used to take 10 or more minutes to make.  We don’t really know how to wait, much less be alone.  Waiting for a friend?  Hop on Instagram or Snapchat someone else.  I’m not picking on you because you’re young.  It’s everyone in our culture.  I mean, my parents live in Southeast Texas.  They know it takes me around 10-11 hours to drive one way to visit them.  Yet my mother calls at least 3 times to find out where we are! . . . And she always sounds disappointed when she hears our progress!  (Only in Abilene?  I hoped you were closer to home by now!)  What did people do before cell phones when loved ones traveled?  Wait!  Anticipate!  Hope!  Pray!

Those words also describe Advent.  It is the time before Christmas where the Church has traditionally paused to remember the coming of Jesus.  It is a time of reflection; a time to imagine ourselves waiting with the Jews for the birth of the long awaited Messiah.  It is also a time to think about our own waiting, to anticipate and hope and pray for the return of Jesus, when he will bring the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.

For the Jews under Roman occupation, however, it wasn’t just waiting with hope.  It was longing for the current situation to end and a new, radically different and wonderful situation to start.  It’s like you feel right now.  You aren’t just looking forward to the holidays.  You are longing for classes to be over, for the weight of finals to be lifted—the days of term papers and projects and hardship and slavery to end!  I still remember the last final exam for my bachelor’s degree.  It was a music history course.  I distinctly remember walking out of the room and down the long hallway.  I sort of imagined a band would be out in the hall playing a triumphant march with maybe some confetti floating down from the ceiling!  The day of liberation was at hand!

That same anticipation you feel for getting past finals to the wondrous freedom of the holidays is similar to the hope and anticipation the Jews felt right before the coming of Jesus.  Their ancient prophets had promised a Messiah would come and bring in the Kingdom of God, yet they had been ruled over by Gentiles for the past six hundred years.  The only momentary break came about two centuries earlier, when Judas Maccabeus and his family led a revolt that resulted in a century of freedom.  But then the Romans arrived, ushering in a time of occupation yet again.  Surely, they asked with the prophet Habakkuk, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (1:2)  Not only were Roman soldiers an ever-present reality, but landowners grew rich at the expense of the poor workers; local rulers grew rich off taxes; and religious leaders sneered at the commoners who didn’t have the time to keep every law and precept because they were too busy trying to eke out a living.  Many hoped and prayed for a coming Messiah, a great king who would rise up to overthrow these wicked oppressors and establish the Kingdom of God with the Jewish nation at its very center.

This coming king—the Messiah—was expected to do two great things: defeat Israel’s enemies and restore true worship to the temple.  The great kings set these two agendas in Israel’s past.  David was the great warrior king who secured the nation from its enemies.  Solomon was the great temple builder.  The two rulers called “greatest” in the Old Testament book of Kings—Hezekiah and Josiah—also defeated Israel’s enemies and restored temple worship.

But something strange and different happened.  The Messiah’s coming wasn’t what the Jews had expected.  Jesus didn’t talk about defeating the Romans.  He told Gentiles they had “great faith” and Jews to pay taxes to Caesar.  He didn’t talk about restoring worship in the temple.  Instead, he acted out a curse on the temple and talked about its coming destruction.  This is part of the reason many Jews of his day didn’t accept him as Messiah and why Jews today don’t follow him.  “He came to his own, but his own rejected him.”  (John 1:11)  It was sort of like the anticipation I told you I felt when I turned in my last final.  The band wasn’t there.  No confetti cannons.  Not even a single party horn.  Just a long empty hall that I walked down . . . alone.

That strange and wonderfully different coming was sort of like my empty hall.  The Word who was with God and was God and through whom all things were made became flesh and dwelt among us.  Yet he lived a life of sorrows.  The legitimacy of his birth was questioned, since Mary was a virgin when she conceived.  Joseph, his earthly father, likely died while he was a teen, so he lived in a single parent home.  His family thought he was out of his mind to challenge the local officials as he did.  His disciples followed him but didn’t really understand his teachings.  The religious and political leaders persecuted him.

Eventually, he was arrested, abandoned, beaten, and put to death on a cross.  If Jesus wasn’t the Messiah the Jews wanted—one who would overthrow the Romans and oppressors and restore true temple worship—then he was worthless to them!  Yet his Father approved of the life he lived and so raised Jesus from the dead.  The First Letter to the Corinthians pictures him as a king reigning over us from heaven until he has defeated our greatest enemies: sin, death, and the grave.  The book of Hebrews tells us Jesus, through his ascension, has entered the true temple, the most holy place—heaven itself—to serve for all time as our high priest.  So Christ followers see that he did what Messiah was supposed to do—defeat our enemies and restore temple worship—but he did it in a way no one foresaw.

This Jesus, who ascended to heaven as both priest and king, will return again one day.  Advent is a time of waiting and watching.  Part of the advent hope is that Jesus will return and make the Lord’s Prayer a reality: That God’s Kingdom shall one day come, that God’s will shall be done on earth just as it currently is done in heaven.  When he comes, Jesus will raise all humans back to life and will serve as our judge.  This is what Christians wait for, long for, hope for during Advent—the coming of our priest, our king, our judge—as this video show.

Again, here is something unexpected.  There is one coming to judge our lives, yet this Judge is one who understands.  Our Lord isn’t a deity who sits way up on high, detached and distant from our pain and suffering.  Instead, Isaiah says, he is a man familiar with suffering.  The writer to the Hebrews tells us that

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. . . .  This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. (5:7-10; 7:1)

Our judge knows what it is to wait, for he learned obedience through it.  He knows our fears and understands our suffering and struggles.  Our king has defeated our greatest enemies—sin, death, and the grave—and offers eternal life through his own blood given as a holy sacrifice.  Not only has he entered heaven itself to serve as our Priest, but here on earth he has built a temple not made by human hands but crafted by the Spirit of God.  Each believer—whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female—is a stone in this one temple that Jesus is building and on which he himself is the cornerstone.

If you do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, my prayer for you this Advent is that you will come to know this man who is God.  You can come up after chapel and speak to me or grab a friend and ask them how to become a Christ follower.  While Advent is a time of waiting, don’t wait any longer to know the gift of God we celebrate this season.

Bow your heads as I read the words of Isaiah for our closing prayer:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!  As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!

For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. (64:1-4)

Thank you, Father, that in Jesus you have acted in ways that we did not expect.  With anticipation and joy we wait for you to bring forth your Kingdom in all of its fullness.  In the name of your Messiah, Jesus, we pray.  Amen!

One thought on “Watching and Waiting (WBU Advent Chapel 2017)

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