Theme(s): Watchfulness // Watching for Jesus // Preparing for the Coming of Jesus // You do not know the day or the hour
To you O Lord I lift up my soul; my God I have put my trust in you; you are my God my Saviour; for you have I waited all the day long (Psalm 25:1,4)
God of hope,
when Christ your Son appears
may he not find us asleep or idle,
but active in his service and ready,
empowered by the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This comment might be best read after reading the comments on the three passages below!
When we look forward in God's purposes to future judgment, the return of Christ, the establishment of the kingdom of God in fullness, all summarised in the phrase "your will be done on earth as in heaven," what kind of picture might form in our minds?
Isaiah 2:1-5 is just such a picture. It is 'The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.' This word is a vision of a glorious future for Judah and Jerusalem, the place where God dwells on earth. In this vision Jerusalem is the place to be, where everyone streams to, eager to meet God, to learn the ways of God in order to walk in his paths. In the context of Israel, ruled by the Law, this part of the vision is of a people (actually, the whole globe) living in harmony and peace.
The vision goes on to include nations themselves. They will not 'learn war any more.' Nothing not to like! But the impact of these words has reverberated through the centuries as nations have struggled to end war and peacemakers have invoked these words in pursuit of a better way.
As a whole vision these verses express a hope for the fulfilment of God's own purpose for creation. Advent is a season for renewing that hope.
This is a Song of Ascent, a psalm sung on the way up to Jerusalem and the Temple. We can understand that readily and see the devotion the psalmist has to the city which he urges us all to pray for.
More challenging could be understanding why this psalm for this first Sunday in Advent. On possibility is to note v. 5: Jerusalem is to be the place where judgment (a great theme of Advent) will take place.
Paul addresses the problem of time in relation to God's plan and does so as though he has just read today's gospel reading! "You know what time it is." Paul understands himself and his readers as nearer in time to the day of the Lord (the return of Christ) than "when we became believers." Although he does not explicitly refer to the day of the Lord, that is the meaning of "the night is far gone, the day is near."
So the passage is a wake up call re readiness for that day, almost literally, "it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep." The specifics of this readiness are to "live honourably as in the day", putting aside the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light. Works of darkness include "reveling and drunkenness ... debauchery and licentiousness ... quarreling and jealousy."
Keeping these items in mind helps us interpret v. 14, "make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" is not (for instance) "make no provision for the hunger pains in your stomach by baking bread." Rather it is about not giving way to the demands of the flesh (the desires of our selfish and self-centred human nature) which are fulfilled through reveling, drunkenness, etc.
What Paul is pressing for is that Christian believers live now the kind of lives we will live 'in the day.' In simple terms, there will be no quarreling in heaven, so let us cease quarreling on earth.
In relation to the gospel challenge below to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man, our readiness includes living holy lives now.
This passage is full of pictures and concludes with a parable (or, if the point is argued, a parable-like illustration). We need to sift the pictures from the reality being forecast by Jesus.
The centre of that future occasion is 'the coming of the Son of Man' (vss. 37, 39 also 42, 44). The pictures painted in words are dramatic, e.g. "two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left."
The warnings given are specific about suddenness of the coming, "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming ... Therefore you also must be ready for the SOn of Man is coming at an unexpected hour" (vss. 42 ...44).
In other words, what is being illustrated by two in a field/one will be taken is the suddenness of the coming of the Son of Man, not necessarily what will actually happen.
The question then is, what is this event of 'coming'? Is it a chronologically future event which still has not happened? Is it an event which was future when Jesus spoke but has now taken place? If we answer Yes to the first question then we watch, wait and keep alert making sure we are ready for the return or Second Coming of Jesus. If we answer Yes to the second question then we have a further question, When was that event? No attempt will be made to work through possible answers here but they include the resurrection (an event of vindication of Jesus, which links with the Danielic vision of the one like a son of man, Daniel 7:13) and Pentecost (a return of sorts of Jesus in the form of the Holy Spirit (of Jesus).) We could also reckon with the possibility that the passage refers to events such as the resurrection and Pentecost as well as the future return of Jesus.
The weakness of the second question and answer (if it is the approach to be taken) is that the fuller context of the passage, the passages before and after it, speak of a time of reckoning, when accounts will be squared and the elect will be gathered together. It is difficult to understand where we find that event in history to date.
So this passage is a brilliant start to the season of Advent when we think of the 'coming' of Jesus. Obviously, commercially-speaking, we can scarcely escape the inevitable consideration of the coming of Jesus, the incarnate Word born a baby in Bethlehem. The gospel invites if not compels us to consider the second coming of Jesus Christ and challenges us to be ready for that coming, including ready to give account for our lives (see further 24:45-51).