What to expect when you’re not expecting Christ’s return
Advent means “coming.” It’s a time for us to celebrate the first coming of Christ, but also to anticipate his return.
When we sing, “O come, o come, Emmanuel / To ransom captive Israel,” we’re not just taking a sentimental journey back in time; we’re reminding each other of God’s faithfulness in the past, and we’re expressing our own longing for Jesus to come back and put an end to injustice, hatred, sin and fear.
Jesus repeatedly told his followers to watch and pray for his return. The season of Advent should have been an opportunity for us to reorient our thinking and to corporately express our fervent hope in the second coming of Christ. Our Lord wants us to be an expectant people.
But what if we didn’t? What it we’re not an expectant people? What if we live as if this present world order will go on forever? What if we ignore the lessons of Advent? What can we expect when we’re no longer expecting God to reconcile all things to himself and create a new heaven and a new earth, wherein all righteousness dwells?
1. No passion for evangelism or mission
Regardless of what our church “statement of faith” says, if we practically live as if this present world will roll on forever, why work for the kingdom?
“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” (John 4:35-36)
2. ‘Your best life now’ heresies
Many nominal Christians reduce Christianity to a set of healthy, rational principles for feeling good about yourself, staying in shape, balancing your checkbook and doing good deeds.
Why not? If this life is all there is, we may as well make ourselves comfortable.
“What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, ’Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (1 Cor 15:32)
3. Dangerous church leadership
When churches finally become hardened enough to the truth of Christ’s return, they lay the groundwork for wolves to enter, dressed as sheep.
“And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.’ But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.” (Luke 12:42-46)
So our proposal: skip “Christmas season” this year
Or better yet, celebrate the birth of Christ when our Church fathers intended, during the 12 days between Christmas Day and Epiphany. But first, let Advent be Advent. In doing so, your Christmas celebration will be even more joyous.
While “Christmas season” is often marked by greed, gluttony and (if you’re lucky) a few warm fuzzy feelings as you stand under the mistletoe or drink hot cocoa by the fire, Advent stirs our hearts for the return of the King.
We acknowledge the already/not yet tension that Christ has come, and that Christ will come again – that he is the one “who is and who was and who is to come” spoken of in Revelation 1:8. We reenact the yearning of those Old Testament saints who longed to see Messiah. And in doing so, we let the Spirit of God stir our hearts in anticipation of our own deliverance, and Christ’s promise (Rev 21:5) to make all things new.