Sunday, November 30, 2014

Watching and Waiting - The Great Adventure

 Advent is a time of great adventure.  It’s a time of excitement, yet also a time of waiting.  It’s a festive season that feels like no other time of year.  Along with the church sanctuary, most homes are being decorated, but the real time of celebration is not yet here.  And so we wait.  This is a difficult thing to do—especially for the impatient and the immature.  I remember when I was a child, trying to stay up all night and wait for Santa Claus.  But somehow, no matter how long I waited, no matter how I tried to keep my eyes open, I would always end up waking up with a start on Christmas morning—having missed the nighttime visit of Old Saint Nick.  Jesus tells us to keep watch and wait, to not grow weary but to be alert. 
Advent is a time of adventure.  The word advent means “important arrival.”  During the Advent season, we wait for the important arrival of the Christ child.  We also remember that Christ will come again—and we wait patiently for His return.  The word advent is related to the word adventure.   Adventure means “to risk the loss of something.”[i]  Advent is a time of waiting, but waiting can be tough because it seems like we’re risking loss while we’re waiting.  On the contrary—purposeful waiting, godly waiting, means resting in the knowledge that God will bring His purpose about in the right time.  The adventure of Advent isn’t in striving, but in patiently trusting God.  Advent Calendars and Advent candles help us with this work of waiting.  They help us mark time and remember that God’s Advent will come. 
Some things are worth waiting for, but they definitely need to come at the right time.  Like the birth of my second grandchild a few weeks ago—Jonah was definitely worth the wait!  In the same way, Christmas is worth the wait.  You wouldn’t want it to come prematurely.  If people could decide to have Christmas anytime they wanted, then 25th December wouldn't be as much fun.  It's good to wait and to enjoy things together.
Mark’s thirteenth chapter is all about watching and waiting—not for Christmas to come, but for the greatest adventure of all.  The chapter is called Mark’s Little Apocalypse.  It is divided into two parts.  The first part is Jesus’ answer to one question.  The second is Jesus’ answer to another.  Verses 1-4 (NASB) say:

As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” 

In verses 5-23, Jesus answers the first question, “When this destruction will come?”  His answer brings chills to the spine.  He speaks of false christs, betrayals, wars, and famines.  He tells his followers to flee when they see an abomination in the temple, for the end is near.  That end came about in 70 AD, when Rome destroyed the temple in Jerusalem.  In verses 24-27, Jesus answers the second question, “What will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?”   Matthew 24:3b (NASB) renders these two questions more clearly: “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  Jesus’ first answer is about events that must happen within a generation.  The second answer is about events that will take place at the end of the age.
Many people get hung up on verse 30, which says, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”  The NASB conveniently adds a footnote which points out that the word Jesus used, genea, can also be translated as “race.”  In other words, since Jesus has just finished talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, the fall of the temple, and a threat to God’s people, He wants to assure His disciples that God’s people will not be utterly destroyed.  This verse does not indicate that verses 24-37 must be interpreted as being within a literal generation of Jesus’ prediction.
At the end of the age, Jesus says the sun and moon will be darkened.  Angels will act as reapers, gathering God’s faithful.  The last day, the day of judgment, will be a day of fear for the faithless, but a day of delight for the redeemed.  In verse nine, Jesus says, “Be on your guard.”  In verse thirteen, He commands us to endure.  In verse 23, He says, “Take heed.”  Jesus says in verses 33-37:

33 “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. 34 It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. 35 Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”

            Waiting on God is difficult for me.  It is difficult for us all.  Perhaps you have something happening in your life, where you have to wait for God’s timing.  It seems like the answer never comes, and you get anxious just sitting around waiting.  The summer, 1993 issue Leadership talks about someone who made some bad decisions because he couldn’t deal with boredom.  He showed how difficult it is to just sit and wait:

Several years ago, I heard the story of Larry Walters, a 33-year-old man who decided he wanted to see his neighborhood from a new perspective. He went down to the local army surplus store one morning and bought forty-five used weather balloons. That afternoon he strapped himself into a lawn chair, to which several of his friends tied the now helium-filled balloons. He took along a six-pack of beer, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and a BB gun, figuring he could shoot the balloons one at a time when he was ready to land.
Walters, who assumed the balloons would lift him about 100 feet in the air, was caught off guard when the chair soared more than 11,000 feet into the sky -- smack into the middle of the air traffic pattern at Los Angeles International Airport. Too frightened to shoot any of the balloons, he stayed airborne for more than two hours, forcing the airport to shut down its runways for much of the afternoon, causing long delays in flights from across the country.

Soon after he was safely grounded and cited by the police, reporters asked him three questions:

"Where you scared?"  "Yes."

"Would you do it again?" "No."

"Why did you do it?"  "Because," he said, "you can't just sit there."[ii]    

Sometimes it can be difficult to just sit there and wait on God.  We can become anxious and decide to take matters into our own hands.  Like Larry Walters, we can end up a victim of our own hasty decisions, suspended between this thing and that thing, and at the mercy of any wind that may blow us back and forth.  G. Campbell Morgan advises us to wait.  “Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort.  Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.”  I hope that you’ll learn patience as you watch and wait.        
This Advent season, we wait for the coming of Christmas, the celebration of the advent of the Christ child.  But we also remember Jesus’ instructions to us: that we are to watch and wait for His second coming.  I remember my dad telling me the story of something that happened to him one day as he was driving.  A cloud formation, combined with a trick of the sunlight, looked so amazing that Dad said he had to pull off the road.  He didn’t pull over just to get a better look, but also so that he would be ready in case this was the Rapture.  Of course, it wasn’t the Rapture, but Dad wanted to be prepared if this was the second advent of Christ.  He wanted to be ready for the great adventure.
I’m not saying you need to pull your car over for every cloud formation.  I am saying that during this season of Advent we need to wait for His arrival.  We need to look for His coming in the clouds, in the snowflakes, in the carols carried by the crisp wind.  Seek Him in the manger and in the faces of the children gathered round.   Look for the ways God is appearing in your life.  Be patient.  Keep alert.  Watch and wait.  Seek Him, and you will find Him.  That is the great adventure.

[ii] Leadership, Summer 1993, pp. 35.

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