When you bake, you might set a timer for 30 or 60 minutes. But what if you could set a timer to go off in years or centuries? Well, there’s a website for that. At OnlineStopwatch.com you can set a custom timer. Here’s a screen shot of a timer that I set for December 1st, in the year 3,000. 358,670 days from now.
The end of the church year calendar is its own timer, reminding us this world is not forever. We often live as if our time is indefinite, like the year 3,000. But what if the world's timer was set for 1 year? One week? Two minutes? What if you had that much time left? The point:
This might be over soon.
Jesus came in flesh and humility. He will come again in fullness and finality. He came as an infant. He will come as King. And when he comes he will put away death and the empire of evil.
No more senseless shootings.
No more political power grabs.
No more war, fires, or hurricanes.
The question is “When?” “Jesus, is the clock at 358,000 days? Or is the Last Day tomorrow? Or 2 minutes?”
Jesus, as he often does, flips the question on us. He said, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33).
Notice that he doesn’t answer “when.” Because “when” is not the point. Notice he goes from “when” to “what": “Be on your guard. Stay awake.”
Every moment is an urgent moment before God. Every moment is ripe. Christ is always nearby. There’s always an end at hand. It might be the end of the world or our own personal end of life.
Every moment is “when,” so the focus is “what.” Your Master is near, your King comes. So what will you do? What does it mean to "Stay awake?" A couple of thoughts:
It’s easy to panic when we see a world in desperation. Like whenever a mass shooting occurs. It's easy to despair in negativity and hopelessness.
Whenever an atrocity happens, Christians should be appalled, but not alarmed. Appalled at a violation of God’s good intent. But we should not be alarmed because Jesus said such things will take place. In the context of catastrophic evils, Jesus said, "Do not be alarmed" (Mark 13:7). This is a world infected by sin and it breeds all manner of perversion. Nothing surprises me. It only confirms the severity of sin and evil.
It’s natural to hide, to buffer ourselves from the harsh reality of life. But Jesus told a short story about a man who left his house and property in the hands of his servants. Until his return, "he puts his servants in charge, each with his work . . ." (Mark 13:34). We are not to lock the door and huddle in the corner. We are servants with work to do. This might be over soon. So, stay with your God-given work. Keep at it. Fear not. Don’t panic. Keep going.
In Mark 13, Jesus says “Be on guard” three times (13:9,23,33) and “stay awake” four times (13:33,34,35,37). Watch, look, be focused, be attentive.
It’s easy to be distracted, to be so consumed with the issues of your life that you’re ignorant of the ways of God. Alan Noble, author of Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age, notes that "Technology tends to suck up all our free mental space." Furthermore, the ways of God require attentiveness. Noble says, "the gospel is 'cognitively taxing,' which doesn't mean you have to be intelligent to understand the gospel, but you do need the mental space to reflect."
For ages, Christians have used the season of Advent as an attentiveness to the revelation of God. It is dedicated and set-aside time.
Rituals of the Word expressed in candles and calendars, devotions and song.
Advent begins this Sunday - a "when" to focus on the "what." Christ has come. He will come again. This might be over soon. Watch. Wait. Focus. Be attentive.
(Members of my congregation have published an Advent devotional resource. Check it out. )