Advent Watching - Matthew 24:36-44

A sermon at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Kingston, Ontario, December 2, 2001

by Robert Brow (

Our topic today is Advent Watching. The word advent means coming, and in English it is used of anyone coming for a visit, as in "Aunt Mildred is about to make her advent." In the Bible we use it for the occasions when the Lord comes to intervene among nations or to meet with individual people.

The problem is that the world only hears of two of his comings. Right now in the Christmas season millions of people are celebrating his coming as a little baby. We hear continual songs about shepherds and a manger, mixed in with the jingle bells of Santa coming in his sleigh. And of course a whole generation of children will never know the difference because teachers are not allowed to mention the Lord's name or explain his reign in our schools.

The other coming is the second coming announced by radio and television preachers. Millions of books and videos picture the fate of those who will be left behind when the Lord comes to rapture the true believers.

But the Bible does not say the Lord only comes twice. His first coming was in the Garden of Eden when he wanted Adam and Eve to go out with him for an evening walk. Later in Genesis he came to end the building of the tower of Babel, and he kept coming in all sorts of different ways throughout the Old Testament period.

In the New Testament we are told that "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart who has made him known" (John 1:18). God the Father is never seen, though like a loving parent he is constantly behind the scenes watching over us. God the Holy Spirit is experienced as the one who inspires and empowers us from the depths of our being. But the work of God the Son is to keep coming to intervene in our world.

In some cases the Messiah, Son of God, comes in a visible form, as when he came to take birth among us. But he also came and was actually seen by Abraham. "When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him "I will make my covenant between me and you" (Genesis 17:1). He then appeared again to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1).

He also came to Moses and called to him out of the burning bush (Exodus 3:4). Moses was able to give his reasons why he should not go back to get his people out of bondage. Then the Lord came to visit and redeem the people who were slaves in the Exodus. In the Psalms the Lord kept coming in response to the cries of David and others who were in trouble (e.g. Psalm 3:3-7, 18:6-9, 23:1-4). And the prophets spoke of "Days of the Lord" when he came to intervene in judgment among the nations (e.g. Isaiah 13:6-9, 25:9, 35:4, Jeremiah 46:10, Joel 2:1, 31).

In the New Testament the Lord came to Paul on the Damascus Road (see his own description in Acts 26:16). And when he was in trouble "That night the Lord stood near him and said, 'Keep up your courage!'" (Acts 23:11). Similarly many of you have known the Lord coming to you when you were desperate in the night. He also comes to take us by the hand when we die and says "Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord" (Matthew 25:21).

So it is a terrible insult to imagine the Lord only comes twice. In the Bible he is described as coming many times in the history of one nation. But he comes to all people everywhere. There will be a final coming to roll up our world when his loving purposes are complete. But meanwhile Paul says "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). And his reign is hands on, and very personal, by coming to us again and again.

The other word in our topic today is watching - Advent Watching. "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:42). In our Gospel reading this refers to the need for the early Christians to watch in the period of forty years between the death and resurrection of Jesus in AD 30 and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

The chapter begins with his disciples pointing out the buildings of the temple, and Jesus said "Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down" (Matthew 24:1-2). That happened when the Roman armies came and destroyed the temple and the city of Jerusalem.

Before this happened they were to watch out they were not deceived. There would be false prophets trying to deceive them (24:24).

In Matthew 23 Jesus had warned the Pharisees that they were on a disaster course. "Upon you may come all the righteous blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly all this will come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:35-36). It is important to remember that many Pharisees, including the apostle Paul, were converted in the period after Jesus' resurrection. There were 3000 Jews converted on the Day of Pentecost. And after that "The number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem" (Acts 6:7). But the Pharisees and Sadducee priests who did not listen were decimated in the terrible siege and destruction of the city.

Jesus had warned the believers that the moment they saw the Roman legions arrive, they were to leave. "Those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat" (Matthew 24:16-18). The Jewish historian Josephus recorded the fact that all the Christians in the city left before the siege. Obviously they were watching as the events predicted by Jesus began to unfold. Those who refused to listen were destroyed in the fall of the city. And others who managed to escape joined the Jews scattered in various cities of the Roman empire to face an exile which went on for 1900 years till they returned to their capital city in 1948.

Now we are ready to ask what Advent Watching has to do with us? We also face a world of wars and rumors of wars (as in Matthew 24:6). The first thing is not to get rattled. Often Christians have left their work and gone up to wait for the Lord's coming with some sect on top of a mountain or in a community like Waco. You remember Y2K less than two years ago, when many expected the world to end on January 1, 2000. Jesus said "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the Lord has put in charge of his household . . . blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives" (Matthew 24:45-46).

Secondly we should be watching to see what the Lord is doing in our world. When you read the papers and watch television, don't just go for the sensational and tragic. In every report you will find the Lord is at work intervening in our world. Ask him what he is doing, and what he has in mind. The events in Afghanistan at this time are not just chance events. I suggest you watch out carefully in the next few weeks and months for what the Lord is doing to free women from the terrible oppression they have suffered in many countries. Already in Afghanistan they have been freed from the rules and restrictions of the Taliban. But there is much more to be done in other countries.

After our chapter Jesus went on to tell the parable of the lamp minders. They are often called bridesmaids, but they were friends of the bride who had agreed to provide for the light that would be needed for the wedding. It was at night because people had to work all day, and there was no electricity. Five of the lamp minders were ready for their task because they had sufficient oil for their lamps. Five of them were excluded from the wedding because they had no oil. Here oil is a picture of the Holy Spirit that we need to do our task. The Holy Spirit can help us understand the signs of the times. He can also give us the fruit of the Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit to do our particular task.

The Holy Spirit can also give us prayers according to the mind of the Lord as he keeps coming and intervening in our world. That enables us to watch and pray so we are not left out of the work of his kingdom. We are the Advent Watchers while nobody else seems to see what is happening.

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