…of getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus all those thousands of years ago, but by tradition on this first Sunday in Advent – instead of looking back – we look forward. That’s what we’ve prayed for. That’s the Gospel message we’ve listened to this AM. Jesus uses the picture of a man going on a journey and leaving His servants in charge. The servants know that their master will return, but they don’t know when. So they always need to be ready. As we need to be; keeping alert, in fear and reverence, for the Son of Man’s future arrival among us: "Our glad hosanna’s Prince of Peace, thy welcome shall proclaim!" As John Calvin said: "Servants must hunger after Christ until the dawning of that great day when our Lord will fully manifest the glory of His Kingdom".
Are we hungry for Christ? For the Bible has over 1,800 verses which speak of the inevitability of His coming again. Some people takes this passage to mean that the 2nd Coming is imminent. They identify current events with the various troubles mentioned in the reading and say that we’re in the "last days". Certain religious groups often interpret Biblical prophecy in this way. Many churches grew rapidly in the 1800s fuelled by one speculation after another over the exact day and year when Jesus would return. American preacher William Miller proclaimed in 1844 that the date would be October 22nd. As that AM dawned a sense of fear fell over New England. People gathered on mountaintops and in churches. Normal activities ceased as everyone waited for the rending of the skies. But the day passed uneventfully, Christians grew disillusioned and the unsaved became cynical. June 21st 1982 and September 13th 2007 were also dates used by fundamentalist cult leaders to predict the end times. It’s been going on throughout Christian history and no doubt it will continue always leading to great disappointment, as surely we must take seriously the warning of Jesus that: "No one knows the day or hour. Not even angels, only the Father knows: So be on your guard" (Mk.13:32-33).
We have ears. So, we need to listen and understand that this passage is unfulfilled prophecy (the events it describes will occur), but it also offers pragmatic guidance for the present. That same guidance, from God’s Word, has been offered to every generation. Starting with Jesus’ own disciples who heard this teaching first hand.
Andrew, the patron Saint of Scotland, who is celebrated tomorrow, was no exception. He’d been waiting for the Messiah. He followed John the Baptist thinking first he was the Chosen One. That was until he recognised Jesus as his Saviour. Tradition and legends surround his life. He’s connected with Malta, Romania and Scotland. He was almost certainly martyred for his faith (on a diagonal cross which is the origin, as all good Caledonians know, of the saltaire, the Scottish flag), as the early church was terribly persecuted. To Andrew, post-resurrection – it would have seemed to him that he was definitely living in the "end times". Jesus was going to come back before he died. He used the fig tree as an illustration. He told the disciples that: "This generation would not pass away until all these things had taken place" (13:30). Clearly, Andrew’s generation had died out and he died before Jesus returned. So have subsequent generations which is why, in the text, the word "generation" means, I suggest, the lifespan of the entire human race. It’s therefore applicable for every era of this world’s history however long that still has to run. No one knows the day or hour.
The lesson from the fig tree and the watchful servants, in terms of our present experience, reminds us that we’re not just looking for something to happen, we’re looking for Someone to come! The Advent season should make us more aware of this future prediction. It was John Wesley who said, "The Spirit in the heart of the true believer says with earnest desire, Come, Lord Jesus."
Long ago, the Bible’s prophets, inspired by the Holy Spirit, predicted that God in time, God in man, born of woman, would come. For us today, it’s important to remember that Jesus who has come is also the Jesus who will come, but we can’t predict the future:-
· Thomas Watson the chairman of IBM, in 1943, predicted, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
· Lord Kelvin, president of the Royal Society, said in 1895, "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
· In 1962 Decca Records rejected the Beatles predicting that, "Guitar music was on the way out."
If only they got it right! We can long-range forecast the weather, but we can’t forecast the future. When Andrew heard Jesus say to him, "Come and I will make you a fisher of men" – he didn’t know what that future with Jesus would mean. Despite the highs and the lows, he certainly wouldn’t have predicted it would end with crucifixion; both for his master and for himself. He’d been waiting a long time for the Messiah. Then he arrived. We’ve been waiting a long time for the Son of Man to come again. When will that be? We don’t know. But Jesus promises that He will come again.We should look forward to that glorious time, not just while we’re waiting for Christmas, but every day, because it’s our future hope.
Yet, the Lord does not wait until the end of the world, or even until our death, in order to come for us. He’s on His way to you, to me, to us all, in all circumstances of our lives. We don’t have a distant God sitting on a distant throne waiting for some future time when He will act. He’s ever present and has never left us. Often we’re too caught up with ourselves: being too concerned with our joys and sorrows, our hurts and desires, our failing and achievements. These many loom large for us, but in concentrating on them we may find ourselves, albeit unintentionally, neglecting Jesus Christ who does come in the present, often in unexpected ways; not least in nature, in other people and especially in His written Word.
I always hesitate to ask stop and ask people for directions. I rely on my sat-nav too much perhaps. However, God has given us clear, concise directions that lead us to eternal life. If we listen and believe, God will lead us to our eternal home. The Bible tells us that the way is through Jesus Christ.
We can’t see the future. The way will not always be smooth. We’re sure to encounter bumps, perhaps even go through dark valleys, but ultimately following Christ, who has come in the past and who will come in the future, will lead us home.
Like the fig tree, there will be definite signs of the beginning of the end. Whether they come in our time, or are for future generations, we should keep awake, as we might Jesus saying to us: "Where were you when I arrived? The door was standing wide open, no lights on anywhere. I thought I told you to watch out for me."
So as we begin our Advent journey with hope in our hearts, looking back and looking forward, listen to the Christmas story once again, worship Jesus Christ, praise Him, serve Him and love Him. For only when we do these things we will be true servants, fully prepared, no matter when He comes.
We will meet Jesus. That’s something we can predict. The question is: are we ready?