To look at this on a Sunday is one instance where delving more deeply into the lectionary makes sense. There are three passages suggested for the day that speak of events from three different sides.
In Jeremiah 33: 14-16 we see the events in relation to the promises of God. I understand that Jeremiah is speaking of the Christmas story, but Advent is a strange time of year. It is difficult to speak of Christmas morning without thinking of the day of his return. What Jeremiah reminds us is when that day comes, however bad or frightening things may get, the one we are waiting for is the one God promised to us all. He is the Lord, our salvation so we need not be afraid.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 3: 9-13) from a slightly different perspective. He was concerned to suggest what we should be doing while we wait. Quite the opposite of Jeremiah, he was talking about the return of Christ, not his birth in the manger. He told the Thessalonians their faith needed to be strengthened and built up, and in particular they needed to increase in love “for each other and for everyone.” This is not a bad idea: That we strengthen our hearts, allow God to strengthen them so we can be blameless and holy when he comes.
So we have Jeremiah reminding us that Jesus, when he comes, is God’s promise of salvation, not condemnation. And then the Apostle Paul says we ought to be working on love in particular while we wait. But then we come to the words of Jesus. And they can be hard words to hear; because Jesus tells us what those days will be like before he comes, and they will not be easy days. No one ever said it was going to be easy.
Jesus said there will be signs in the heavens and in nature – in the roaring of the seas. He said the nations will be upset and confused and the people will be in fear – faint from terror – because of what is coming. But then he echoes Jeremiah. Don’t let us be afraid or confused or upset. Rather, let us stand and lift our heads because it is our salvation drawing near. It is the one who was born in the manger come to save his own.
So look for the signs in the heavens and in the earth, because once they manifest, the generation alive at that point will still be alive when all is fulfilled.
Then Jesus echoes Paul in making suggestions for us. He tells us to watch, watch for the signs, yes, and also to pray that we may escape all that is about to happen. And what will happen? Heaven and earth will pass away. That is about as bad as it can get. Heaven and earth will be destroyed and vanish from existence and only the words of Jesus – the Word of God will remain.
Watch and pray, he said. Do not be a carouser – one who is always out looking for fun and excitement and not otherwise paying much attention to life. Do not be drunk – and people can get drunk and see life in a distorted way because of lots of things, like power, money, status, not just alcohol. And, my favorite, do not let the anxieties of life weigh you down and take all your attention. Instead, he said watch and pray. That isn’t much to ask. Watch and pray.
Advent is a time of preparation. It is when we get ready to celebrate the birth in the manger. And it is a good thing to celebrate – to remember his coming, as long as we keep our carousing, drunkenness and anxieties about the season in check. But then I believe it is also a good time to remember that while we celebrate the past, we also need to look to the future. Christ is coming again.
I know Jesus is my savior, I will not be afraid not matter what happens. I am working on strengthening my faith. I am working on love. And I am also spending some time watching and praying because I understand he may come sooner than we think. I believe the liturgy when we say, Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.