Our family beagle, Monty, had the same daily routine as my father left for work: he would lay down at the door, throw his head back, and howl mournfully. This would go on for half an hour until he came to the sad realization that my father was gone for the day. When my dad returned each night, Monty would greet him with his saggy wagging tail, often beating us kids to the door. Monty was just a dog, of course, so he could not fully grasp his feelings. Yet he was experiencing an event with which we are all familiar: waiting.
Waiting is often a daily experience for us. We wait for our food to finish cooking, our phones to charge, our water to heat up, and our web pages to load. I could pen a lengthy soliloquy about waiting and its emotional impact, but there is no need. You are intimately familiar with waiting and its emotional effects. Sometimes, however, it feels as if we are waiting for the impossible: world peace, justice to be served, or an end to suffering—global and personal. We long to be free of chronic illness and spiritual uncertainty. We look at our world, the news, our broken relationships with the unshakable sense that something is wrong . . . and we are waiting for the solution. Maybe it’s just a part of growing older, but I’ve felt this acutely over the last few years. It feels as if we are all falling into a collective spiral of anxiety and hopelessness, and our world seems lost beyond redemption.
Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. It is the beginning of the Church’s liturgical calendar and is a time of preparation in which we both look back at Christ’s entrance into the world in flesh and look forward to his return in glory.  Advent epitomizes waiting, but it does so in hope. Advent answers our restlessness by pointing us to the return of Christ, our ultimate hope. During Advent, just as during the rest of life, we feel creation groaning (Rom 8:28), as we are not oblivious to the pains and sorrows of living in a broken world. Yet Advent is also a time for us to call to mind the last words our Savior spoke in the scriptures: “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20 ESV).
The prophets looked forward to the first coming of Christ, as the entirety of the Old Testament shows the need for a greater Savior for Israel and the world. Yet we know that Christ was not the conquering king the Jews had expected; his message was to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17). Christ came into the world, incarnate, fully God and fully man, as Pastor Jake preached this Sunday. After his time on earth, living a full human life and dying for our sins on the cross, Jesus ascended into heaven, where he remains to this day. He promises to be with us always (Matt 28:20), but he also promises to return again (Matt 24:30-31). So we live in this interesting in-between time: we have seen Christ incarnate, but we are also waiting for his return in glory. The second coming is a vital aspect of Christian theology because it is the thing that gives us hope. Advent is a reminder of the time before Jesus came when people struggled against injustice and prayed for deliverance, which arrived in the form of a baby in a manger. Advent is also a reminder that one day Christ will return to us in all his astounding glory to wipe away every tear and rightly judge every injustice and pain.
That’s all well and good, but what do we do in the meantime, in this waiting? My dog Monty could not simply lay at the door all day waiting for my dad to return; he had to eat, go outside, and play with us kids. In the same way, we are still here on Earth, and many of us cannot simply sit around and do nothing while we wait for Christ to come back. Indeed, God does not expect that. Matthew 25 gives us two parables and one glimpse of the final judgment to show us how to live in this waiting period, and I hope you will consider these three in this Advent season.
The first is the parable of ten virgins. Five of the virgins did not take oil for their lamps, and when the bridegroom arrived, they were not ready and were shut out of the wedding. So our first lesson is to be ready for Christ’s arrival. We must not become distracted by this world and allow ourselves to slip into a state of unpreparedness. We need to stay engaged with Christian life and doctrine, which means we are to be praying, reading scripture, attending church, discipling, and doing everything else Christ commands us to do in his Word. We must not disengage or forget the One we serve.
The second parable is about three servants who receive talents (money) from their master before he goes on a journey. Two of the servants use the money to make more, and the third buries it in the ground. The master punishes the third servant for not using his talent wisely. In the same way, in this waiting time, we must use the money and gifts God has given us to advance his kingdom. What has God blessed you with that you can pour back into the world in a way that glorifies him? This season of waiting for Christ’s return is all about using our talents to create more disciples for him so that when he returns, he will reap a great harvest. (In my opinion, utilizing our gifts is best done in a church community where we can build each other up and evangelize together.)
The third story of Matthew 25 is not a parable but a look at Christ’s return. Christ will separate the wicked from the righteous, and to the righteous, he will give a long list of commendations. Matthew writes, “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matt 25:37-40). This is the third thing we must do as we await Christ’s return: we are to bless those around us. We are to feed, clothe, and care for the needy. Yes, we are saved by faith alone, but if we refuse to follow Christ’s commands to care for his people, we are counted among the wicked because we have not followed Jesus as our Lord.
Yes, our world is deeply broken. Yes, there is pain and injustice at every turn. Yes, our hearts long for a rest we can never seem to achieve as we go from one busy week to the next. I believe Advent is one of the best seasons to reflect on Christ and understand that this is not the way it will be forever. We have hope. We are waiting. Christ’s healing is coming, his justice is coming, his peace is coming, his rest is coming. We will dwell with him forever. In the meantime, we have this waiting, this season of Advent. Just as the prophets looked forward to the Messiah, so we look forward to his return. For now, we wait, but we do not wait by sitting in empty rooms. We wait by being prepared at every turn, staying engaged with church and scripture. We wait by using our gifts to build up God’s kingdom, investing our money and our talents in God-glorifying endeavors. We wait by meeting the needs of people in our community. And one day, through our own deaths or his glorious return, we will be with the Lord. Whether in our lifetimes or in many lifetimes to come, he will return to be with his people, just as he did that first Christmas morning.
He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen.Revelation 22:20-21