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“Advent Waiting” on Matthew 24: 36-44 by Joe Ellis – Nov. 27, First Sunday in Advent 2022

Here we are in Advent. Advent marks a time, a season where we remind ourselves that we are waiting. That’s what the song “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is all about. The song reminds us that we are in a season of waiting. The song places us alongside the ancient people of Israel waiting. Together, we wait with all God’s people, who have waited, yearned, and longed for the Messiah to appear and set all things to right. Our ancestors waited for His first appearance, we wait for Him to return and set things right.

There is a tension inherent in waiting. You may feel this tension in Advent. When Advent arrives, you may share my desire to get on with the singing of all the Christmas classics. To hurry up and sing “Joy to the World,” “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” But traditionally, Christians have not sung these songs during Advent. Instead, we’re invited to practice waiting. We wait to sing the songs about the birth of Christ until Christmas itself arrives. Waiting in this way is a gift.

I don’t typically think of waiting as a gift. Typically, for me waiting is often an enormous drag. That’s why we have a microwave. Life is best when we don’t have to wait — most of us share this sentiment, whether you’re just waiting for a bus, waiting for a package, waiting for someone to pick you up, waiting for school to end, or waiting to start singing classic Christmas carols. The gift in waiting comes when it's finally over and we don’t have to wait anymore.

Not all types of waiting are the same. There are certain kinds of waiting that should never be. A child waits at school for his dad, who forgot about him again. A woman waits for her beloved to return from war, but the letters have stopped coming. A mother waits to hear about the job she so desperately needs, but the days keep passing and the phone is silent. Those sorts of stories of waiting are anything but a gift. Think how different it is for a child to wait for her dad when she knows him to be reliable and dependable. It may be annoying to wait, but what a gift it is to wait for a dad like that. Or to receive a letter from your beloved saying, “The war is over, I’ll be home on the next boat.” If only the boat arrived yesterday, but what a gift it is to wait in expectation for his return. Or when the mom gets news that she got the job, and she’s now waiting for that first day of dignified work. In those moments, what a gift it is to wait. Advent is a time to remember that we are in that second sort of waiting. Our kind of waiting during Advent is nothing but a gift. After all, the Person that we wait for is true. He who is waiting for us at the end of our waiting is dependable, and how good it will be.

Yet waiting is not easy. Waiting is terribly vulnerable — like that child waiting for his dad, like that beloved waiting for the soldier’s return, like that mom waiting for work. Waiting is so vulnerable, because we cannot always see what we wait for. We don’t know if we will finally meet what we wait for in hope. After all, there are forces, powerful forces, utterly beyond our control that move around us. These are what make waiting so scary. Some dads don’t show up, some soldiers don’t return from war, some interviews don’t result in jobs. Markets and politics, wars and sickness, fractured relationships and injuries can make the in-between waiting very vulnerable. Terribly vulnerable. Thus, even if we know that the person at the end of our waiting is faithful, we know that there are all sorts of events that could put an abrupt and disastrous end to our waiting.

The Scripture passage we read this morning took place right in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was speaking to his disciples about this sort of waiting, the vulnerability of waiting. He knew that soon they’d be entering a time of waiting. He was speaking to assure them of two things. First, He spoke to reassure them about what they were waiting for was absolutely certain. They would see it come true. And He spoke to assure them that despite all their vulnerability in waiting — He would guide them through their time of waiting.

The conversation began before we started reading, and it goes on for a while. So, to understand what we read, we need to get a sense of what the conversation was about. The conversation starts at the beginning of Matthew 24, when Jesus began prophesying that one day soon, before that current generation would pass away, the temple of Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed by the Roman Army. This wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It was unthinkable. The Temple was God’s building. Certainly, God wouldn’t let His temple be destroyed. Yet Jesus prophesied that event forty years before it actually happened.

When leaving the temple in Matthew 24:1-2, He pointed to the magnificent buildings of the temple and said, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” The disciples waited till they were with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, and looking back at the temple they asked in v. 3, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” For the rest of the chapter, and really the next number of chapters, Jesus teaches the disciples how they are to wait for this prophecy to unfold.

Jesus does not sugar coat their time of waiting for this to come to pass. All the vulnerabilities we’ve spoken about in waiting Jesus said could not be avoided as they wait for the destruction of the temple. Family strife, economic upheaval, war, bloodshed, famine, corrupt politicians, religious deception — all this Jesus said would saturate the times over the next 40 years leading up to when the temple was finally destroyed by Rome. The climate in which the disciples would wait for this thing to come true would be tumultuous. There is an unknown to their waiting as well. Although Jesus said the temple’s destruction would happen within a generation, He also said in 24:36. that “No one knows the day or the hour.” And then He describes the time will be like “the days of Noah when Judgment came upon the people.” Jesus describes what it will be like when the Roman army descends on Jerusalem in the form of God’s judgment. Jesus says in 24:40-41 “Two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” As the Roman war machine descended on Jerusalem, it happened precisely in that way. Some were left, but many were taken away, captive and killed by the Romans. The climate in which they were waiting would be that volatile. That which they waited for would be more volatile still. All the vulnerabilities of waiting, the disciples had to face head on.

Yet, they are to wait with hope. Their waiting is a gift. Remember, the disciples didn’t only ask when the temple would be destroyed. They also asked what the sign would be of His coming and of the end of the age? Jesus was saying that the destruction of the temple would be the sign they were asking for. Jesus was not just prophesying the temple’s destruction to prove his credentials as a really good fortune teller. When Jesus spoke of the temple’s destruction, He was answering His disciple’s question about what the sign would be of His coming. Jesus said that when the Roman army would march into Jerusalem and burn the temple to the ground, that would be the definitive sign that the old age has concluded. The disciples would witnessed the dawning of the New Era — An era where God’s Kingdom is continually arriving until the great and glorious day when Jesus finally returns and definitively brings His Kingdom to Earth. Jesus was explaining to the disciples that the certain event of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple would be the earthly sign that Jesus, the Son of Man had come before the throne of God in heaven and from God had received all power and authority. When Jesus speaks about His coming in this passage, He is not hear speaking about His return to Earth sometime still in the future. When Jesus speaks of His coming, He is referring to a picture that’s described in the middle of the Old Testament book of Daniel. In Matthew 24, Jesus quotes Daniel at length, saying that the temple’s destruction would be the sign that Daniel’s words have been fulfilled, that “the Son of Man had come with the clouds of heaven.” And where does He come to? Here the Son of Man does not come from heaven to earth in Daniel, rather Daniel 7:14 says, the Son of Man “came to the Ancient One (God) and (the Son of Man) was presented before Him. To him (the Son of Man) was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.”

So, when the disciples ask, what would be the sign of His coming — Jesus answers that the destruction of the Jerusalem temple would be the clear sign on earth that a new reality had unfolded in heaven. A new age had dawned and the old age was passing away. This New Era would dawn precisely when the world itself was seeming to be falling apart in spectacular fashion — at the historical moment where it seemed as though the sun had forgotten how to shine, and even the moon had been blotted out in darkness— followers of Jesus would actually find assurance in the temple’s destruction. For this was the holy sign pointing to the heavenly reality that Jesus of Nazareth had come before the Ancient of Days, and from Him, received everlasting dominion, power and glory, and His Kingdom shall never passed away.

That changes the way the disciples waited for a catastrophe to happen. That changes the way the disciples walked through mayhem. That changes waiting for doom, into waiting for a gift. For followers of Jesus, the mayhem became a sign of Christ’s ultimate power and authority becoming firmly established on earth as it is in Heaven. You see, what we wait for is infinitely more powerful than anything the feeble powers of this earth can accomplish. Christ our King has been enthroned with the Father, He has received all power and authority and dominion. This is as certain as the fact that there is still no Jewish temple in Jerusalem. The temple is gone and Christ is enthroned. He has received all power and authority.

Of course, we are in a different period of waiting. We are waiting for His return, to come from heaven to earth. And like He did with the disciples in that tumultuous time of waiting, He does wait with us. He waits with us in the mayhem, in our fears and uncertainty. As we wait for His coming, we don’t wait alone. He guides us in how to wait.

There were two significant reasons Jesus was telling all this to the disciples — first, as I’ve said, it was so that, as the disciples waited, they would have the assurance that when the temple is destroyed, they would know that the new era had dawned and the Messiah had been enthroned with the Father. The other reason Jesus was telling them was to assure them that He would guide them in their waiting, even as all mayhem is unleashed. At the beginning of this conversation with the disciples, Jesus tells them that He will let them know when it is time for them to leave Jerusalem and escape the danger of the Roman Army. He promises that He would give them a sign, letting them know that it's about to get ugly. Jesus doesn’t let them know what that sign will be, but they’ll know it when they see it. And when they see it, Jesus tells them they will need to flee to the mountains. That’s why Jesus has an urgency throughout this passage. He’s telling them to watch like their life depends on it. At the end of our passage in Matthew 24:43-44. He says, “Stay awake! If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, He would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Jesus is telling the disciples that they must both wait and watch, for He will give them a sign when it was time for them to run for their lives. Tradition has it that the followers of Jesus in that time did watch. They did stay awake. They did see the sign. They did escape Jerusalem before Rome descended upon it and burned it to the ground. Jesus spoke these words of assurance that as they watched and waited, He would look out for them and guide them through. Even though they wouldn’t be able to see Him, He would guide them through the storm just has He guided Noah and his family through the storm so many centuries before.

Jesus said that He would receive all power, dominion and authority from the Father. The sign for the disciples to know this was true was the temple’s destruction. This happened precisely as He said it would. In a strange way, the certainty of the historical moment of the temple’s destruction continues to be a sign of assurance for us as we wait for Jesus’ return. As we wait, despite all the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of life, we know that the One we wait for is certain and true. Jesus will most certainly return to us — on that day He will restore all. He will restore the abandoned child, the grieving widow, the jobless parent, the sick patient. He will restore the countless vulnerabilities that make up our time of waiting. That is what we wait for, and the end of our waiting is as certain as the hard fact that there is no temple in Jerusalem. His promises are trustworthy and true. What a gift it is to wait with total certainty that Christ shall come to Earth, and usher in with shivering finality His glorious Kingdom! Until that day comes, He will help us in our waiting, despite all the vulnerabilities and uncertainties we experience in this life.

Yet, we must keep our eyes on Him. Jesus helped the disciples navigate through the world precisely as it was falling apart — but they kept watch and kept their eyes on Him. So we also must trust that Jesus will help us as we wait and watch as the world unravels around us. As we wait for Him this Advent, with all of our own vulnerabilities, with our own hopes and with our own fears, He will walk with us through our time of waiting — but we must keep watch. We must keep our eyes on Him. He is true. He is faithful. He is good. What a gift it is to wait for Him!


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