There is that moment in the early hours of the morning. You’re awakened by something. A sound, or the residue of a dream. You open one, sleepy eye and glance at the clock. It’s only a few minutes before the alarm is set to go off. You glance outside through the window. It’s still dark. The sun has not yet risen, but there are faint colors appearing in the eastern sky. The signs are all there. You don’t have to think too hard about it. The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. It’s time to wake up from sleep and rise.
That moment, right there, between the dawn and the day, is what Advent is all about. The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. It’s time to wake up and get ready to greet the Day. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
Do we have a sense of that? Do we have a sense of the urgency, the anticipation, the expectation? Or have we become as cynical and jaded as the world? Do we greet the coming Day of the Lord with a big yawn and stretch as we roll over and hit the eschatological snooze button (as if there were such a thing!)?
The apostle Peter described the first century attitude in his second letter. And if you listen carefully, it perfectly describes the situation in our day too:
3 First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water, 6 through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
We presume on the future. We assume there will be a tomorrow and the day after. We plan days, weeks, months, even years ahead, as though these were guaranteed. We don’t tend to think in terms of time running out or the Day of Christ being nearer today than yesterday and the day before. We forget, and the world chooses to ignore, that the world as we know, life as we know it, was the work of the Word working through water as the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep and God spoke His Word into the primordial, chaotic waters of the Deep and it was so – light, darkness, sea, dry land, plants, fish, birds, animals, man. All by the Word. And by that same Word all things will be put through the refining fire of which the Flood was a water sneak preview. We wrongly assume, by extrapolation, that because things were the same yesterday and today, they will be the same tomorrow. We act as though the eschatological alarm will never go off, the sun will never rise, the day will never come,and we can just roll over and go back to sleep.
2Pet. 3:8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.
God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. His way of time isn’t our way too. For Him, all things are “now,” “today,” in the present moment, whether yesterday, today, or tomorrow. And so with God there is no difference between a day and a thousand years, because everything is present to Him in the present. We are the ones who experience things one thing after another. And when nothing happens for a long time, we expect nothing will ever happen. When Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon” and then doesn’t show up for two thousand years, we begin to wonder if He’s going to show up at all
And so our minds and hearts drift from things eternal to things temporal, from the things that are to come to the things that are. The urgency of the end times disappears in view of the urgency of the here and now, the troubles of today, the problems at hand.
But God’s slowness is His mercy. He wishes all to repent. He desires that no one would perish. He puts enough signs up to warn the world that time is running short and coming to end. He sets His church on edge, waking it up in the early dawn of the first day of the new creation, to herald the coming Day. You who believe and are baptized are like the early risers, the people who wake up well before sunrise because you know the Day is coming. We are the early morning people, the first to first to greet the dawning day. We know and believe and confess that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will indeed come again in glory.
In fact, you might way that we’ve been practicing all along to greet Him as He comes to us in His Word and with His Body and Blood. We’ve been practicing to say cry out, “Lord, have mercy,” to sing “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” as we greet Christ in our midst. You might say that every Sunday, every Lord’s Day is an anticipation of the Day of the Lord, and while the rest of the world sleeps in and slumbers in false security, the church awakens and rises to greet her Lord and sing His praises knowing that salvation in nearer today than when we first believed.
That’s the kind of urgency that the early church had and that the church throughout the ages has. We live in the dawning day of the new creation. We live in the early morning, like the women who went to the tomb of Jesus to find it empty and to hear the news, “He is risen!” We live going about our daily business with one eye on the horizon, knowing that the “King shall come when morning dawns.” We look forward to that day when God will judge between the nations and bring His eternal peace, when the weapons of wear will be reforged into instruments of agriculture, the the warring of the nations will cease, when lion and lamb will lie down in peace, when the ways of war will be ended and the labor pains of the old creation will give way to the birth of the new. That’s what we live for. That’s why we are spiritually restless. That’s what we long for, and hope for, and watch for.
2Pet. 3:11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! 13 But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
How you see the future shapes how you live the present. Do we live in darkness or in light? As children of the night or of the day? Do you indulge the old sinful flesh in Adam that is passing away or do we walk in the light of Christ as new creations in Christ? Do orgies and drunkenness, immorality and sensuality, quarreling and jealousy? Those are of the darkness, of old Adam, of you the sinner, You 1.0. But you are of the light. You are baptized. You are children of the Day. You are in Christ, and therefore new creations. You have awakened to God before the alarm has gone off on the world. There may be darkness all around you, but you are a child of the Day living in the dawning light of Christ and His resurrection.
End times living, Advent living, is putting off the old and putting on the new. Putting off the old Adam, drowning Him in Baptism, putting to death the lusts and desires of the flesh, and putting on the new man in Christ, learning to walk in the suit of righteousness with which Christ has clothed you. It’s an awkward walk. Old Adam has been given a set of clothing that doesn’t fit him. It pinches and restricts him. It literally kills him to wear it. He would rather live in the darkness than walk in the light. He would rather sleep in than greet the day. He would rather live in his own self-pleasing world than be live under Christ in His kingdom.
That’s why the Christian life is not one of renovation or rehabilitation but of death and resurrection. Daily dying and rising. You can’t fix old Adam. You can only let him die together with His sins and lusts. His days are numbered as the days of this world are numbered. The good news in these dark days of Advent is that there is a light shining in the darkness. It’s the light of Bethlehem’s manger, and Calvary’s cross, and the open, empty tomb, and the glorified ascended Lamb. It’s the light that has shined upon you in your darkness, that has enlightened your heart with faith in Christ, that has awakened you in wee hours of the early morning of the new creation.
The King of kings is drawing near. Once He came in humility, riding a borrowed donkey into a city and a world destined for destruction. He came by way of manger and cross and grave to save the world from its own appointed hour of destruction. He comes by way of Word and Supper to save you from Sin and Death. He is coming soon to judge the world by His own death and resurrection. Time to wake up, watch, pray. Your salvation is nearer now than when you first believed. Your Jesus is near.
In the name of Jesus,