Christians around the world are observing the season of Advent. This is not the same as Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation and birth of our Savior. Traditionally, Christmastide begins on December 25 and runs for 12 days (hence the song with the partridge) until Epiphany on January 6. Christmas is a time to celebrate that Jesus has come; Advent is a time to look forward to his coming. So we take time to remember the longing of prophets and saints of the Old Testament for Jesus to come, and we experience afresh our own longing for Christ’s second coming, when he will make all things new.
The thing is, Christians aren’t always all that excited about the thought of Jesus coming back.
There can be a couple of reasons for this. One can be that we don’t want Jesus to interrupt our own plans. There’s something we want to do or achieve, something we are looking forward to more than we are longing for his appearing. We have our own kingdom to build; we don’t want God’s kingdom to come until we’ve finished.
Of course, very often our dreams for life in this world are good and worthwhile, even laudable. We may hope to glorify God and bless our neighbor through our labors, and we may long for our loved ones to come to faith. These are, indeed, godly desires that every Christian should have. The problem comes when we want these things more than we want Jesus. When we would rather Jesus stay away until we’re finished, when we demand that he come when we say it’s time, and not a minute before.
God’s word promises “the crown of righteousness” to those “who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Too often, we tolerate his appearing on certain conditions. Sometimes, we may even dread it. Instead of crying out, “Maranatha!” we plead, “Not yet, Lord!”
Another reason for being less than thrilled about the prospect of Christ’s return is not about our plans for the future, but our regrets about the past. We know that when Christ comes, all secrets will be revealed, and our sins will come to light. And we just can’t bear that thought.
A couple Sundays ago we were talking at church about Christ’s return, and one of my friends voiced this kind of feeling with the statement that he didn’t know how he could look Jesus in the eyes when he comes back. I get where he’s coming from. I have enough trouble with keeping the good opinion of the ordinary people around me – how can I possibly face the Judge and Maker of all things, who sees my heart and knows me better than I know myself?
When we feel that way, we need to remember that we are looking forward to Jesus’ second advent. Jesus didn’t just show up in power to sweep away all sin and unrighteousness in one final judgment. No, before he was to come in glory, Jesus came in humility and in weakness. Before coming to condemn sin, he came to bear it in our place. Before coming as the Judge, he came as one of us, born as a baby and crucified as a man so that we could face judgment unafraid.
Yes, we are sinners. “If you, O Lord, kept a record of iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) But here is “a saying that is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).
God’s judgment should indeed humble us; but if we are in Christ, it shouldn’t frighten us. Least of all should it keep us from longing for the appearing of the Savior who loved us and gave himself for us.
Maybe, in your mind’s eye, you find it hard to look Jesus in the eyes. If that’s so, look him in the hands. What you see there will be enough to assure you that he will never stop loving you, no matter what you have done, as long as you keep on trusting in him. And it should be enough to get you longing to see him face-to-face at last.
“‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
Image credit: Martin Boose, http://www.freeimages.com/photo/christmas-1185912