What Will His Arrival Mean For You?
Text: Mark 13:24-27
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s well known that the same event can mean very different things for different people. A last second, game-winning catch will mean very different things for those cheering for the team that caught it and the team that didn’t. The mass arrival of troops at Normandy on D-Day meant very different things for the French citizens than it did for the German troops occupying the same villages.
So too, when God arrives somewhere, it means very different things for different people. When our Lord was born in Bethlehem, as we’ll soon celebrate, His birth meant something very different for King Herod than it meant for the shepherds. When our Lord comes to us in His Supper, His presence will have different consequences for those who know what they receive and believe it than those who do not know and do not believe. As Scripture teaches us, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why so many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” The Israelites who were consecrated for the task could safely carry the ark of the covenant as they went from place to place during their exodus, but Uzzah, who touched the ark without authorization and without thinking, was struck dead when he came into contact with the presence of the holy God. Whenever our Lord shows up, it means different things for different people.
So when the prophet Isaiah prays in our Old Testament reading, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down…to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence,” he notes that God’s arrival also signals “awesome things that we did not look for…From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” Jesus teaches us in our Gospel reading this morning, “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
For we do have a God who arrives. In fact, this entire season, the season of Advent, is focused on the fact that He shows up. He walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening to talk with Adam and Eve. He showed up to fight for His people by the shores of the Red Sea in the pillar of cloud and fire. He dwelt among His people in the tabernacle and temple. He came to walk our earth in the flesh as He was born in Bethlehem. He still comes to us in His Word, in Baptism, in Holy Communion. He promises to come again, in glory, to judge the living and the dead.
So now, during this season of Advent, so focused on the fact that our God shows up, we must be honest and meditate upon what His arrival means to us. Do Jesus’ words about His coming on the clouds of power and glory fill you with fear? Do the signs that announce His arrival, the shaking of the powers in the heavens, the tribulation, cause you anxiety? Are you hopeful for His return, but not yet—perhaps waiting for something else, some earthly event that you’d rather enjoy before the eternal bliss of the new heavens and new earth? Do you wholeheartedly wait and hope for it, looking forward to it without reservation? The effect that Jesus’ arrival has on us tells us a lot about where our faith, hope, and love is.
If we fear Jesus’ arrival, it reveals what we believe. We believe that He’s a judge, waiting for the opportunity to condemn us. If we’re primarily afraid of the tribulation and signs that accompany His arrival, that’s an indication that we don’t trust Him to carry us through those trials, or that we value our comfort more than the joy that His coming will bring. If we look forward to it, but hope that we get to check some other things off our worldly wish lists first, that teaches us that perhaps we have some First Commandment issues—that we fear, love, or trust something else above God, or at least alongside Him. We would rather have something this world can offer than what our Lord promises, so we prefer Him to hold off on arriving. If we can’t wait for Him to arrive, even knowing that it will mean the end of all we know, but also knowing that He’ll bring beautiful, wonderful things that we can’t even fully imagine, that shows that our faith is in the right place—then we know that our hearts are longing for our eternal homes, rather than this wilderness we’re currently journeying through.
My guess is that it’s a mix of feelings that run through you when you think about your God showing up. That tells us something too. It tells us that we might need a little refocusing. We might need to use this season of Advent to examine what it is that’s holding us back from fully hoping for that day. It teaches us to pray that we would be made ready, that we would put our hearts and wills behind those words we pray so often: “Thy kingdom come.” Most importantly, it teaches us to be forgiven, to ask that our Lord would be first and foremost in our hearts, that through His grace and mercy we would understand that when He is at the head, all other things—all those other good things and people He’s given us to love—that then they too will fall into their right places, treasured as they deserve, but also recognizing the One who gave them as the greatest treasure of all. We use this time of preparation, this season of candles and blue paraments, to be reawakened to the reality that we have a God who doesn’t sit by idle, but who shows up—and shows up to do great and powerful things for the good of His people.
So Jesus tells us this morning: “Stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: stay awake.” Keep your eyes open for Him, be watchful, pray, guard your hearts and minds with His grace, keep His Word on your lips. Keep that flame of faith well-fed, for it’s faith that will determine whether His arrival will mean joy or sorrow for you. It’s the gift of faith He’s already given you that has brought you to these other arrivals of His.
Jesus’ arrival is good news for you. It was good news when He arrived at His birth, so long ago, when He arrived to share your human nature with you and carry your sins to their tomb. It’s good news when He arrived in your life in Baptism, when He shows up truly present in His body and blood here in this sanctuary. It will be good news for you when He comes again at the end of all things, to bring you a wonderful new beginning.
We prepare to meet Him in all His arrivals, in all His advents. We take extra time to encourage one another and hear His Word this season with midweek services. We pray for ourselves and others. We’ve already boldly prayed, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.” We prepare to celebrate that first arrival in the manger, because it leads us to His great arrival at the end, to bring us into eternity, to be with Him forever. In the name of Jesus, the God who shows up. Amen.