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Stay Awake! Living Between Two Advents

By Fr. Michael Novotny, Rector of Christ the King Birmingham, on the first Sunday of Advent 2020

We begin here in Advent at the end. We begin with the prophecies about our Lord Jesus Christ’s return, where he will come to judge the living and the dead.

We find ourselves post-resurrection, post-ascension. We find ourselves stuck between two Advents. The first Advent – which we are moving towards in Advent season – is Christmas and the Incarnation. Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning the arrival of the King – He first came in the Incarnation.

But we do not start there… We start at the end, with his second Advent: His coming again.

We live in this tension. For part of the kingdom has already come: It is already here, was established by our Lord Jesus Christ who is bringing the kingdom, but not fully. For we live between the already and the not-yet. The kingdom that is to come, a kingdom that is pointed to in Mark 13.

How are we to live between these two Advents?

Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us a two-word answer to this question:
“Stay awake!”
Or, “Be alert!”

For we have much work to do between these two Advents. We are called to stay awake, to be alert, to be moving and doing for the kingdom of God.

The Second Advent

“And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Mark 13:1-2

Our Lord Jesus Christ is predicting the destruction of the Temple, in AD 70. This is the context to which he is teaching and preaching about his return, and the coming of the Son of Man.

But in those days, after that tribulation, 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.”
Mark 13: 24-25

We see that at the end of all things that we begin with here in Advent – our Lord’s Second Coming, that this earth and heaven will pass away, and a new one will be created.

We also know from Jeremiah chapter 4, that this is also language saying that these kingdoms that exist here and now – these kingdoms and rulers and principalities – will in the end be destroyed, and the light that they feel like they have here and now will grow dim in comparison to the judgment of our Lord when he returns.

Again, how are we to live between these two Advents? We have help to stay awake.

Encouragement from Isaiah

“You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.” – Isaiah 64:5

Brothers and sisters, let us remember our Lord in the kingdom, in the very ways that we live and the works that we do here and now.

Even more beautiful as we move into Isaiah 64, we see in verse 8 this notion that was of old: That the children of God will be counted righteous in his sight, even in the midst of judgment. What a liberating fact for you and me, his grace for us.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.” – Isaiah 64:8

What a hope that in the midst of the judgment to come, that we can stand before the Father in the person of the Son Jesus Christ as being made righteous in his sight.

Encouragement from Paul

Our epistle from 1 Corinthians allows Paul to write the words that you and I are saints before the Father, because we have been brought into fellowship with the Son.

“…to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” – 1 Cor. 1:2

In verse 7 he says, “So that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are being sustained by the Holy Spirit between these two Advents!

Grace to Live in the In-Between

We are being renewed. We are the clay that the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ, is molding and transforming and making into the image of his Son. We are, with our Lord, bringing the kingdom of God here and now. We live between the already of the Incarnation and the not-yet of his return and the judgment. And we have been freed by his grace to live for him here and now. And Advent reminds us of that.

Advent is the dose of reality that we need – a time of dealing with our sin, a time of repenting, a time of movement and sanctification as we await the Incarnation and Christmas.

In the upper room, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, of Holy Communion, because he knew that the Church would be living in the in-between time until he returns, and in need of grace and mercy. He also instituted ordination and the disciples and for the Church to be built – for he knew that the Church would be needed in this in-between time.

As we approach Christmastide and the Incarnation, let us begin at the end – and remember that our Lord Jesus Christ who came is coming again to judge the living and the dead. But you and I by faith and in our baptism, will be made to stand righteous on that day. It’s a day to come: As our Lord says in Mark 13, even the Son of Man knows not the hour, only the Father. So what are we to do?

To stay awake, and to be alert!

“Therefore 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.” — Mark 13: 35-37

Featured Image: ‘Last Judgment’ by Fragkias Kavertzas, ca. 1640-41