Mark 13:33 Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.
There are at least 2 ways of hearing this text, for some it is a text of terror – God is coming – He will likely find you unprepared – You will be sent to hell. After all, how can you ever be ready to meet God? How can you ever know if you’ve done enough? How can you know that what you have done will be acceptable, or even sufficient? For those who only know God as judge, this is a text of great terror – it is a text which explains why many people are afraid of death – for they are afraid to meet God – they know their sins – they know what their sins deserve.
If that is what you expect, then to talk of a season of preparation, is to talk of terror – it is like imagining the very worst of the end of the world and hearing that it is coming down the road, and will soon be at your doorstep. There is no way that you can get ready – there is too much to do, and too little time. It is like the foolish virgins, who discover they are short of oil, and going to buy some, return to find they have missed their moment, the door is shut, and they are left outside.
Advent is a time of preparation, on the one hand, we are preparing for Christ’s coming at Christmas, while at the same time we are preparing for His second coming at the end of time. But Advent is not meant to be a time of terror – it is rather a time of hope and expectation – and the reason for this hope is the revelation of God as something more than judge – it is the good news of God bringing salvation, the forgiveness of sins. It is the coming, not of someone we fear – but of someone we love, and long for. Someone worth waiting for.
If someone is coming who loves us, if someone is coming who is bringing us wonderful gifts, if someone is coming who loves us enough to forgive us when we make mistakes – this is good news! This is something worth waiting for. And yet we know that it is hard to wait, how often don’t you hear someone say – I’m just so excited, I can’t wait. In the season of Christmas wish lists and expectations of great things, we know about the waiting, and we know that it seems like time almost stands still, that the day will never arrive. And the goal is to take that energy of anticipation and focus it on God, so that it results in visible signs of our love and devotion.
There are 2 questions, how can we be ready, and how can we wait patiently. The text gives us the answer to both of these questions in the words "puts his servants in charge, each with his work," God has given all something to do – one might call it our chores. If you don’t have time on your hands, because your hands our busy, its a lot easier to be patient. But again this text can be heard in 2 ways. For some it is a text of terror, they wonder if they are doing it right, or doing it well enough to please God. The terror is because they believe that God’s view of them will be determined by their works – they will earn their salvation. And they never know when and if they have done enough. And that is terror.
On the other hand, if God is coming bringing salvation, if the forgiveness of sins is a gift of God, and God provides everything necessary – then our work is not done to earn salvation, but is rather the way we show our thanks to God and is an expression of our love for him [a love which flows out of his love for us]. Then the work we have to do is a gift, it helps us to be patient, it gives us an opportunity to express our thanks, it gives us that focus so that we might always be ready. And we are not afraid, for our sufficiency is not found in the quality of our work, but in the quality of Christ’s work of salvation.