Dear Disciples of Jesus,
What do you see when you look toward the future? This is a perfect time to ask the question, “How’s your vision?” Do your eyes grow weary staring down at emails on your computer screen, text messages on your phone, tweets or instant messages from your Facebook account? We are inundated by so many messages and perspectives that our vision becomes impaired and our thoughts confused. We may become distinctly aware that things are not always what they appear to be.
Advent reminds us that our vision depends on where we are looking. This time of anticipation reminds us to look up, for our redemption is near. As we anticipate the impending celebration of Christ’s birth, our Scripture texts focus our attention on the future and Jesus’ return.
“How is your vision” is not just a question about your eyes. It is a question of interpretation. How do you see it? When Jesus describes the many signs that signal his return and the fullness of his reign, what Jesus seems to be getting at is not what we see, but how we see what we see.
Our attitude determines what we allow ourselves to see and what we exclude from our vision. In those passages focused on the “end times,” Jesus is preparing his disciples for the future with all its potential difficulties: those who will come in his name but lead people astray, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, plagues, famines, terrors, persecution, imprisonment, destructive relationships, hatred, days of vengeance. Some might conclude that it is better to keep looking down rather than looking out to see such overwhelming problems.
Preparation deals with our attitude — a way of living, a way of seeing. In aviation, the attitude of the plane is its relationship to the horizon toward which the plane is headed. The attitude is set by the pilot inside the plane. His or her attitude determines how the horizon is approached. The way we live carries us toward the future. This attitude is set by faith.
Today many who look toward the future are overwhelmed by fear, anxiety and depression. Medications are being prescribed and abused at an epidemic rate. Political conflict, terrorism and the threat of nuclear war create even more stress. This way of seeing the world and our future serves to frighten, intimidate and un-nerve people. However, I believe Jesus’ words, as well as the book of Revelation, offer hope in the midst of such difficult circumstances.
Revelation has a rhythm of looking down and up — down at our situation and then up toward the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus proclaimed. There is great danger if we only look in one direction. The people in Noah’s day only looked down. They couldn’t see the storm clouds forming until it was too late. Noah looked up to God, and God directed him to look down, to build the ark and bring in the animals and his family.
Notice how many people are confused about Jesus. They look down, only seeing his humanity but never looking up to acknowledge his divinity. Some think it is better to just wait until they die and then see.
Jesus encourages us to look in a new direction. There is another way of seeing the world and our future that is consistent with the whole of Scripture. The promise of God in Scripture is that his kingdom and rule are drawing near — a rule of mercy, justice and peace. The rule of God is established and assured in the life, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus. Scripture, from beginning to end, bears witness to the fact that God is faithful in fulfilling his promises.
Advent calls us to prepare not just for a holiday but for the future by trusting in God’s promises to us in Jesus. This way of living is not the easy way out. The cross and empty tomb are its symbols. This living involves struggle, since our world often contradicts the vision of God. It means living against the evidence, living in contradiction to the world’s vision of violence, injustice, immorality and broken relationships.
Jesus is telling us that God has a vision, a way of seeing. He has a vision for the future of his creation. His vision is called redemption — the fulfillment of his kingdom of mercy, justice, righteousness and peace, and all people living in a right relationship with Jesus. This future is just as certain as the coming of summer, which is signaled by trees coming out with leaves.
Faithfulness is a way of seeing the future, seeing the world through the vision of God. Faithfulness is looking up in the direction of God. Faithfulness is opening ourselves to God’s vision so that God’s vision becomes our own and shapes our lives. This eternal word of God’s promises will never pass away. This word is a promise of Jesus to fulfill his mission, to make disciples of all nations. Jesus’ life and death give expression to the value of each person and the hope he offers to each precious individual. He gave his life so that we might live forever with him.
Advent invites us to look at where we are headed to understand its meaning. God could have chosen to come in many ways that would confirm his awesome power and destructive capability, but when we look to Bethlehem we see his first appearance in the peace and helplessness of a little baby born in the humble surroundings of a cow stall. Jesus’ words are not meant to bring fear. His love casts out fear. His words are meant to encourage us. It is the assurance of God’s ultimate victory promised to his people fighting under seemingly hopeless odds and against opposition that is relentless. They are honest words about the difficulties of this life. The battle is fierce and long but not hopeless. The enemy is doomed to ultimate destruction and the intervention of Jesus is certain.
Finally, Jesus gives us these words to teach us and challenge us to prepare and to be watchful for his coming again into our midst. Jesus knew that when a crisis is over the common human inclination is to relax, but Jesus calls us to vigilance. He invites us to live with a vision of faith, expecting his coming, to live with anticipation, to live with a proper perspective of what is really important in life. We are not to be so burdened by the concerns and affairs of the world that we forget our faith and our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. We who spend so much time looking down need to look up again!
Advent is a time of visualizing what we cannot yet see. It is believing in a vision for the future with such faith and confidence that it shapes how we live in the present. Advent, in many ways, is like being pregnant. It is about hopeful expectation, waiting, watching and preparing. As with every pregnancy, it requires a substantial change in our lives. It demands a reordering of our priorities. It calls our attention to the details of our lives, what we eat, how we rest. It requires training, exercise and practice for the conclusion of the process. There is no promise that it will be fast and easy. On the contrary, it will be laborious and painful. Without doubt, we know the day will come and we live with that certainty.
As we celebrate Advent, we look up and out to a horizon that is the completion of the redemptive process. Jesus is coming again. We can be certain of that fact. As with the anticipation and preparation for a new member of the family, the child makes a place in the mother’s womb and the entire family has to make a place for the child in their hearts. The best way to prepare during this Advent season is to make sure there is a place in our hearts where Jesus is making his home. Unless he dwells within us we cannot pass on this wondrous gift to others. The genuineness of our Christmas celebration is more than the music or the preaching. It is the witness of our lives in which Christ dwells. This Advent preparation involves each and every one of us.
So may this Advent season be equally filled with a clear vision of Christ’s promises for the future and his presence in our hearts through Word and Sacrament.