Many Christians this last week attended an Advent service. What does the Advent Season have to do with our work? Everything. This connection is part of the forgotten message of Advent.
The Forgotten Message of Advent May Be the Most Important
The Advent season reminds us of two things:
- To celebrate the Incarnation, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, Christ establishes God’s kingdom here on earth. (Mark 1:15)
- To join with believers throughout the centuries and pray for Christ’s return. The prayer “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20) should be on all of our lips. As Matthew Westerholm writes at Desiring God:
In praying for Christ’s return, believers recognize something quite apparent to God’s own perspective: The current fallen state of the world cannot be redeemed by additional human ingenuity or effort.
Christ’s second return will consummate God’s kingdom, finishing the work he started by making “all things new” and restoring full shalom to the entire creation.
Although this truth is often forgotten in this busy season, it may be the most important. Advent is meant to remind us how to live in this time between the already but not yet, between Christ’s first and second coming.
This reminder is most clearly seen in the three parables given by Jesus to his disciples during the last week of his life here on earth.
How Jesus’s Parables Remind Us of the Forgotten Message of Advent
On Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus entered the temple for the last time and delivered a powerful sermon condemning the Pharisees. As Jesus and the disciples were leaving, one of the disciples commented on the majesty and glory of Herod’s temple. Jesus’s response must have surprised and shocked the disciples:
Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down. (Matt. 24:2)
Troubled by this exchange, a short time later the disciples came to Jesus privately while they were resting on the Mount of Olives and asked him two questions:
“Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3)
Jesus’s response is known as the Olivet Discourse, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. His teaching refers primarily to the future periods of tribulation (including the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) and the second coming of Christ at the end of this current age. In Matthew’s account, Jesus’s extended discourse ends with three parables illustrating how his disciples were to live and work between his first and second coming.
The first parable is the story of the faithful and wise servant (Matt. 24:45-51), which tells us to always be watching for the return of the master. The second is the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), which instructs us to always be ready. The third is the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), which communicates the necessity to always be working while we await our master’s return.
The Importance of Our Work to God
Be watching. Be ready. Be working. You may hear the first two mentioned in a sermon during Advent. You might not hear any mention of the third because we have forgotten the importance of our work to God.
The apostle Paul reminds us of this great truth in I Corinthians 15. After talking at length about Christ’s resurrection during his first coming, Paul turns to a discussion about our resurrection, which takes place after the second coming.
In the last verse, Paul reassures us that the work we do makes a difference because of what Christ has done in the past and will do in the future. Paul writes:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Cor, 15:58)
The “work of the Lord” Paul references is what we are called to do in our families, our churches, our communities, and our vocational jobs. God has blessed his people with resources, gifts, and talents. Our job on earth is to steward and manage those resources to his glory.
What is done in the here and now is still important to God. He gives us these resources so that we can fulfill his call to bring flourishing to his creation. While we cannot perfectly maximize all our resources, we can still use them to the best of our ability in a way that honors God and serves the common good, furthering his kingdom in the here and now.
N.T. Wright develops this theme in his book Surprised by Hope. He writes:
You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange as it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.
We are to live like Jesus is coming back tomorrow. We also have to be willing to wait for him for another thousand years.
We are to be watching while we wait. We are to be ready. We are to be working. This is the forgotten message of Advent.