November 27, 2022, 1st Sunday of Advent (Matthew 24:36-44)
by Rev. Dr. Bob Jon
It was October 28, 1992. Both church and society in South Korea were in chaos as some Christians called Da-Mi Mission Group spread a “prophecy” that Jesus was coming back at midnight on October 28, 1992. The idea was based on a novel titled Raptured (1950) by Ernest W. Angely. In 1978, Jang-Lim Lee translated the book from English to Korean and introduced it as a “revelatory novel that predicts the future of the world.” It is said that many Korean Christians abandoned their families, jobs, schools, or even the military to join the movement so that they could be lifted up to heaven at the second coming of Jesus. However, nothing happened at midnight. Furthermore, Lee was found to possess over 2.5 million dollars in his house which he exploited from his followers. What a scandal it was!
Many Christians will gather at the church to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent unless they are traveling to another state for a family reunion or still taking a nap from all the thanksgiving meal. As we enter the season of anticipation and waiting, people might want to hear some good and comfortable news about the Christmas story. However, all three texts for the first Sunday of Advent indicate the second coming of Christ. (Year B – Mark 13:24-37; Year C – Luke 21:25-36) “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world” (Luke 21:25-26). Not exactly a message of hope and positivity.
Advent is a time when the past, present, and future come together. In Introduction to Christian Worship, James F. White describes the season of Advent as “both a time of thanks for the gift of Christ to us in past time and a time for anticipation of his second coming” (69). By recounting how Christ came to this world as a meek baby, we believe that God also meets us where we are today, proclaiming Emmanuel, God is with us. At the same time, remembering and celebrating the birth of Christ also leads to anticipating actively for the second coming of Christ, who comes to establish the new earth, new heaven, and new world (Isaiah 65:17). Therefore, as White again explains, the season of Advent is a time of both “terror and promise” rather than that of “Holly and Jolly.”
As human beings, we are conditioned to be curious. We who follow Christ want to know when the return of Jesus will happen. None of the students would want to go to their class and suddenly hear their teacher says, “We are going to have a quiz today. Your answer will affect your final grade at the end of the semester.” If Jesus is coming soon, we want to be ready. We want to be prepared. However, Jesus says, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36). The essence of the Trinity is love among God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. But even Jesus surrenders his will to that of God, the Father, to the point that he is willing to take the cup for the whole humanity in his sacrificial love for the world. Even Christ does not know the time of when he is coming back. Only God does.
This is the manner in which the coming of Christ will take place. Two men were working in the field. One was taken and the other was left behind. Two women were grinding meal together. Again, one was taken and the other was left. So, Jesus says, “Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (v.42). In The New Interpreter’s Bible, M. Eugene Boring comments that the Gospel of Matthew does not necessarily have rapture in its eschatological understanding. Instead, Boring believes that Matthew presents the eschaton more as revelatory that “the crucified Jesus is already the Christ, ad the persecuted church is already the elect people of God, but the reality is hidden except to eyes of faith” (NIB, 447). Therefore, when Christ comes again, it will be more clear who was preparing for his coming by loving God and their neighbors.
As I think about the whole scandal with Da-Mi Mission Group in the 1990s, the movement already failed in what it believed by predicting the exact time of when Christ was coming. After all, Jesus said that even he did not know. Only God does. But we begin the season of Advent with the reading from Matthew 24 because Christ is coming to us whether we are ready or not. Christ is coming to us, not necessarily because we give up all we have and gather in a remote place, abandoning their calling in the world and holding a sign “Welcome back, Jesus!” Jesus comes to us when we least expect and finds us as we faithfully respond to the redemptive grace of God by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. Christ comes to us because this world needs him, as the whole creation has been groaning together (Romans 8:22).
As we begin our Advent journey with the warning of Jesus’ second coming, John B. Phillips, a Bible translator and Anglican priest, comments, “This is the message of Advent. It is for us to be alert, vigilant and industrious, so that his coming will not be a terror but an overwhelming joy.” (Watch for the Light, 20). While we approach the Advent season with so many things we consider familiar, traditional and comfortable, the writers of each Gospel call us to actively wait for the coming of Christ whose life, death, and resurrection indeed disrupt our peaceful life today and interfere with the way of this world. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).