“Watching for Christmas”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1-8
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

When both my sons were in high school, we attended more basketball games than I could count. Even at that, I remember one game when, as is often the case, five players on one of the teams played most of the game. A few of the reserves were occasionally swapped in and out with the regulars, but others only warmed the bench. Near the conclusion of the contest, the coach called for a young fellow at the end of the line. Startled, but seemingly ready, he ran to the coach, then to the scorer’s table, then on to the floor in exchange for another player.

Suddenly, just as the game was about to get under way again, he ran back to the bench to ask his counterpart which man he had been guarding. The answer surprised him: “We’re playing a zone!” The coach added, “We’ve been playing zone defense all night.” The young benchwarmer had spent his time waiting but apparently not watching. The “subs,” as they are called in most team sports, must watch and be ready if they are to make a significant contribution when their opportunity comes.

In the Gospel Lesson for Sunday, Jesus emphasizes the importance of watching for His return. The season of Advent begins Sunday. It is a time to watch for Jesus’ coming, to anticipate both the celebration of His birth and His return in glory. Extra worship services and other activities in Advent can add to the anticipation. Rather than just waiting, we actively watch. I watch especially for the wonder of Christmas — not a date on the calendar, but the Spirit-filled moments associated with Christ’s coming.

This invitation is engraved above the entrance to a nursing home in Illinois:

Come in the evening,
Come in the morning,
Come when expected,
Or come without warning . . . But come!

If you have visited a convalescent home, you know that this plea is serious. Some patients make friends among their fellow-sufferers and some among the staff, but many spend day after day craving a visit from family or friends to take the edge off their loneliness. All the patients seem to wait for someone to come along, but they become animated when they are expecting someone who has promised to come. They look out the windows and doors, and walk the halls with a newfound briskness in their step. All this anticipation bubbles up and over into joy when the watched-for-one finally arrives.

Three devils got together one day to compare techniques. The first one said, “I tell people that there is no God, but it doesn’t work. People are too smart for that. They look around and they see how intricate and marvelous the universe is, and they know that there is a God.” The second one said, “I tell them there is a God, but that the Bible is not from heaven. People are too smart for that too. They look into the Bible and see how wise and holy and helpful it is, and they know that it comes from heaven.” The third one says, “I have a better system. I tell people that there is a God and that the Bible does come from heaven. Then I say, “But what’s the rush? Sit back, relax; you can do it tomorrow. And that works.”

Jesus likens the coming of the Day of the Lord to a man returning from a long trip. Before he left, the man put his servants in charge, assigning each a task. He told the one at the door to keep watch. Jesus went on to say, “Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back — whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!'”

What is your assignment while you wait and watch? What does the Master expect you to be doing? As you watch for Him, are you also pointing others to Him? Can we know the Good News of Jesus without telling the Good News of Jesus? Jesus has left us in charge of His mission. This is no time for sleeping!

It is important that we also know for what or for whom we are watching. It is very easy at this time of the year to watch out and be prepared for the cultural, familial, social, but not spiritual event. An old fable, reportedly from Denmark (perhaps an earlier Feddersen), illustrates concentrating on what is below and losing sight of what comes from above. A spider once slid down a single filament of web from the lofty rafters of a barn and established himself on a lower level. There he spread a marvelous web, caught flies and prospered greatly. One day, wandering about his property, he saw a thread stretching up to who- knows-where. “What is that for?” he said, and snapped it. His entire web collapsed. Teaching ourselves as well as our children to watch for Jesus rather than just wait for Santa is one way to stay tied to the power from above.

The musical play Zorba is known for Zorba’s zest for life — a healthy, hot-blooded enthusiasm for being alive. Yet, it contains some remarkable gentleness. Whether the lines are touchy or touching, they are well written. One powerful scene illustrates watching for Christmas. The life-loving Greek, Zorba, and his English boss are engaged in a mining enterprise on an island in the Aegean Sea. They have been living in an inn on the island. The woman who operates the inn becomes ill and is dying. As she approaches death, she anticipates a visit from her two friends, Zorba and the Englishman. She watches the door of her sickroom, confident that they will come.

When they finally arrive and stand by her bed, the boss searches for something to say. In an attempt to be cheerful he encourages her to think about getting well. Zorba turns to his boss and challenges him: “Tell her the truth, boss.” After scarcely a moment’s reflection, the boss takes the woman’s hand and says gently, “We have come to be with you because we love you.”

Advent is the time when we, in our needful condition, watch for the Lord to come to us. Sadly, for many who are, like the spider, caught up in the daily routine of catching flies and have forgotten their ties to the Unseen above, His coming will be unnoticed. For those of us who watch, His coming will reveal the wonderful message: “I have come to be with you because I love you.”

We often think of Christ’s suffering and death as the supreme expression of God’s love for us. If we think about His love for us in the setting of Christmas, we usually think of God giving us His Son. I have even read, “He cared enough to send His very best.” But I think the greatness of His love is demonstrated by what Christ left behind in order to come to be with us.

The contrast between heavenly habitations and a barn in Bethlehem is one thing, but the contrast between the care of His perfect, heavenly Father and that of sinful humans is mind-boggling. Then there is the contrast between being almighty and totally independent, and being “mightless” and totally dependent. There is no doubt that we see His love in giving His life for us, but He expresses that love just as clearly by what He gave up to come to us in the first place. The message of the Christ who came and the Christ who will come again is: “I have come to be with you because I love you.”

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