“Therefore, stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!”– Jesus (Mark 13:35-37, ESV)
Advent is a time not only to remember the first coming of Jesus Christ into the world, but also a time to fix our hope on His future coming in power and great glory. Christian hope in anchored in the past and set on the future. We are a people of hope because Jesus promised he will return to draw history to a close in God’s good time and in God’s good way. As Billy Graham liked to say, “I’ve read the back of the book. Christ wins!” But this hope can never mean we think only of tomorrow and neglect today.
In the fall of 1939, as the clouds of WW2 hung over Europe, C.S. Lewis gave a lecture at Oxford University that he titled “Learning in Wartime.” He might have called it “Contemplating the End of the World.” The young students who came to hear Lewis speak that evening were no doubt worried about the future. Western Civilization itself was threatened by the War that had begun that September when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Many Oxford students wondered if they should even continue their education. There was much speculation among Christians that Hitler may be the “Anti-Christ” spoken of in the Bible, and history may be drawing to a close. Some wondered what good there was in studying literature, engineering, medicine or philosophy when there may not be a future at all. Lewis, a wise Christian who knew the horror of war – he was terribly wounded in the First World War – squarely faced these questions.
Here’s part of what he said to the young students:
“You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether: of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say, ‘No time for that,’ ‘Too late now,’ and ‘Not for me.’ But Nature herself forbids you to share that experience. A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”
Lewis held this attitude toward the future because he had learned it from Jesus. Our Lord promised he would return, but did not want his disciples to live in the future, speculating about the timing of his return and the end of history. Jesus commanded, Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming . . . Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:42,44)
To be awake and ready is not to fixate on the future, but to obey and serve Christ in the here and now. We are to be present tense Christians awake to what God is doing in the world today. We are to “make the most of the time” (Eph. 5:16) and trust the future to the One who has come and will come again. We may as well, because the future is in His hands whether we leave it there or not.
Come, Lord Jesus! By your Holy Spirit, give me grace to hope in your future coming as I serve you today. Give me eyes to see what you are doing in the world today, so that I might serve your Kingdom here and now. Make me a person of hope – one who knows that the future is in your good hands. Reveal yourself to me in your written Word. Amen.