By Mike Glenn, pastor at Brentwood Baptist in Brentwood TN. Mike is one of my favorite pastors I’ve met over the years. His young adult ministry (Kairos) is paradigmatic, and he’s a Cubs fan. He’s the author of The Gospel of Yes and In Real Time.
If you know me at all, you know I’m a sports nut. If it rolls or bounces, I’m going to choose a team and watch every minute of the game. Yet, for as long as I’ve been watching sports, I’ve never been able to figure out what happens to a team in the last few minutes of a game. For some reason, a team or player that has done nothing the entire game will find some kind of secret sauce in the final seconds and BAM! They’ll make the winning play.
It never fails. I get up from my chair and start to turn the television off when out of nowhere, somebody makes a play and sends the game into overtime. Where has this guy and/or team been for the previous three hours? The same receiver who couldn’t catch a cold for the previous three quarters of the game is now making one handed, behind the back catches. The same short stop who went 0 for 4 and left men on base when he took a third strike now hits the winning home run in extra innings. Everybody is celebrating like he’s some kind of hero, but if he had made the clutch hit 2 hours ago, I could be home in bed.
What is so magical about the last few minutes of a ball game the brings us such drama? Nobody really knows. If we could figure out what makes anyone great in a certain moment, we’d figure out how to be great in every moment.
But that’s not how it works, is it? It’s only in those moments when we bear down on the task at hand. We squint our eyes. We tighten our grip and lock our gaze at the challenge before us.
There is something about knowing time is running out that squeezes our attention into a laser focus. Suddenly, there is only the moment before us. Nothing else matters. If we’re going to win, we have to grab victory right now. We’ve heard the two-minute warning.
A lot us live as if God is going to blow a “two-minute” whistle before the return of Christ and at that moment, we’ll turn all of thoughts toward heaven, and slide safely in at the last moment.
Here’s the problem with that thinking. God has already given us the two-minute warning. It’s called Advent. Advent, traditionally the four weeks before Christmas, is the time during the Christian year the church prepares for the coming of Christ. Usually, these are the times for us to reflect on our sinfulness, the darkness of the world and the darkness within us. We have about 28 days to remember how badly we need the light before we finally celebrate the arrival of the Light.
And Jesus is here before we know it.
All of us assume if we had been living in the time of Jesus’ birth, we would have found Him. There would be stories of the shepherds, the wise men and us.
Really? We would have believed a story about a man and his wife, a baby, who we’re told was born from God, and born in Bethlehem to celebrate this Savior’s relationship to King David and all of the promises God made to the shepherd king?
There were a lot of people who saw the star, but only the wise men followed it. There were a lot of people who saw the commotion of worshipping shepherds, but no one believed their message. Think about it. We have the story of the shepherds celebrating all that had been revealed to them, but we don’t have any stories about anybody else believing.
Everyone else missed it. God kept His promises. Jesus was born in the little town where God had promised He would be born. The scholars in Herod’s court knew exactly where to send the wise men, but they didn’t go with them.
A lot of people knew the story. In fact, they knew a lot of the details of the arrival of Jesus. They just didn’t believe.
And neither do we. “Wait a minute, Mike,” you say, “Of course, we believe”. But do we? We have robbed the word “belief” of its power. For most of us, the word simply means “wish” or “think.” We use it in sentences such as, “I believe it may rain today.” Or, “I believe my team will win.”
“To believe” means to “put your weight down.” We know what we believe by where we choose to stand. If we don’t live it, then we don’t believe it. How can I be so bold in saying that?
Because just like the people in the first century, we hear the stories about shepherds and angels, about a star and wise men traveling from far away places, we hear about a young woman and a baby, but like the first people to hear the story, we never go and see for ourselves.
We don’t go to see Jesus. We go to the mall. Soon, we’ll get serious about Jesus, but let us get through the holidays when we’re not so busy.
The first Sunday in Advent is focused on the Second Coming of Jesus. The sobering reminder haunting us in the background is that so many people missed Him when He came the first time and if we’re not careful, we’ll won’t be ready when He comes the second time.
That’s why God gives us Advent. It’s the two-minute warning of life. Pay attention. We don’t have as much time as we think we do.