“How much longer until it’s Christmas?” When my children were little, they asked this question repeatedly. Although we used a daily Advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas, they still found the waiting excruciating.
We can easily recognize a child’s struggle with waiting, but we might underestimate the challenge it can involve for all of God’s people. Consider, for instance, those who received the message of the prophet Micah, who promised that out of Bethlehem would come a “ruler over Israel” (5:2) who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (v. 4). The initial fulfillment of this prophecy came when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1) —after the people had waited some 700 years. But some of the prophecy’s fulfillment is yet to come. For we wait in hope for the return of Jesus, when all of God’s people will “live securely” and “his greatness will reach the ends of the earth” (v. 4). Then we will rejoice greatly, for our long wait will be over.
Most of us don’t find waiting easy, but we can trust that God will honor His promises to be with us as we wait (28:20). For when Jesus was born in little Bethlehem, He ushered in life in all its fullness (see John 10:10)—life without condemnation. We enjoy His presence with us today while we eagerly wait for His return.
The day before my husband was to return home from a business trip my son said, “Mom! I want Daddy to come home.” I asked him why, expecting him to say something about the presents his daddy usually brings back or that he missed playing ball with him. But with solemn seriousness he answered, “I want him to come back because I love him!”
His answer made me think about our Lord and His promise to come back. “I am coming soon,” Jesus says (Rev. 22:20). I long for His return, but why do I want Him to come back? Is it because I will be in His presence, away from sickness and death? Is it because I am tired of living in a difficult world? Or is it just because when you’ve loved Him so much of your life, when He has shared your tears and your laughter, when He has been more real than anybody else, you want to be with Him forever?
I’m glad my son misses his daddy when he’s away. It would be terrible if he didn’t care at all about his return or if he thought it would interfere with his plans. How do we feel about our Lord’s return? Let us long for that day earnestly and passionately. Let us long for that day passionately, and earnestly say, “Lord, come back! We love You.”
I was sitting with a group of passengers on an airport shuttle heading to our connecting flight when the bus driver was told to "hold in place." It looked like we would miss our flight, and this was more than one passenger could handle. He exploded at the driver, insisting he ignore his orders or "risk the wrath of a lawsuit." Just then an airline employee came dashing up carrying a briefcase. Looking at the angry man, the airline employee triumphantly held up the briefcase. When he had caught his breath, he said, "You left your briefcase. I heard you mention how important your meeting was, and I figured you would need this."
Sometimes I find myself impatient with God, especially about His return. I wonder, What can He be waiting on? The tragedies around us, the suffering of people we love, and even the stresses of daily life all seem bigger than the fixes on the horizon.
Then someone tells their story of having just met Jesus, or I discover God is still at work in the messes. It reminds me of what I learned that day on the shuttle. There are stories and details God knows that I don't. It reminds me to trust Him and to remember that the story isn't about me. It’s about God’s plan to give time to others who don’t yet know His Son (2 Peter 3:9).
One of my favorite scenes in literature occurs when a feisty aunt confronts an evil stepfather over the abuse of her nephew, David Copperfield. This scene takes place in Charles Dickens’ novel named after the main character.
When David Copperfield shows up at his aunt’s house, his stepfather is not far behind. Aunt Betsy Trotwood is not pleased to see the malicious Mr. Murdstone. She recounts a list of offenses and does not let him slither out of his responsibility for each act of cruelty. Her charges are so forceful and truthful that Mr. Murdstone—a normally aggressive person—finally leaves without a word. Through the strength and goodness of Aunt Betsy’s character, David finally receives justice.
There is Someone else who is strong and good, and who will one day right the wrongs in our world. When Jesus returns, He will come down from heaven with a group of powerful angels. He will “give relief to you who are troubled,” and He will not ignore those who have created problems for His children (2 Thess. 1:6-7). Until that day, Jesus wants us to stand firm and have courage. No matter what we endure on earth, we are safe for eternity.
When the great Dutch painter Rembrandt died unexpectedly at age 63, an unfinished painting was found on his easel. It focuses on Simeon’s emotion in holding the baby Jesus when He was brought to the temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after His birth. Yet the background and normal detail remain unfinished. Some art experts believe that Rembrandt knew the end of his life was near and—like Simeon—was ready to “be dismissed” (Luke 2:29).
The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon (v. 25), so it was no coincidence that he was in the temple when Mary and Joseph presented their firstborn son to God. Simeon, who had been looking for the promised Messiah, took the baby in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (vv. 29-32).
Simeon was not longing for the glory days of Israel’s history, but was looking ahead for the promised Messiah, who would come to redeem all nations.
Like Simeon, we can have an expectant, forward look in life because we know that one day we will see the Lord.
My dad was a pastor, and on the first Sunday of each new year he preached about the return of Christ, often quoting from 1 Thessalonians 4. His point was always the same: “This could be the year that Jesus will return. Are you ready to meet Him?” I’ll never forget hearing that sermon at age 6, thinking, If that’s true, I’m not sure I will be among those He’s coming for. I felt certain that my parents would be going to heaven, and I wanted to go too. So, when my dad came home after church, I asked how I could be sure. He opened the Bible, read some verses to me, and talked to me about my need for a Savior. It didn’t take much to convince me of my sins. That day, my dad led me to Christ. I will be forever grateful to him for planting these truths in my heart.
In an increasingly chaotic world, what a hopeful thought that this could be the year Jesus returns. More comforting still is the anticipation that all who trust Him for salvation will be gathered together, relieved from this world’s suffering, sorrow, and fear. Best of all, we’ll be with the Lord forever!
No one can afford the price of war. One website reports 64 nations are currently involved in armed conflicts. When and how will they end? We want peace, but not at the expense of justice.
Jesus was born during a time of “peace,” but it came at the cost of heavy-handed oppression. The Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”) existed only because Rome squashed all dissent.
Seven centuries before that time of relative peace, hostile armies prepared to invade Jerusalem. From the shadow of war, God made a remarkable pronouncement. “On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned,” the prophet declared (Isa. 9:2). “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . . Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” (vv. 6-7). Matthew tells us that Isaiah’s prophecy found fulfillment in the Christ-child (Matt. 1:22-23; see also Isa. 7:14).
We adore the tiny baby in the manger scene. Yet that helpless babe is also the Lord Almighty, “the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Isa. 13:13 nlt). He will one day “reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness” (9:7). Such a regime will be no oppressive Pax Romana. It will be the reign of the Prince of Peace.
Growing up in the 1950s, I often attended the Saturday matinee at a local movie theater. Along with cartoons and a feature film, there was an adventure serial that always ended with the hero or heroine facing an impossible situation. There seemed to be no way out, but each episode concluded with the words “To Be Continued . . . ”
The apostle Paul was no stranger to life-threatening situations. He was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked as he sought to take the good news of Jesus Christ to people. He knew that someday he would die, but he never considered that to be the end of the story. Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Cor. 15:54). The passion of Paul’s life was telling others that Jesus our Savior gave His life on the cross so that through faith in Him we can receive forgiveness for all our sins and have eternal life.
We are not like the movie hero who always escapes certain death. The day will come when our earthly lives will end either by death or Christ’s return. But by God’s grace and mercy, the story of your life and mine is “to be continued.”
The conductor stood on the podium, his eyes scanning the choir and orchestra. The singers arranged the music in their folders, found a comfortable position for standing, and held the folder where they could see the conductor just over the top. Orchestra members positioned their music on the stand, found a comfortable position in their seats, and then sat still. The conductor waited and watched until everyone was ready. Then, with a downbeat of his baton, the sounds of Handel’s “Overture to Messiah” filled the cathedral.