Watch and Pray
“Be always on the watch and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before
the Son of Man.”
- Luke 21:36
Like two sides of the same coin, there are two senses to the season of Advent. The first is a chronological looking backward toward the incarnation of Christ as the moment when “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
This is the more palatable of the two senses of Advent for many of us who call ourselves Christians. For this incarnational sense of Advent serves as a reminder that light came into the world and shone in the darkness, even if the darkness did not understand it (John 1:5). This light, the Word become flesh in the form of the infant Jesus, animates our lives to this day and invites us into the Christmas season with all its joy and warmth and togetherness.
The second sense of Advent, the second coming of Jesus Christ into the world, carries with it the promise of a coming day both “great and dreadful” (Joel 2:31). On this unknown future day the “nations will be in anguish and perplexity” and “men will faint from terror” (Luke 21:25-26) as the heavenly bodies are shaken.
Thus, the second sense of Advent carries a very different feeling and mood than the first. The infant Jesus has become man, has been crucified and resurrected, and now returns to gather to himself his people. For those found to be “in Christ,” the second coming of Jesus will be a great, if even terrifying, day.
The promise of Holy Scripture is that every living creature on the face of the whole earth will experience a single cosmic event in which the Son of Man will return to the earth in “power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). No living creature will be exempt from the second coming of Christ. Therefore, the Holy Scriptures gracefully issue a warning to encourage people to “get right with God” before that great and dreadful day.
Those who are inattentive, ignorant or apathetic toward the Second Coming of Christ risk finding themselves on the wrong side of the great-dreadful equation.
In 1907, the people of Simeuleu, Indonesia suffered the dreadful impact of a major earthquake in the form of a devastating tsunami. Thousands of unsuspecting, unprepared people were killed by the waters of the tsunami.
Those who survived the disaster passed along a warning to future generations through oral history: “Watch the sea after the earthquake. When the water recedes, Smong (or tsunami) follows. Don’t wait a second; just run for your life.”
To this day, a man named Jairman, the head teacher of the Sekolah Menengah Petama School on the island of Simeuleu, includes the “Smong” story in history class so that the message of understanding early warning signs is passed on to future generations.
On March 28, 2005, adherence to the oral history regarding Smong saved the lives of an entire village. After a significant earthquake occurred in the Indian Ocean, the waters surrounding the Simeuleu people receded into the sea sending people running as they shouted “Smong, Smong, Smong.”
“When the water receded,” said Jairman, “I dragged my family to higher ground leaving everything behind us. All the people also ran to the mountain. No one died in my village in this year’s tsunami, but all 40 houses were swept away to the sea.”
The tsunami warning system devised by the Simeuleu people worked; but only for those who took heed of the ancient wisdom contained in their history.
Jesus Christ, as well as several Old Testament prophets, issued similar warnings related to the Second Coming. Jesus said, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the Kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31).
Ignoring the warnings of Jesus and the Prophets is like ignoring the warning of a coming tsunami. Only a fool, or one with a death wish, would knowingly do so.
And so Jesus left his disciples with these 3 exhortations:
1. Be careful how you live. Live your life in a way that will prevent your hearts from being weighed down with “dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life” (Luke 21:34). Otherwise, the “great and dreadful” day of the Lord will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.
2. Watch. Watch for signs of the second coming, both temporally and spiritually. And when these things begin to take place, “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near” (Luke 21:28).
3. Pray. Pray that you may be able to escape the terrors of the day and to stand before the Son of Man.
Ultimately, despite the anxious feelings surrounding the very idea of a final judgement of mankind, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ – the second sense of Advent – is a joyous occasion. Therefore, those who follow after Christ Jesus and are counted amongst his people have no need to fear.
As we watch and pray, we are encouraged to issue prayers and supplications on behalf of an unsuspecting world, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).