In just a few weeks, churches will be singing Christmas carols, lighting Advent candles, presenting Christmas cantatas and, in a myriad of creative ways, celebrating the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Pastors will seek the Lord for fresh ways to tell the old familiar story – to tell it in a way that gives people hope and perhaps invites non-believers to put their trust in Christ.
“Advent” for the early church was much different than our modern day celebrations. While we celebrate what God did in Bethlehem, the early church looked forward to the return of Christ. It was the promise of His return that gave them hope. They believed that Jesus might come at any moment and they looked at that as good news.
Perhaps it was their circumstances that prompted them to continuously look for the return of our Lord. Facing persecution from Jews, as well as Romans, and becoming refugees as they fled for safety, the prospect of the Lord’s return was truly good news.
I grew up in an era when prophecy conferences were very popular. “End times” experts traveled from church to church with charts attempting to portray their interpretation of prophecies in Daniel and in the Book of Revelation. Every attempt was made to educate the church how to recognize the “signs” preceding the return of Jesus so that we would all be ready.
Perhaps the greatest contribution from those conferences was the reminder that JESUS IS COMING BACK! It has been a long time since I heard a message on the return of Christ. I wonder, have we become so comfortable in this culture that the thought of the return of Jesus doesn’t offer as much hope as it did for the early Church? For most of us in America, life is good. We are content to live our lives comfortably serving Jesus – few, if any, threats because of our faith occur.
Our “HOPE” is for a better tomorrow – better health, better income, better relationships. Our hope is often focused on the comforts of this life and yet Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Our hope becomes the focus of our praying. If I hope for better health, I pray for better health. If I hope for a better standard of living, I pray for a better job or for a raise. If I hope for better relationships, I pray for God to heal the broken places in our lives and in the lives of others.
The early Church had a one-word prayer: Maranatha! It is usually translated, “Lord, Come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22). It was a common word used among early believers because their greatest hope was that Jesus would come and that He would come quickly. John’s words in Revelation 22:20 reflect the desire of his heart: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
His return is still our hope and so we pray with John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”