From Action in Waiting
It is Advent again. We call this time Advent because it reminds us of what comes from God for the creation of his kingdom on Earth. We who are here have been led in a special way to keep what is coming on our hearts and to shape ourselves according to it. That which comes from God – that is what moves our hearts, not only in these days but at all times. That which is to come from God is the most important thing we have, in the past and in the present as well as in the future. It is only in God’s coming that even the Bible itself has value to us, let alone all the other things we call “means of grace.” Unless what comes from God is a part of it, it remains like a dead seed and does not achieve what must be achieved if God’s Kingdom is to be.
There are many today who sigh to Heaven, “Savior, come now!” But they are not sighing for the sake of God’s Kingdom. They cry out like this only when they are in trouble and want God to help them. And they don’t know of any help that is more effective than to have a savior come and put a quick end to their troubles.
When it comes to the things of God, however, we must not be concerned for what is ours, but only for what belongs to Christ. We should do this not merely for our own edification; we must become workers for God. This leads us to God’s vineyard, a place where there is not a great deal of talk, but where everyone is intent on deeds.
This is what it means to prepare for Advent. Jesus says, “Be ready for action, and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet…blessed is the slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives,” (Luke 12:35-48). Here Jesus is speaking of his disciples and their preparation for his coming. Take note that God’s Kingdom is not formed by any human discovery or intention, however daring and noble, but by the coming of Christ. Our faith, our ardor, must be for this coming. Otherwise it would be better to put aside our meditations on Advent. The reign of God is a marvelous thing. To worldly wisdom God’s Kingdom seems like foolishness, and yet it gives shape to the whole world, the whole creation, making it God’s eternal coming.
It is remarkable that not only God, creator of Heaven and Earth, but also God’s people must be a part of this plan. There need to be men and women who give themselves up for God’s Kingdom and its justice. Otherwise Jesus would not have said, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” It is obvious that much depends on our activity. We can even read between the lines that if there is no one to watch out, God’s coming will be delayed. Speaking in terms of the parable, if the doorkeeper does not open the door, it is possible that even the master himself, who has given him the key, cannot get in unless he forces his way.
There have to be people who, first of all, have dressed themselves for action and have lit their lamps. In other words, while their master is absent they are busy preparing everything in the house for his arrival and keeping everyone in the house aware that the state they are living in is only temporary.
Secondly, there must be people who stand by the door and listen for him and who open it quickly when he knocks. Workers, not slackers, are dressed for service. Slackers wear their Sunday best. A person who is getting ready to work with his hands takes his coat off and rolls up his sleeves so that he can get at the matter without further ado. God has work that has to be done in work clothes, not in one’s Sunday best. As long as God’s Kingdom has to be fought for, it is more important to be dressed for work – ready for action – to make an effort to do something in keeping with God’s plan, often against the whole weight of the world. A practical way exists and we must be ready for this with our whole being.
“But,” someone may ask, “what sort of thing, exactly, are we to do? What will truly serve God and his coming reign?” That is a serious question; no human being can answer it. We have to learn to live in what is coming from God every day and to carry a light from this awareness into the darkness. For the essence of God’s everlasting order has been darkened by the principalities and powers of this world. Throughout practically every realm of life there is an enslaving force. It is characteristic of everything, even the highest human undertakings of nations or of individuals; it is egoism. What can we get out of this or that? What will meet our momentary interest? We are only concerned with our immediate interest, and call this good and true. In this way the darkness comes.
We find it so difficult to put God’s service into our daily life, but this is because we weak human beings don’t really want to know what is true. We live in a mass of wrongs and untruths, and they surround us as a dark, dark night. Not even in the most flagrant things do we manage to break through. We are hardly repelled anymore by murder, adultery, or theft. We now have customs and laws under whose protection one person can kill another. We have lifestyles of pleasure that poison everything way beyond human help. We have customs of acquisitiveness by which some people live at the expense of others. What can be done to help?
Anyone whose attention is fixed on the coming reign of God and who wants to see a change brought about in God’s house will become more and more aware that there exists a universal wrongness that is pulled over us like a choking, suffocating blanket. He will know that the thing to do is to take hold of God’s hand so that there is some effect on this night, so that at least a few areas are made receptive to God’s truth and justice and are made ready to receive God himself. But to do this work we have to have a light. With this light we can then illuminate every corner where we have some work to do. Then we will see where the garbage is, where there is work to be done.
This is really very hard work, but this is what preparing for Advent means. But look out! When someone holds a light in his hand and shines it here and there, he is immediately asked, “What business have you here?” Thus so many people let their light go out again. It is too awkward, too inconvenient to keep holding up a light and showing people the dirt and saying, “There, clean that up; the way you are doing things now isn’t right in God’s eyes. Cut off your hand! Tear out your eye! Cut off your foot!” – as Jesus says, figuratively, when there is something about the hand or eye or foot that stands in God’s way.
“The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” A light has a purpose; a light ought to shine into our lives so that we can see what needs to be done and set our hand to it and clean it up. Jesus, with this light, was not well received, and neither were his apostles. “If only that light weren’t there,” people said. In the times of the early church, the Christians were accused of causing confusion in the world, of undermining law and religion, and they were bitterly persecuted for this. The truth – the fact that people’s lives are not right – is too much for most people to grasp. It seems like a crime to them to think that things they consider quite all right ought to be changed. The sacrifice of Christ, which makes it possible for a new humanity to arise in the resurrection – this sacrifice appears as foolishness.
So people turn finally to this Sunday religion and holiday worship. Going to worship is supposed to be enough. God is supposed to be satisfied with it and do without the weekday work. But let us not give the name of worship, or service to God, only to things that benefit us, only to things that soothe our own souls.
Fortunately, many people no longer feel that Sunday religion is enough. No matter how people talk, work clothes must come back. A new spirit is awakening, and there are many who seek for God’s advantage, even though they may not know how to go about it. Others may polish themselves up spiritually to get their little souls in order for God. They can do this, but it is not enough. Anyone who has eyes will see this and consider how he can forget himself in devotion to God’s Kingdom and become ardent for the reign to come – to this he is called.
Closely connected with this first work is that of standing at the door and opening it. In regard to this work one often speaks of the first, second, or third watch; and, I would like to add, the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth. We must stand by the door constantly, ready to open it, even though there may be no knock for a long time. We must be prepared for the first, second, or third watch; even if it includes the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth watch.
Jesus came and departed. But his resurrection means that everything in God’s Kingdom is alive; in every moment there is something happening. He himself may yet come again; he may soon send a messenger to knock. When the door is opened he will say, “Listen, do this and that; tell the people in the house to watch out for this of that.” Another time there is another knock, and the door is opened. This time perhaps the word is, “What is the foolishness you’re doing in this house? You act as if things were going to always stay the same. Don’t settle down as if you were the masters!” And this goes like the breath of God’s wrath through the whole house, by way of the doorkeeper. Another time there is a knock, the doorkeeper opens, and the warning is heard, “Watch out for idolatry! Do you want to serve both God and mammon? Do you want to sit at both God’s table and the demons’ table? Who is your master? Do you want to work with the methods of this world or by the spirit of God? Truly, my house is not a house of human wisdom, but of God’s.”
For those who listen for Christ’s coming, a knock sounds over and over again. The things that come forth are not necessarily highly spiritual. Sometimes they are very simple things. For instance, we may be told, “Don’t neglect your bodies. Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? (1 Corinthians 3:16) Why do you drink so much wine? Why do you eat so much food?” This seems contemptibly small. Doesn’t Paul say, “The Kingdom of God does not consist in eating and drinking?” That is true. Yet for those who want to hear, there is a knock on the door for the coming future of Jesus Christ telling us to live for God in everything, (1 Corinthians 10:31). It is not only your souls that matter, but your bodies too. Whoever is wise will open the door when God’s messengers speak about this. Whoever is wise will go at it joyfully and confidently.
We must speak in practical terms. Either Christ’s coming has meaning for us now, or else it means nothing at all. Sometimes the knock has to do with our life together, or with the arrangements of our life in relationship to the world. For example, on a large estate there are managers, farmers, gardeners, cooks, and so on. The cook has learned cooking, the farmer farming, the gardener gardening, all according to the customary methods. They have learned their trades well and are able to carry them on, even to excel in them. But suppose there is a knock, the door is opened, and they are told, “Listen now, don’t simply keep house as the world does; stop and think how to do things so as to please me!” Maybe you will answer, “What do you mean? That’s the way I learned it and that’s how everybody else does it.” True, everybody does it that way; but you do not need to. Those intent on Christ’s coming have to bring a different way into their situations. Must things always be done in the style of the world? (2 Corinthians 10:3-4) According to human wisdom? Should the Kingdom of God run according to what most of us are used to?
A person who keeps watch for God, who lives for his coming, will be glad to hear even about little things like this, even if he is told, “Do everything differently from the way you have been doing it till now.” When such a person hears the hint to do it differently, he will stop and listen. He will ask, “Differently? How shall I do it differently?” First you will have to become poor, and see where you have acted foolishly, like someone who has no light. Then you must grieve that you are not any cleverer than anyone else when it comes to opening the door to the Master.
This is what it means to watch. We have to begin with what we can see. Then there will come times when we are allowed to watch in higher things. If you look for the truth in small matters you will not go astray in big ones. You will be able to recognize truth there and carry out the command that comes. Let us keep staunch in our eagerness to do whatever comes to us of the truth. Then there will be knocks on our door, over and over, and God’s coming will not be hidden. For devoted hearts the light will keep dawning from him who is merciful and compassionate.
The work for God goes on quite simply in this way; one does not always have to wait for something out of the ordinary. The all-important thing is to keep your eyes on what comes from God and to make way for it to come into being here on the Earth. If you always try to be Heavenly and spiritually minded, you won’t understand the everyday work God has for you to do. But if you embrace what is to come from God, if you live for Christ’s coming in practical life, you will learn that divine things can be experienced here and now, things quite different from what our human brains can ever imagine.