. . . Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
—2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)
This is the whole point. This is the reason for the season. It’s not just about Jesus. It’s about Jesus born for us to redeem us from death and hell, to save us from our sin. You are His reason for the season.
The eve of the Lord’s nativity, it is a night attack, a first-century Kristallnacht, but smaller. This invasion comes to seize that most pagan of strongholds. It comes to lighten the darkness of our hearts, which makes both God and idol. It comes with something more terrible than deception because it makes its enemy more vulnerable. It comes with light and with love.
Rejoice. For the Lord is at hand. Our joy, like St. Paul’s, is not weakness or sentimentality, but a deep joy that carries and moves us to both laughter and tears. It is the earthly working out of what we possess now by faith and what shall be ours on the Last Day in reality, when we see Him face to face.
The Lord has not forgotten about you either. He knows that you wait. He knows that you patiently endure. He sees how dark and dreary, cold and damp it is, the toll that the doldrums of a rainy December can take for those with haunting pasts and uncertain futures. He sees your sadness and knows your heartache. He understands your fears and feels your loneliness. He hears your prayers and listens to your cries. And He is not silent. He answers. But to hear it you must be silent. You must listen and look. You must wait and watch.
He tells us these things so that we will be ready. And not just ready, but eagerly awaiting and expecting it. That we will long and yearn for it, the way that children long to grow up, the way that children long for Christmas morning to come and stay awake watching and looking for it, so that when it happens, when that day comes and the Son of Man is seen descending upon the clouds, we will stand up and lift up our heads to see our redemption.
There is perhaps no other season of the church year that better embodies what we experience as Christians than the season of Advent. Observing Advent means learning to wait. It’s a time to wait and to watch, a time to look and to listen. Advent is the season of the now but not yet. It proclaims that the Lord is come, and yet coming still again. It tells us to look up for, for our redemption is drawing near but not yet fully here. It announces the release of the prisoners, but not yet for John the Baptist. In Advent, Christmas is nigh, but not yet here. Advent teaches us to wait.
Thus on the Last Day, the picture our Lord paints for us is one where the heavenly Bridegroom takes his bride, the true church, to his heavenly home, consummating the wedding feast of the Lamb who was slain but lives, bringing to completion what He accomplished by His cross, resurrection, ascension, fulfilling His promise that he will come again to take us to himself.
“And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt” (Matt 18:34). The master delivered him to the jailers. This is true. But it’s not quite accurate. The word for jailers is more specific. The master put him in prison, to be sure, but he delivered the unforgiving servant not just to the jailers but to the torturers. The master delivered him to those who would exact pain to punish and coerce the servant until he should pay all his debt.
This should give us pause, especially in light of what our Lord says next, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt 18:35).
But this is not all there is. Eternity awaits. And that is what really matters. Jesus tells us the truth. He speaks the truth in all its harshness to rouse us from slumber, to show us that there is far more to life than what we have in this world and in this fallen existence. He speaks the truth in all its sweetness to comfort and console, to give courage and strength.
Who are these arrayed in white? They are those declared saints by God, all of them; kin and friends, children we never met, grandparents we barely remember, loved ones and yet to meet ones, all saints, and they wait for us. They are our people. This is their festival, our festival. For the “all” in All Saints means that we too, by grace, are in that number.