By Pastor Julian Harris
THE ADVENT QUESTION
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple area, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end?” (Mark 13:3-4)
Notice that, “privately”? Tell me a secret, Jesus, just us, Your favorites, the “club”. And thus it begins, ADVENT, and The Advent Question: When will He Come?
If God knows our needs, before we ask, why pray? This says as much about us as it does about God. Why would we think that God knowing the needs of His children would fail to meet those needs? The Father in the Bible doesn’t give sacred things to dogs, pearls to pigs, stones to his son when he asks for bread or snakes when his daughter asks for fish.
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!
My Father always knew what I needed, and it always exceeded my needs and expectations. He cooked breakfast for his dog—grits, scrambled eggs, sausage and a chunk of cheese. They both had hardening of the arteries and died of stokes. I suppose the old adage is true: like father like dog. If he did that for Peanut, can you imagine the supper he made the night before I left for deployment: porterhouse steak smothered in onion fried in a black-iron skillet, macaroni salad, biscuits drowned in sausage-gravy and a quarter chocolate pie. Yes, I have a heart murmur, and so does my dog. Like Father like Child and like Child and his dog, and the story goes on and on.
But why ask? Because my father wanted the pleasure of hearing me ask and see my delight. God is like this. He wants us to ask, pray, seek, beseech and persevere in asking: He loves the sound of our voice and the flavor of our thoughts, because we ask in love, out of love and for the sake of love.
Sometimes God gives us a gift that we didn’t think we needed, but He knows. And again refuses to give us what we want, because it is dangerous to believe that you should always get what you want or that you should know some things too soon, when you are too young, when you have more growing to do, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Jesus’ disciples were like His children, and wanted to know where He was going, and when He would be back, just like us. I got upset when my parents went out without me: Where are you going? Can I come? Why not? When will you be back?
But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.
And that’s about leaving the house. There are more serious things to come. Jesus told them that death comes to us all, even to Him, but they did not want to know that, anything but that. It’s the one thing He wanted them to know to prepare for that day, but like the children we are, we skip the bitter for the sweet, always. God knows that we are not ready.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (John 16:12)
But we ask anyway, because a question, like a prayer, at its most basic level signals a relationship. God does nothing but in answer to prayer. So if you never ask, well, it’s a tragedy. Frederick Brotherton, “F.B.,” Meyer was a pastor in England, but made many trips to America to preach alongside his contemporary Dwight L. Moody (Moody Bible Institute; Moody Radio). Reverend Meyer saw the greatness in America and loved her people. He said:
The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.
Prayer acknowledges our love for God, our trust in Him to provide and protect and our dependence of God. You don’t ask your enemy for an egg; he’ll give you a snake or a rock. You ask someone you love and trust to give you what will help you, heal you, not hurt you. That’s why we should never appear to love when we don’t. Never lead another person on to think that you really care when you are not sure. And that goes for God as well. Never play with another’s affections, for fear you should lead to the giving of what can never be replaced, and for which you have given no equivalent. Don’t play with people. Asked about his conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron on the subjects of abortion and euthanasia, Pope Francis replied:
You don’t play with life, neither at the beginning nor at the end. It is not played with…whether it is the law not to let the child grow in the mother’s womb or the law of euthanasia in disease and old age, I am not saying it is a faith thing, but it is a human thing: there is bad compassion.
Pope Francis did not mean to imply that the “human thing” was some way more vital or compelling than the “faith thing”. This is what happens often when reporters translate Italian to English—All translations are interpretations. His Holiness means that it is a universal truth, not confined to persons of “faith” but the entire human race, a “human thing”. And as for “bad compassion,” well, it is fake to tell someone I love you so I will kill you. His Holiness spoke with Health Care Managers in Spain and Latin America
In our technological and individualistic culture, compassion is not always considered well; at times, it is even regarded with disdain as it is equated with the humiliation of the person who receives it. And then there are those who hide behind an alleged compassion to justify and approve the death of a patient. This is not it. True compassion does not marginalize anyone, nor does it humiliate and exclude; much less consider the disappearance of a person as a good thing. You are well aware of the meaning of the triumph of selfishness, of this 'throwaway culture' that rejects and dismisses those who do not comply with certain canons of health, beauty and utility. I like to bless the hands of doctors as a sign of recognition of this compassion that becomes the caress of health. (June 9, 2016)
As for the hour and the day of His coming, no one knows. But when He comes again—and we are in no doubt of that—He will be the One Who loves us enough, and is powerful enough, to do more than all we could ever ask or want to know. His Name is Jesus; He is the One Who loves it when we ask and when we pray. AMEN.