Have you given thought to how you might practice and improve your leadership skills during the season of Advent? Think about it. Advent provides an excellent opportunity to focus on and improve certain aspects of your leadership that you might not otherwise choose to improve.
So, as you enter this Advent season, I challenge you to take advantage of the opportunity to grow and improve as a leader. Start by rethinking the coming of Jesus by answering these two questions, “What is Advent? and “What does Advent have to do with being a Christ-centered leader?”
What is Advent?
It is relatively simple to answer the question “What is Advent?” In the early church, Advent began with watching and waiting for Jesus to return. Remember, from the Acts of the Apostles, when Jesus ascended, the message to his followers was, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”
As the centuries passed and the church grew weary of waiting, Advent became preparing for the birth of Jesus. So, there were seemingly two advents, the celebration of his first coming, Jesus born in Bethlehem, and the preparation for his second coming, Jesus who will return someday.
Over the years, Advent has become more of a focus on the birth of Jesus, with one exception. The first Sunday in Advent focuses upon what is known as “the second coming” of Jesus.
Christ-Centered Leaders & Advent
It is a little more complicated to answer the question “What does Advent have to do with being a Christ-centered leader?” The answer depends on your understanding and focus on being a leader.
Advent provides an opportunity to practice key disciplines in your Christian living. Beyond the energy-draining activities of preparing for Christmas and trying to resist the pressure to sing Christmas carols before Christmas arrives, Advent provides you with the time and space to practice the discipline of waiting, particularly the discipline of waiting in hope. Advent gives you the opportunity to model waiting as a leader and to participate in waiting as a member of the community of faith.
Waiting is a Challenge
In our culture, waiting is a challenge. Most of us are not very good at it. We live in a time when we want what we want when we want it. And we want it on our own terms, exactly the way we perceive it. We have not had training in waiting. There are no seminary courses that teach waiting. There are no church programs to provide steps on learning to wait. Yet waiting is a necessary aspect of life and is a valued characteristic of Christ-centered leaders.
So, how do you lead others in something you are not very good at yourself? Well, because most of us learn waiting either by experience or by practicing it as a spiritual discipline, let’s take advantage of the opportunity to rethink the coming of Jesus and the practice of waiting.
To help you focus, take a few minutes to read this scripture, Mark 13:24-37, reflect upon it from the context in which it was written, respond to it by thinking about the implications of its truth, and return at the end of the day to focus upon how the scripture came to life for you. This particular practice will help you rethink the coming of Jesus as well as assist you in becoming the Christ-centered leader needed at this time.
Read Mark 13:24-37
24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels and gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[b] is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert,[c] for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
The good news according to Mark is, that God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, pain, and suffering of the world. He wrote his good news during a time when the followers of Jesus were known as insurrectionists, enemies of the government. So, the followers of Jesus were under great persecution.
Mark wrote to give his people hope. Because there was a danger in writing the truth about the government and about the persecution, he used figurative language to get his message out. He used imagery to express the inexpressible. He wanted his people who were experiencing the evils of hate and persecution, that there was hope.
Mark’s Message for Advent
It is difficult for us today to grasp the rich meaning of Mark’s message. Too many people get caught up in a desperate attempt to know the future, so they focus more on the imagery and miss the point of the hope. They try to predict the future or confuse the imagery with reality. The truth of the scripture is, in the midst of pain, suffering, and evil, there is hope of deliverance.
So, Mark’s story is not to be taken literally. It is not a travel guide into the future, but an assurance that despite all signs to the contrary, all the hurt, chaos, wars, separation, and uncertainty, there is hope. Hope in the living God we know in and through Jesus.
The Context of Hope
Let’s put Mark into context. The world as his people knew it was coming apart. It was like the sun was not shining. There was darkness. Even the darkness was darker than usual. The situation was so bad it was like the stars falling from heaven because even the powers of heaven were being shaken. The situations the people were facing were indescribable except for imagery and metaphors.
The imagery he used helped put the situations and circumstances in which they were living in the context of hope. The shock of the coming of Jesus was not destruction. At the heart of Mark’s story is hope. Mark understood that God sent Jesus to oppose the suffering, pain, and evil in the world.
God’s offer of a New World
At the heart of Mark’s story is the shattering of the shapes of oppression, injustice, and evil that keep us from living the way God has intended for us to live. It is not a “business as usual” festival of things that make us feel warm and fuzzy. It is not an innocent baby who comes gently to fit into our preconceived world. Instead, it is both a welcomed prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and it is a dreaded experience because it disrupts our comfort and convenience.
With the coming of Jesus, there is a growing awareness that this world is not the one God has in mind for us. God is offering us a new world shaped according to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God is working on a world precisely for those who are ready and able to relinquish the old world. Part of preparing for the coming of Jesus is to acknowledge our participation in the darkness and despair of the old world so we can be embraced by the light and hope of the new one. Part of our preparation is to wait for the coming of the One who brings the light and hope of new life.
The Coming of Jesus
To experience and receive God’s Advent, we have to rethink the coming of Jesus. That means that the coming of Jesus shatters our preconceived notions, our preferences, and our participation in the hate, lust, greed that leads to racism, crime, war and a thousand other evils. By rethinking the coming of Jesus, we focus upon him who has come to oppose the evil, pain and suffering of this world. Jesus is our hope!
The coming of Jesus meets you precisely where your hurt and hope meet. The question is, are you bold enough to be honest with yourself and with the people around you? Are you ready and open for the new life he brings? Have you experienced hope in and through Jesus for whom you are waiting? Has God’s grace led you to trust Jesus enough to relinquish the old world and to receive the new one?
A Promise from God
The new world is a promise from God. It is not a domesticated political agenda or some form of a doctrine of progress. God does not provide happy endings for the futures we are engineering. God provides a future beyond our knowledge and control, and not even the angels in heaven know the hour of its coming.
But even with this caution against wanting to know too much, we are still left with too little. We still have the question of how to hope in the meantime when nothing ever happens. And that is why the writer of Mark remembered the other word which Jesus said. This word was a parable about a man who went on a trip and left his servants to manage the house while he was gone. That, of course, is a description of the situation of the church, left in charge of the house while the Master is absent.
Be on the Lookout
What Jesus said about the servants is also true of the church: we need constantly to be on the lookout. The house can never be in disarray, because, as Jesus stated it, “You do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (Mark 13:35-36).
Mark is pointing out something significant here. The master could come “in the evening,” and, in the very next chapter, he tells us that “when it was evening” Jesus ate his last meal with the disciples, and told them, “one of you will betray me.”
The master could come “at midnight,” and Mark records that, later that night, the disciples went with Jesus to Gethsemane. While Jesus prayed his cry of anguish, the disciples, no doubt weary of waiting, slept. Jesus asked them, “Could you not watch one hour?”
Maybe the master will come “at cockcrow,” and Peter turned to the accusing maid with a curse and a denial, “I do not know this man.” The rooster crowed.
Maybe the coming of the master will be “in the morning,” and “as soon as it was morning,” Jesus was bound and led away to his trial and to his death.
The Promise of God’s Future
Mark has woven into the fabric of his gospel the possibility that every moment of the day is already alive with the promise of God’s future. As we look toward the horizon for the coming of Jesus, we know that each passing moment is filled with the potential for faith or denial, decision or tragedy, hope or despair.
Those who trust the promise are able to see signs of its coming all around them. Those who believe that, in God’s good time, something is about to happen, also know that, even now, something is happening.
Waiting is so important that Mark wrote three times to wait. Using the word “watch” he is instructing his followers to “wait”: “Take heed, watch” (verse 33). “Watch therefore” (verse 35). And “watch” (verse 37). To watch is “to shake off sleep” which implies being awake, alert, and prepared. It suggests staying aware of your actions, thoughts, and surroundings, so you can recognize Jesus in your everyday relationships and interactions with people.
The point is clear. Although Jesus will come at a time known only to God, he will surely come, and no amount of delay or suffering we experience while waiting should dissuade us from that fact. The expectation of the second coming should keep us alert, and faithful to being who God has created us to be.
The question is, “Where have you seen Jesus this week?”
Advent is when you become a leader in waiting. You have the opportunity to give yourself the space to grow in faith as you keep watch for Jesus. When you have waited for God in the darkest and most difficult moments of your life, you can effectively model for others the spiritual discipline of waiting. It is only when you have stood still waiting for God’s transforming love that you not only have the power to face and address evil, pain, and suffering, but you develop the inner authority to ask others to do the same.
It is as you wait, trusting God’s leading, that you experience the grace to step out in faith and to lead with courageous action. As you learn to wait on God, God provides clear direction. It is at that point that you have the courage to act when the time is right. Christ-centered leadership is about knowing when to wait and when to act.
So, let’s be clear regarding waiting. Waiting is more than:
Although patience is a virtue and one of the fruits of the spirit, waiting is different than having patience. Waiting is a spiritual discipline and strength that grows out of a deep inner peace given by God’s presence to those who trust God. By learning to wait upon God’s direction, Christ-centered leaders will produce loving, forgiving, generous attitudes toward others, but the purpose of waiting is to act courageously in God’s time.
Although tolerance is the ability or willingness to accept feelings, habits, beliefs, or behaviors that are different from your own, waiting is different than being tolerant. Waiting is a spiritual discipline and strength that grows out of your convictions of trust and obedience in response to God’s grace and is not a reaction to the beliefs and behaviors of others. By learning to wait, Christ-centered leaders learn to accept opinions and behaviors of different people, but the purpose of waiting is to respond courageously in God’s time.
The Meaning of Waiting
Maybe this will help put meaning and face to waiting. Sue Monk Kidd tells a story about her daughter being the Bethlehem star one year in a Christmas play. After her first rehearsal, her daughter burst through the door with her costume, a five-pointed star lined in shiny gold tinsel. It was designed to drape over her like a sandwich board.
Sue asked her daughter, “What exactly will you be doing in the play?” Her daughter answered, “I just stand there and shine.”
Jesus’ disciples were concerned about the future and their part in it. Jesus wanted them to know that their role was to stay behind and shine. But they would not be alone. He would be with them. Christ-centered leaders learn to shine while waiting. So, you work while waiting. You live as God has created you to live while waiting.
Once John Wesley was asked what he would do if he knew this was his last day on earth. He replied, “At 4:00, I would have some tea. At 6:00, I would visit Mrs. Brown in the hospital. Then at 7:30, I would conduct a mid-week prayer service. At 10:00, I would go to bed and would wake up in glory.”
When Martin Luther was asked what he would do on the day of Jesus’ return, he said he would go out and plant a tree. Mark tells us that Jesus expects each of us to be about our work so that when he comes, he will find us faithfully taking care of the world.
The Coming of Jesus
Some years ago, a tourist visited the Castle Villa Asconti along the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. The old gardener opened the gates and the visitor stepped into the garden, which was perfectly kept. The visitor asked when the owner was last there. The gardener replied, “Twelve years ago.”
“Does he ever write?” “No,” was the answer.
“Where do you get your instructions?” The gardener answered, “From his agent in Milan.”
“Does the master ever come?” “No,” was the reply.
“But you keep the grounds as though your master was coming back tomorrow.” The old gardener quickly replied, “Today, sir, today.”
Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions. They are designed to lead you into the waiting room of your soul. This is where you wait for God to revive you, to restore you, and to make you new. This is the place where you wait for God to come to you in ways you can see and know.
Where are you longing for God to enter your life with love, hope, and peace? In the words of Mark, where do you long for God to “shake the heavens” and to do something that you do not expect? What relationships do you desire to be restored? In what parts of your life do you need a tender shepherd to lead you and to care for you?
Where is the place in your ministry where you need to be “strengthened to the end” by the presence of God revealed to you in some new way?
Give God thanks for the day and for the ways God has shown up in your life. With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced?