Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37
November 27, 2005
Tis the season to get ready! Just look around you! What a beautiful Christmas sanctuary! Do you ever feel like you are really ready for Christmas? Or when the day comes, do you just take a deep breath and say, “Well, it’s here – ready or not”? (Let’s see the hands of those who are ready.) The custodian at one of my former Churches used to boast in July that he was with all done his Christmas shopping! (I kid you not!) Is that sick or what?
Are you ever ready for Christmas? I ask that question because “being ready” is one of the major theme’s of Advent. And I don’t mean just doing the shopping, the decorating, the wrapping, the cards, and the cookies. I think all the hustle and bustle and the anticipation of preparing for Christmas is a good reminder of that part of the Advent celebration. To a great extent, Advent means Anticipation.
I’ll never forget the feeling I used to have at this time of year when I was a kid. Thanksgiving was over and Christmas was the next big day. (Except my father’s birthday!) And boy was it a big one!! And it always seemed like it would never get here! Eventually, the anticipation became agonizing! We even had one of those Advent calendars which made it that much worse!
That Anticipation is part of the Advent celebration. But it’s only one part. Liturgically, there are three major themes of the Advent celebration. They are as follows. And I’ll be giving them to you again. So don’t worry, you won’t have to write them down today.
First, Advent is a time when we celebrate Jesus’ first advent, his first coming to this Earth. That is the theme we think of the most. It’s the one that has to do with all that anticipation. When we consider this theme, we do so by reading all the messianic prophecies, and we remember how the world was anticipating the coming of the messiah. That’s the part that’s like the little kid longing for Christmas day! That’s the part that’s like all of our preparations.
The second theme of Advent is one in which we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. That’s when we remember the stories of John the Baptist. And we remember how his part is also prophesied in the Old Testament. One of the main places we find that is in the last book of the Old Testament – the book of Malachi. Literally translated, Malachi means “My Messenger.” And it tells of the messenger who would come and prepare the way for the Messiah. We’ll deal with that theme next week, I believe.
The third theme of Advent is the one we talk about today. And I would bet that this is the theme we probably think about the least at this time of year. For the third theme of Advent is that it is also the time of year when we think about and celebrate Jesus’ promise to come again to this Earth. – His “second Advent,” if you will. That’s why our lectionary reading today comes from this little passage in Mark where Jesus talks about the end times and his promise to come again. This is actually a smaller version of Matthew 24, which has been known as “The Little Apocalypse.”
The second coming of Jesus Christ has become a very interesting part of the life of the Church as a whole. Some Churches talk about nothing else. If you look at late night television, you will find some ministries that will tell you all about current events and how they are part of the time line of the end times. And that’s all they ever talk about. Some will even give you a projected date for the end of history!
Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that kind of speculation. It can be very interesting. And sometimes looking at world events, I wonder sometimes if some of those guys might be right! With all the global wars of the last couple of centuries, notice now how so much of the world’s tension and “attention” is focused on the middle east! Look how many of the world’s conflicts are now “religious” in nature. It’s very interesting, isn’t it?
However, what may be even more interesting is how we Presbyterians along with a number of other “Main Line Denominations” tend not to talk about this very much at all. That’s quite a contrast to some Churches, isn’t it? And I think we need to ask ourselves why.
I think one of the biggest reasons is that we Presbyterians tend to be among the more “well off” members of our society. Maybe you’re not feeling like you are. But we are if you think of all of the poor and outcast of our world. And as some of the more well off people, we tend to “enjoy this life” more. I say “tend to” because that’s not always true. Sometimes among the poorest people on earth we find those who are the most content and happy. And then among those who we think should be the happiest, because their lives are the most comfortable, we find some of the most miserable and stressful and lonely.
Still, we Presbyterians tend to be those who live more comfortably. And those who live more comfortably tend not to think as much about the second coming of Jesus Christ, because it would be more of an “inconvenience” than a “blessing.” Think about that. If Jesus came back today, for some people, it would be an interruption of how much they are enjoying this life. If it were proven that Jesus was returning tomorrow, how many in our world would say, “Now hold on a minute.” “I was having a great time.” As I said, some people try to predict when “the end will come.” And sometimes I think that’s part of the reason. They want to know how much life they have “to live!”
For such people, it would be good to remember Jesus’ parable about the man who did not have enough space to store all his stuff. Do you remember that parable? What did the man do? He built bigger barns. Do you remember that? Then what did he say to himself then. He said to himself, “Self,” that’s what he said! He said, “Self, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:19-20.)
On the other hand, those who are not as well off in this life, those who have a tougher life, may be more likely to think about the second coming. They might well long for the glorious life to come because this one is not all that great!
Whatever the reason, people who want to predict this stuff would be well to remember Jesus’ own words in verses 32 and 33 of this chapter. “But of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” But then these words – for those who would predict and for those who wouldn’t think of this at all! “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33)
That’s the important message as we consider this theme of Advent. Be alert. Be ready.” Many don’t think of this as a time of year when we should consider Jesus’ promise to come here again. And many don’t care about that promise – mo matter what time of year it is. Many people – even in the Church – don’t ever give much of a thought to this.
That message is so important. “Be alert.” “Be Ready!” That’s what Jesus told his disciples. Yes, he gave them (and us) hints about the kinds of things that would happen as history moved toward it’s conclusion. He talked to them about the “signs of the end.” But whether or not we are interested in looking for those signs, the upshot of this is that we are to be ready! We are to live as though Jesus were coming any day.
We are to be ready! We are to be ready in that we are to be living our lives in God’s presence and in the kingdom that Jesus said is in our midst! We are to be ready in that we strive to be in that close relationship with God which Jesus came to restore. We are to be ready in that we are living the joyous life that was intended for us. And as we talked about last week, we are to be ready in that we are to be treating people like we would treat Jesus. Remember the story of the Sheep and the Goats. “When did we see you hungry and give you food, and in prison and visit you, and sick and ministered to you.” “When you did it unto the least of these…”
We should be ready in that we are striving to live our lives in such a way that it doesn’t matter when Jesus comes – in our lifetime or not. We are to be ready in that we are living lives that are pleasing to God. If we do those things, we will be ready!
But how many people will be “caught off guard” as Jesus said? That was the theme of a number of his parables. He said his coming would be like a “thief in the night.” How many, even in the Church, will miss his coming, like many in did in the day Jesus first came? How many are going through this life saying to themselves, “I’ll get the spiritual part of my life together – some day.”
Maybe there is a “some day,” maybe there’s not. None of us knows that, either. But we do know what we “can do.” The trick is making it what we “will do.” Let us make the choice to be God’s people and to live as God’s people. Let this Advent season be one in which we do the anticipation. Let it be one in which we think about the Christmas celebration ahead. Let us do the wonderful things we do at this time of year to “get that into our heads.” But let it also be a time when we choose to prepare our hearts and our lives. Let us be sure God is with us and in us. Let us know that we are ready for him.
Eternal God, you have promised to be part of our lives in Jesus Christ, our Lord. You have given us such joy and so many blessings. Help us to think this Advent season of all the good gifts you have given us. Teach us to be giving people. Show us how to be ready for Christmas and for your coming again. For this we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.