Just before the service began, one of our members whose birthday is tomorrow said, "Pastor,
make it short and sweet," as he took a look at the clock on the wall. So as your birthday present, it will be short and sweet today. But don't let that give everybody the idea
that when it's your birthday you can say, "Pastor, it's my birthday...short and sweet." I'm going to try to pare this down to the bare bones, but to give you something you can
take with you to think about in the coming week when we look at these passages and recognize that we are in the first Sunday of the Christian year and starting this season of
Advent. And, as we heard a few moments ago, it's the candle of hope that we light today.
One thing that most of us know is that when we get news that someone is coming, or especially a baby is coming, there is great excitement. And that breeds
within us hope. And certainly that is said to be true for the season of Christmas which comes right behind Advent. Advent being the season when we prepare for the coming, is
filled in our culture with preparing for Christmas, although we're really in a season of preparing, we start getting in the mood of giving.
Now, think of the news of a child to be born in the family or a child to be born from you, you and your own spouse. It breeds great joy, but also anxiety.
Lots of hope and anticipation, and probably like most new parents or grandparents or those of you who love someone who's going to have a child, it sends us all into the frenzy
of, "Let's go get them some things that they'll need for the baby." We even hear of that same thing happening in the Christmas story as the Kings, the Wise Men who travel from
afar, come to Christ and they bring gifts, bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. So it's no coincidence that part of our great Christmas celebration is that gift giving. And
it's gift giving because we are so inspired, I believe, with hope and so filled with joy when we see new life coming into the world. And in the season of Advent as we prepare for
Christ's coming, it's easy for us, and it's pervasive in our culture, that we prepare with all the hope and joy for this new child, for this newness that is coming.
For us in Christianity, it's for the coming of the baby Jesus. Or at least that's what we like to focus upon. And so part of my question to you and
challenge to you is looking back at the text for today. The Gospel writer of Matthew, speaking about a different coming, the return of Christ, a second coming, so to speak. And
it is this coming that the season of Advent is really bringing us to. The baby Jesus has come, and it is good for us as we are preparing for the season of Christmas by preparing
ourselves in Advent, who we are as Christians by preparing for that coming. But it's also important for us to recognize that we need to prepare for Christ's second coming. And,
as I said last week, I don't know when that will be, and I don't know what it will be like. The Gospel writer in Matthew says it's like two people will be in a field and one will
be left and one will be gone. And women grinding meal...I don't know too many women grinding meal anymore, but we can move that into some other category. Just two people doing
something, and one stays and one leaves. It's the basic premise for the 'Left Behind' series, which I have many theological issues with in accuracy. But in Christ's return, we
understand that there is a coming of another Kingdom, one that reigns in justice, one that reigns in peace. As in the Old Testament, we hear God will be the arbitrator among the
people and they will not lift up weapons against each other and weapons will be turned into implements for peace and security amongst community, making swords into plowshares.
So the coming of this second Kingdom, which should be our joy in this particular season, gets overshadowed by the coming of the birth of Christ, the baby
Jesus, and I think because that gives us so much hope and peace and love and joy, that it's easy for us to go there. And it's important for us to do that in this season. The not
so popular season is Christ might return. Well, how do we get ready for that. How do we really ready ourselves? It's easy to do the, "Let's go out and buy gifts, and let's set up
party dates, and let's meet with family and friends and celebrate the love of God among us.' But how do we lift up and say, "How do we prepare ourselves for this coming Kingdom
where God will be the arbitrator?"
In Paul's Letter to the Romans, he gives them some suggestions about living and being prepared. And so he tells the people, 'Live honorably in the day.
Put on the armor of light.' He's talking about the light of Christ. And he gives some specifics in there...not to revel in drunkenness and not in debauchery or licentiousness,
not to be quarreling or jealous, but instead physically put on the Lord Jesus Christ.' And that's what we're here in church to do each and every Sunday, to come here, to worship
God, to hear about the teachings of Christ who brought God's Word directly to us, and to put him on.
Now, I don't have a Jesus costume, but if I keep letting my beard grow and I don't cut my hair by Easter, I might look more like Jesus, and I can get some
different clothing and maybe some sandals. So I can't physically put Jesus on in a way that when you look up here you're going to see Jesus. And neither can you in that physical
sense of what we see with our eyes. But we can put on Christ by doing those things which Christ has taught us to do. That, in my opinion, is how we prepare ourselves for the
coming of Christ, to put Christ's mission upon our shoulders, to put Christ's feet in front of our feet as we walk day by day, to recognize with a sense of commitment to our
ministry and our mission that, as we commit ourselves to walking in those paths, Christ becomes real to us in each of those moments every day, that Christ could be standing in
front of us in the face of the person that we meet. And if we went with a sense of urgency which Matthew's Gospel seemed to be writing about, trying to instill a sense of
urgency...if we instilled in ourselves that same sense of urgency, those things would come a little bit easier.
Y2K...does anybody remember what that was? There was a real sense of urgency amongst lots of faithful people when they thought, "It's the end of the
century, that could be it. Christ is going to return." Interesting that attendance in churches went up quite a bit coming closer to the end of that century before entering into
2001. A sense of urgency was awakened in people. But it's a shame that it takes something like that, the fear of the change of one century into another for us to be inspired to
live that sense of urgency every day anyhow and to say, "I want to be prepared if Christ should come and stand before us." I want to be prepared, and I think that all of us are
doing a fair job of that. Certainly there's more that we can do. When we see our church ministry put out before us on a big screen, that's one of those things that starts to
remind us. And as we go into our Annual Meeting in February, we'll talk more about those particular things. And maybe by looking at those things we'll see how they might be
relevant in our lives and how we might fit into that big picture and how the urgency may well up within us.
But if Christ were to return today, are you ready? Are you ready when you walk out the door of the church when you step into your car and then maybe drive
out Baltimore Street? Would you be ready if Jesus were standing on a corner down here at the town square? That's a question that all of us have to ask ourselves, and only you can
answer that question for yourself. But the answer may give us a sense of urgency. I like to think of myself as ready so it would be nice to stay for awhile longer. But in
Christ's return, if the Kingdom comes, then I also look for the possibility of hope in that, the establishment of God's Kingdom here in a visible way that we long for.
So how do we prepare? Our youth have prepared in a way in their commitment to the homelessness awareness program. They are preparing with compassion and
they are preparing with learning and understanding and becoming aware, and the church is doing the same. So I encourage each of us, in this season of Advent, to think about if we
are prepared and what are we doing to prepare, not just for the coming birth of the Christ child, but for Christ's return in our world.
Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve