You Better Watch Out

 Mark 13:24-37

I titled this sermon, YOU BETTER WATCH OUT because today, as the first Sunday in Advent, the Scripture readings start focusing on, not the anniversary of Jesus' birth, his first coming, which, of course has already happened, but the Scripture readings focus on a time of his coming again. We look forward to the celebration of the anniversary of the first coming (Advent means "coming" or "arrival" or "coming into being"). But the first coming has already happened, so we focus on the Advent of his coming again.

I think today's Scripture readings aren't especially uplifting because they are so foreboding, and have such an emphasis on "beware" or "beware or else." But the overall theme is WATCH, BE ALERT, BE AWARE, which I think is very positive. I think the message is NOT "beware, watch out" or this negative thing will happen. I think it is "watch out, be aware, be alert" because that's what will bring you into the fullest, the most complete, the richest relationship with Jesus the Christ.

People always see the Ten Commandments as "Don't Do This" statements. But they are so much more. Read Martin Luther's explanations, "What Does this Mean?" in his Small Catechism. It isn't a matter of just NOT doing something, but a matter of what we could and should be doing with regard to our relationship with God and our fellow human beings. For instance, it isn't just that we shouldn't steal from someone, but we should do everything we can to help our neighbors keep what they have and not let anyone steal from them.

We must be aware and alert. In today's readings, the focus is on how WE ourselves should be alert. We ourselves should watch out. It's sad that many folks are watching for the signs of "the end" of the world. They are so focused on those that their outlook is negative. At the same time there are those signs that some interpret as "the end being near," there are also wonderful signs of Jesus' love and compassion, and wonderful opportunities presented to us daily for us to be in service to others in Christ's name.

I'm sure you all have heard the example of asking two folks to look a glass of water that is filled mid way. One says it is 'half empty' and the other says it is 'half full.' If one is focused only on interpreting the signs of the "end of the world," life is being wasted. Jesus tells us that no one knows when the end will be. No one except God the Father. So why do so many folks try to guess when it will be? Why do so many folks focus on the end instead of the present? It makes for a terrible world view, AND, for those who see the end as imminent, they then don't see any reason for preserving what we have in terms of natural resources. Some evangelical politicians have even out right stated that is their view. There is no reason to conserve, they say, no reason to care for the earth because the end is near.

But there are also signs that tell us that God wants us to care right up until the day of Christ's coming again. And that is a study all in itself. Some folks call it the "Second Coming." But what is it exactly? Is it the Rapture? Is it when the earth will cease to be? The language used in the Bible regarding Jesus coming again is very symbolical. So many of the terms and phrases used are idioms in the Aramaic language.

Many scholars think the "Second Coming" (a term used in the New Testament only once in Hebrews, never by Jesus or his disciples or even Paul)ůmany scholars think that this coming again is the end of an order, not an end of the actual physical world. It's a time of an entire re-ordering of things as we know them to be. Hate turns into love; anger into compassion; war into peace; revenge into forgiveness; injustice into justice; oppression into freedom, and love is the driving energy, the unifying energy. And this is exactly what Jesus did-turn things upside down, outside in, turned usual think around, especially to focus on our spiritual nature.

These reversal signs are happening at the same time as any negative "end" sign anyone is looking for. In order for something to end and be replaced, what is replacing it has to already exist (and we know from Scripture that when the old ends, something NEW will be in its place). We can help bring the new order into being, or we can be part of the old order bringing something to an end.

We need to watch, be alert, be aware. The signs are there. Watch for them. Midst a scene of hate, look to see where the love is. It's there. If you focus on that, it will turn the situation around. It will, by God's immense love and compassion, be turned around.

No matter how much we continue to mess up our lives and God's creation, God never leaves us. God gives us opportunity after opportunity to make something wonderful out of a mess we have made. But so many folks get caught in the mess and can't find their way out because they aren't asking God to help them. And some do ask, but don't listen to the answer. They have a plan of how to get out of the mess they've made and they present that to God and ask for help to get out, the way THEY want it to play out.

But we have to be alert, aware. We have to watch out for the good, the positive, the loving, the hopeful.

The title of this sermon is YOU BETTER WATCH OUT. It comes from the popular Christmas song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." It's a bouncy little ditty, tune-wise, but it's really sadly negative. It makes Santa Claus into something to be afraid of if you aren't good!

Unfortunately that's what most folks have made God into. Someone to be afraid of if you aren't good. The words YOU BETTER WATCH OUT in the Christmas song are a warning. They are meant to make children behave out of fear. And that's the way lots of folks teach children about God. It's the way lots of adults were taught when they were young, and sadly, they still believe it that way. I mean you could actually substitute the words "Jesus Christ" for "Santa Claus" in the song and you'd get a picture of how folks teach about Jesus. "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I'm telling you why, Jesus Christ is coming to town. He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty and nice; Jesus Christ is coming to town. He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been good or bad, so be good for goodness sake. Oh you better watch out you better not pout, you better not cry, I'm telling you why, Jesus Christ is coming to town." Sad, isn't it? That's the way lots of folks teach their children and grandchildren about God, AND it's what lots of adults believe about God and how they respond to God.

Instead of watching out for the wonderful things that happen when you follow Jesus' instructions telling us the best way to live a full and complete life, the focus is on what will happen if you DON'T follow those instructions. So the instructions are warnings rather than wonderful words of life.

So, you better watch out for all the wonderful signs and wonders and opportunities God provides for us every day. Because if the end is near, then the new order is already here. Are you part of that, or are you part of the end? Jesus comes to us over and over in the form of those folks we meet every day-even the ones we choose to ignore, so you better watch out, be aware, be alert so you don't miss Jesus coming to you to bless you through someone you encounter.

You can encounter Jesus even in a newspaper or magazine article. It spurs you to reach out to someone, first in prayer, then perhaps physically or financially. That's Jesus! He said he'd come again, and while folks are looking for signs of the end, and looking up, waiting for Jesus to come in the clouds, he's right here, right now urging each one of us to participate in the new order, the new, spiritual way of thinking, the Kingdom of heaven.

And here's the clincher. Since the kingdom of God is within each one of us, as Jesus tells us, then he's going to come again by coming into our hearts and minds and we will see the new order and be part of it.

So, it's not "you better watch out"-a warning. It's "you better watch IN" and be alert and aware of the presence of God within, so you can fully live the life Jesus meant you to live. He came that we might live life more abundantly. And the Holy Spirit prepares our hearts and minds to receive the gifts of Christ. So, be alert and aware and awake to the signs of the new beginnings that surround us and are within us.


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