Remain Watchful

During a dry sermon a man heaved a heavy sigh and died in the sanctuary. An usher quickly called an ambulance. When the paramedics arrived, they quietly did their job while the minister droned on and on.

When the emergency team left, the usher overheard the medic talking on the ambulance radio: "We picked up six people before we got the right one." Well I certainly hope this doesn't happen this morning.

This morning we begin the season of the church year we call Advent. Advent is the season when we proclaim the various comings of the Christ. We get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus once again, we lift up the One who comes continually in Word and Spirit, and we prepare for the one whose return in final victory we anticipate. And most importantly, each year at this time, four weeks before Christmas, advent calls for the community of faith to prepare for these comings.

As a result, this week, the first week of advent, we consider Christ's coming in final victory, and it's this coming in final victory that Jesus speaks to us in our Gospel reading for today. My preaching professor at seminary tells his students that as pastors we are to always be ready to preach, pray, and die on the spot. And he asked us frequently, "Are you prepared?"

The second coming of Christ has fascinated many a Christian for centuries. Over the years people have been trying to determine the exact time Jesus will come again. It's as if they want to be ready and want to be sure others are ready as well.

But I often wonder what being ready means. Are they talking about a spiritual readiness, or are they concerned about how they look physically when Jesus comes, or are they concerned about being seen as holy because they were able to predict the coming of Jesus when others could not, or are they concerned with how things around them look, you know, much like we prepare ourselves and our homes when friends come over for a meal. Perhaps you experienced this type of preparation this past week for Thanksgiving.

So what kind of preparation took place at you homes this past week, or in the places you went to? For most folks there was the house cleaning preparation, complete with the shoving of the clutter into closets and drawers, the setting of the table just so, and of course the appropriate preparation of the meal with all the trimmings. How many of you can relate to this type of preparation?

Well, through the ages people have wanted to know exactly when Christ was returning so they could make the appropriate preparations. Many theories or hypothesis have been offered, and some have even gone as far as giving the exact day and year Christ will return. But in the end all have been wrong. As a matter of fact our scripture reading even says no one knows the exact time Christ will return, including the Son himself.

On November 2, 1992, the "Mission for the Coming Days" church disbanded after a very tough weekend. The Korean church's founder was in jail and the embarrassed congregation returned to their respective homes and places of employment.

The central message of this church had been Christ's imminent return on October 28, 1992. It was the largest of the South Korean churches that were predicting the impending end of the world.

Hundreds and possibly thousands of these believers sold property, left their families, quit schools and jobs, and deserted military duties, all in preparation for what they viewed was the sure and certain second coming.

Of course, they should have checked the pastor's financial portfolio before banking on the October date. It seems the pastor had swindled four million dollars in donations and had $380,000 invested in bonds that wouldn't mature until the following May. It seems the pastor must have never lifted up today's scripture when teaching or preaching.

So our scripture reading serves as a warning if you will, that since no one knows the exact time of Christ's coming we'd better be ready for it at all times. Now this doesn't mean we have a bag packed and are ready to go, like an expectant mother preparing to go to the hospital to give birth. Nor does it mean that we go about our lives in a fearful or anxious anticipation, always looking over our shoulder or peaking around the corner to see if the end is near.

No, what we ought to be doing as we wait for the second coming, is continue with the mission God has set before us, serving faithfully in the way God has instructed us to do so.

So while we wait for the coming of Jesus we are to continue to engage in the ministry we are called to. We are to go about the business of Christ, helping others, sharing our faith, and leading others to salvation. This is what is meant by preparation.

It's always been intriguing to me that we want to put God in a box. We expect God to do certain things at certain times, we expect God to show up when we want, and we expect God to do what we want on our timetable, and oh by the way, God, don't show up until we're ready.

Yet God's coming and goings are not at our beckon call. God is free, holy and sovereign, and will be present to us as a gift, as grace, when God so chooses. Therefore all of us who uphold the Christian faith must be continually prepared for surprise, shock, and the unexpected.

You know it's interesting to me that we think of church as the place where we can tie up all the loose ends in our life, or a place where we can nail down things we're not sure of, or a place of growing in faith, or a place of making a final decision for or against Christ.

But in reality there is only so much growing we can do and only so many decisions we can make, with the help of the church and our church family.

In reality things are so much more unpredictable then we perhaps like to admit, because as we live out our lives, as we're influenced by society and others, and as our life relates to God, things are largely unpredictable, there in God's hands not ours. And know that God is always there for us. God doesn't just live within these four walls, God is everywhere we are.

Over the past six weeks I addressed six questions related to our faith, and the common thread in all the answers to the questions posed, was trust, trust in God. Well, because our life, as it relates to God, is largely unpredictable we need to place our trust in God knowing that God is in control. And rather than fearing or being anxious about unpredictability, we should embrace it and look forward to what God is doing and will do in our lives.

If I were to go around this sanctuary and ask each of you what has surprised or excited you this past year, what has God done in your lives, how has God used you in ways you never thought possible, when has God appeared when you least expected it, or when you thought God may be ignoring or abandoning you, how would you answer?

Can you remember God's presence with us and the miracles we've experienced in this congregation just the past couple of months: cancer being cured, family members becoming believers, relationships reconciled, the overcoming of illness, the ability to move on after the death of a loved one, life giving transplants and life saving surgeries, the blessings of helping one another, walking away from car accidents unhurt, and who knows how many other acts of God's grace we've experienced that we aren't even aware of.

My goodness, it's a blessing that God doesn't live in a box, or in a lamp like some genie just waiting to grant us some wish. Our God is an awesome God, and isn't bound by space, time, or humanity.

Jesus in our gospel reading reminds us to remain watchful, be aware, because we don't know when he's returning. But you know, it's good news that we don't know exactly when Jesus is coming. Sure, it would be nice to know the exact time and date so we can be as prepared as possible, but lets face it, if we knew the precise date and time we might be tempted to be lazy in our work for Christ.

If we never knew when guests would show up at our homes, wouldn't we be more likely to always have the home in "guest receiving shape?" But since we usually know when guests will be coming, often times we aren't as rigorous with how the house looks on a minute by minute or day by day basis.

Also, if we knew the precise date and time of Jesus' coming we might plan to keep on sinning and then turn to God at the very end. There are some folks who have no interest in God in this world, yet they are planning on a deathbed conversion. They feel this way they can experience the best of both worlds.

But what these folks don't understand is that heaven is not our only goal; we have work to do here, at this place and in this time. And we must keep doing Christ's work until death, or until we see the unmistakable return of Jesus. Why? Because God commands it, and because by serving God and others in the name of Jesus in this world we begin to experience the joy, grace and love only God can offer. We need not wait for heaven, we can experience heaven on earth, a foretaste of the feast to come.

Jesus' purpose in telling about his return is not to stimulate predictions and calculations about the date. But rather Jesus is warning us to be prepared.

So as we prepare for the coming of Christ, and as the activities of the holiday season begin to take their toll, remember to remain watchful. Keep from spiritual snoozing through winter's gloom, and push away the desert of laziness.

Maintain a balanced approach to Christmas. We ought to enjoy the upcoming holiday, making lists and checking them twice, hanging the decorations, giving gifts, and just having some fun. But we are to enjoy these things not by shoving aside spiritual matters, but rather in union with matters of the heart.

Now is the time to be attentive to matters of the heart. Don't let boredom be your attitude of choice. Rouse your interest in the important matters of God and keep the true reason for the season a priority.

Now is the time to sort the vital from the trivial, and the eternal from the worldly. Remain watchful, be ready for the action of God, pay attention to what is coming. Now is the time to make ready for hope, so remain watchful, advent has begun.

Jesus Christ is coming, are you ready?


Read other messages by Pastor Wade