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
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
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
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