Three Words for Advent 1:
Watch, Work, Wait
Pastor Jim Kniseley prepared this sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, November 30, 2008. The gospel text is Mark 13:24-37.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The symbols of the Season of Advent are with us now in the sanctuary. The advent wreath, the Chrismon tree and the banners are a visual message to us that someone special is coming, and we need to get ourselves prepared.
I know that a good number of you here today did not grow up with the tradition of observing advent. For your sake, I would like to take this opportunity to explain the reason behind doing advent the way we do it. Churches that follow the church calendar observe advent as the four weeks leading up to Christmas. We encourage our people to remember the three “comings of Jesus”: Jesus first came in the form of the infant at Bethlehem; Jesus comes now to us in various ways, including in the scripture, at our baptism, in holy communion, and in the midst of the community of faith; and, Jesus will come again someday in his power and glory at the end of time.
The mood of advent is more subdued by design than is the joyful mood of Christmas. Just as Lent is a season of preparation for Easter joy, advent has been called a “mini-lent.” The world out there neither understands nor likes the season of advent. They want to go directly from Thanksgiving to Christmas. The world doesn’t like the call to introspection of one’s heart and the call to prepare for Jesus’ coming by taking care of the needy. So you will hear Christmas carols all the time now on the radio, in the mall, at practically every business that caters to holiday shoppers. Even here in the church you will hear the annual plea, “Please, can’t we sing some Christmas carols? I can’t stand those dull, dreary advent hymns!”
Today I want to present three words that will help us understand the Biblical emphases that we want to lift up on this first Sunday in Advent. I call these the three “w” words: Watch, Work, and Wait.
Jesus was speaking with his disciples in today’s gospel reading about the end of the world, when he would return again. They naturally wanted to know when that would take place. And Jesus told them no one, not even he, knows the exact time. But he gives this counsel: Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. And he tells a parable about a man who was the head of a household. This man decided to go away on a trip and he left his servants in charge. They did not know when the man would return, so they were told to be ready at all times, lest he should return and find them sleeping. So, Jesus says to all of us, I want you to be ready for my return at any time.
If I can get practical with you for a moment: That Jesus will return one day is certain. Most likely our deaths will occur before Jesus’ return, so I believe that being ready for Jesus covers both our death when we will meet Jesus and the return of Jesus to this world.
The second word today is “work.” It has to do with what are we to do and how are we to live today as we are waiting and being watchful for the return of Jesus. St. Paul told the Corinthians that every spiritual gift would be given them as they waited for the coming of the Lord. That promise is for us here today too.
Just in case some here are wondering about what we can do in our own lives to get a spiritual “tune-up” during these 4 weeks of advent, I would like to lift up a few ideas that we all can do:
1. Do something each and every day that will bring you into direct contact with
the Lord: pray, read the Bible, listen to a Christian radio or television program, use a devotional booklet, read a spiritual book
2. Worship every Sunday and on Christmas Eve.
3. Send Christmas cards that present a Christ-centered message.
4. In your decorations at home, include something that presents a reminder that
Christmas is the Birthday of Jesus.
5. Help someone in need, and tell them that you are doing it for Jesus.
The third word for today is “wait.” The advent wreath is a way to teach us about waiting. For hundreds and hundreds of years the Jewish people waited for the Messiah, the one who was foretold by the prophets. For the past 2,000 years, Christians have waited for the return of Jesus. These 4 weeks of waiting give us just a little sense of what all this waiting is about and how God chooses to work His Promises.
Dorothy Bass has written a book entitled, Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time. In her book, Dorothy tells of a mother who came up with a new version of the common parental question, “How was your day today?” As she tucks her children into bed each night, this insightful mother asks instead, “Where did you meet God today?”
Her children are used to this question, so the answers come tumbling out: “My teacher helped me.” “There was a homeless person in the park.” “I saw a tree with lots of flowers in it.” The mother then shares with them some ways she has met God in the course of the day. Comforted by the awareness of God’s presence in their lives, the children fall contentedly off to sleep. As Bass puts it, “The stuff of this day has become the substance of their prayers.”
What can we learn today from this wise mother in Dorothy Bass’ book? We learn that she felt close to God and conveyed this attitude to her children. This mother obviously taught her kids Bible stories, and she also made sure that they saw and knew that God was at work today just as much as he was back in Bible times. And, they learned to trust God.
May God grant to every one of us worshippers today this kind of understanding.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.