Jesus is Coming!
The gospel reading is Mark 13:24-37. Pastor Jim Kniseley prepared this sermon for November 27, 2011, the First Sunday in Advent.
Dear Friends in Christ,
When we entered the sanctuary today we knew that the Season of Advent had arrived. The Chrismon Tree and the Advent Wreath and the beautiful blue banners and the Stable leave little doubt in our minds that we had better get ourselves ready for Christmas and for celebrating Jesus’s birth into this world.
It used to be true that the denominations that observed Advent could be listed on one hand: Catholics and Episcopalians and Orthodox and Lutherans. Now lots of Christians observe the Season of Advent. It is a way to prepare our hearts and minds for the real meaning of Christmas. We encourage people to remember the three “comings of Jesus”: Jesus first came in the form of the infant at Bethlehem; Jesus comes to us now in the various ways, including in 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 Season of Advent is counter-cultural. For a culture that has bought into the shop ‘til you drop mentality, that whole-heartedly endorses the sentimentality of Hallmark Movies, and that leaves less and less room for Jesus, then our four weeks of talking about preparing our hearts, getting our priorities straight, of getting closer to the Lord in our lives, sounds so “old hat and out of step with reality.” Besides, it doesn’t make money for shopping malls.
This past Friday, so called “Black Friday”, is symbolic of what is a threat to our souls today. I read in the Free-Lance Star that 1,000 people lined up outside Toys Are Us for their 9 PM Thursday sale, 700 people lined up outside Old Navy for their midnight sale, and about 500 lined up outside Bust Buy for their midnight sale. Contrast this with the concern that many of our clergy in the Fredericksburg area have for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Christmas this year comes on a Sunday. For those who say we don’t do worship on Christmas Eve because that is a time for family, how many will extend that thinking to not being at worship on Christmas Day? Yes, the culture is a “siren” to our people. “Worship Santa and family and gift-giving and watching the Parade on television. You don’t have to think about Jesus…”
Today, I again 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 is speaking with his disciples in today’s gospel reading about the end of the world and when he would return again. They naturally wanted to know when that would take place. Jesus told them no one, not even he, knows the exact time. Over the Thanksgiving Break, Pastor Carol and I were in Knoxville. I turned on the TV. one morning early and found a local preacher outlining in a most convincing way why he was sure that the end of the world was almost here. He used the Book of the Revelation and had wonderful charts. If I did not know my Bible and did not know that Jesus said that no one can predict the end of the world, then I might have been very tempted to believe this TV. preacher’s message. This is the counsel that Jesus gives to us: 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 death 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 in today’s epistle reading that every spiritual gift would be given them as they waited for the coming of the Lord. That promise is 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 Christ-centered 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 one 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 mother in Dorothy Bass’s 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.