Our scripture, reading from the Gospel of Mark, the 13th chapter, beginning with the 23rd verse Hear the Word of God:
be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
You pray with me. Gracious God, open our minds to these words and open our hearts to the living Word of Christ that we may be changed today and forever. Amen.
Be on your guard, be alert, keep watch. Therefore, keep watch. To everyone I say watch. Do you think Jesus is trying to make a point? Be alert, be ready, be watchful.
This morning, we begin with the church season of watching, the season we know as Advent. It is not Christmas, yet. This is the time of preparation for the coming of Christmas. It's a time to watch in hope for the coming of Christ. Because He came once 2,000 years ago, so He will come again in glory. So be alert, get ready, watch He said.
That's what he was trying to convey to His disciples. He knew he would be leaving soon. Just around the corner from this text and around the corner from where He was meeting with the disciples, was a hill called Calvary, and then an empty tomb, and then a risen Lord and an ascension.
He wanted them to be re-assured that, although he was going away, he would return, and he wants them to be ready when he does. This is not the first time that the people of God had been admonished to be ready, to be looking, to be watching.
The Old Testament prophets had advised those same people to be on the lookout for the coming of the Christ, the Savior. God would come to save His people, and that is indeed what happened at the first Christmas, the first advent, the arrival of the Savior. Many who should have been alert and watching missed the event altogether. Now Jesus is trying to warn His followers then, and His followers now, to be ready, to be alert, be watchful.
You know there's a lot of misunderstanding about the second coming of Christ.
One preacher was doing house to house visitation and he knocked on the door of one family.
A man came to the door and he said "'Brother, do you belong to the Christian family'.
They thought about that a minute. He said "'No, they live two doors down'".
The preacher wasn't gonna be dissuaded. He said "'No, what I mean is, are you lost'.
The homeowner said "'No, I've lived here 30 years'".
The preacher kept going "'No, I mean, are you ready for judgment day'.
‘Well, when is it' asked the man.
Well, it could be today, could be tomorrow, could be next week".
Man thought about that a minute and said "'Well, when you know, let me know, because I'm sure my wife will want to go both days'".
Over the years, people have tended to take one of two extremes regarding the second coming of Christ. On the one hand are those who tend to downplay Christ return, and they do that for a number of reasons. Some people, sad to say some preachers, have basically chosen to ignore all the passages in the Scriptures which teach about the return of the Christ, in spite of the many references to the second coming in the Bible.
Maybe they do so because they don't believe in the supernatural. Maybe they think that the early disciples just misunderstood Jesus. After all, he hasn't made it in 2000 years. Maybe what he was talking about was the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or maybe the coming of Christ is just the work of the church in the world, representing Christ's presence among us.
Well, whatever the reason, little or no emphasis is given to the second coming of Christ and its potential impact on the lives of believers and the lives of those who don't know Jesus.
On the other hand, there are those who tend to overemphasize this doctrine of the Second Coming and they focus on this pretty much alone, to the exclusion of everything else. It seems ‘Better get saved,’ they said. ‘Nothing else matters’, ‘do it now,’ ‘don't wait’. Well, what's being said is basically correct. The problem is the approach in which those messages are delivered, emphasizing the bad news instead of the good news, trying to scare people into the kingdom of heaven.
Good intentions gone bad, and sometimes what is being said is just plain wrong, especially when it comes to predicting the return of Christ.
One thing that all the predictions about the return of Jesus over the last 2,000 years have in common is that they were all wrong. Every single one of them was wrong. In fact, we shouldn't be surprised, because verse 32, we hear Jesus say himself no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, nor the Son, the Father is the only one who knows. But if Christ didn't know the return of His time, why in the world do we expect we should? We certainly know better than Jesus.
But I do know this. Just as Christmas is one day closer today than it was yesterday, the return of Jesus is one day closer than it was yesterday, and when it happens, it's not nearly as important as that we are ready when it happens.
Many people have it in their minds that things will keep going on the same as they are today, pretty much forever. I'll make it to church next Sunday. I'll get my life straightened out after the holidays. I've always got time later to get serious about my faith. Well, the fact of the matter is, there will eventually come a time when it will be too late. Jesus tells us to be alert, because that time may come at any moment. So be ready, be watchful.
So the return of Christ is coming… So what? What does that have to do with advent and Christmas?
Well, here's the thing we live in the time in between the first advent and the second advent, the time of the already and the time of the not. Yet we may know that Christ is coming up here, but what have we done to prepare in here for his arrival in the meantime?
You see, knowing something and acting on that knowledge are two different things.
Knowing you have a test coming and studying for it, two completely different things. Knowing that winter is coming and having firewood cut and stacked when it gets cold, two different things. Knowing that you have a project at work due on a certain deadline and getting it done by that deadline, two different things.
We all know Christ is coming right, but even before He does, are we doing anything to prepare for that? Are we expecting, in hope, Jesus to show up at the second Advent, or maybe in ways even before then, especially during the Advent season?
Now, if we commit ourselves to the means of grace which God supplies, we can find ourselves in the very presence of the Spirit of Christ. Prayer, devotional readings during this next few weeks that's a beautiful way to put yourself in the presence of Christ. You will hear Christ revealed in music, like the beautiful brass music, the lovely children's music or the duets or the choir all around us, on your satellite radio, on your cassette tapes, whatever it is. Listen to that beautiful music inspiring us to worship the Lord. Come to worship on Sunday mornings during this season, especially make a plan to be in church on Christmas Eve.
I also suggest one way to get in the presence of Christ is to give more, be like Jesus. Not just money, although that is accepted, that is great this time of year, but more importantly, to give of ourselves. I know this is the busiest time of year for most of us, but it is also the quietest and loneliest time of the year for many who have experienced death or losing their job or some sort of activity in their world that has brought them to a time of depression.
So help fix that. Make some visits, bake some baked goods, write some notes, some cards. Help with a mission project. Do something to give of yourself to others. Drop some money in a salvation army kettle. When you answer the phone, say Merry Christmas instead of hello.
And if we ourselves find ourselves in that same position of being tired or lonely or stressed, I promise you the best way to get out of that is not to sit and worry about it, but to get out and do something to help others. It truly is more blessed to give than it is to receive, and when you gather with your family or friends, make sure that Christ is gathered there with you in the midst of you. Share some special table blessings, start traditions of prayer and scripture reading together. Maybe when decorating or opening presents or cards, read the Christmas story together as a family around the Christmas tree.
Finally, don't give in to the world's view of Christmas. Christmas did not begin back in October when the stores became decorated and merchandise was put on the shelves.
This is the Advent season and the actual 12 days of Christmas begins on December 25th and goes to January 6th, not the 12 days before December 25th. So use this time to relax a little bit, chill out and feel the joy that anticipating Christmas can bring.
Make an effort to put Christ back in your Christmas and you won't be disappointed. You will find yourselves living in an attitude of joyful hope. Be ready for Christmas to break through the secular holiday of Christmas and you will find Christ in the midst of what you celebrate. Remember that this is not a holiday. This is a holy day and we have an opportunity to wait in expectant hope for the coming of Christ in our Christmas and the coming of Christ in the days and years ahead.
This isn't a three-point sermon. It's not a two-point sermon. It's just a one-point sermon. Watch, watch, watch, be ready, watch and hope for the arrival of Christ. At Christmas and always. The Bible closes with these words of Jesus: “yes, I am coming quickly.” May we respond with the words of Saint John Amen, come Lord Jesus.
May you be ready and waiting and watching and have a blessed advent over the next several weeks. God bless you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.