ST. STEHPEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH NOVEMBER 27, 2016
READY OR NOT
Romans 13: 11 – 14; Matthew 24: 36 – 44
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
So, Advent has begun. And the beginning of Advent means one thing – Christmas is coming! As Christians we’re preparing to celebrate God’s amazing gift of incarnation in the birth of Jesus. You have a full month ahead filled with worship and fellowship. And then of course there are parties, music, decorating, shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking, card writing, family visits, and eating. All the things we associate with the festival of Christmas. Imagine for a moment coming to worship on Christmas Eve. You walk in the door at 6:50 with expectancy; eager to hear the Christmas Story and carol your heart out. The foyer’s quiet. You go into the sanctuary to discover there are no decorations, no poinsettias, no Order of Service, no candles, no choir, no Joan and no Communion elements. You find a seat with others who are waiting and a tad perplexed. I’m in my office frantically working on a liturgy and sermon for the evening. In other words, I’m just not ready. And I’m soon to be unemployed. Or imagine Christmas morning, the kids wake up to discover Santa’s cookies, which they left out the night before, haven’t been eaten. They go downstairs to the Christmas tree – nothing there. No presents in sight, no stocking hung by the chimney – with or without care. There’s no special breakfast because Mom and Dad are still asleep, although they’re about to be woken up by howling children who have suddenly realized that thing about Santa not coming to naughty children may be true. Later that day, your extended family shows up to share the Christmas feast. They come into the house but there’s no wafting scents of roasting turkey or pumpkin pie. You can’t offer them a drink or snack because you didn’t buy groceries. They’ve brought gifts so, feeling awkwardly obliged, you check downstairs to see if there’s anything you can re-gift, only to give them back the weird thing they gave you last year. Christmas would be a disaster if no one was ready, but ready or not, it’s coming.
The first Christmas was much like that. Who was ready for the birth of Jesus? The angel announcement shocked Mary. Joseph had to be convinced to go along with the plan. Shepherds were going about business as usual. And the inn-keeper set up a make shift, last minute camel stall as a hotel room. If they’d known what to expect and when, Mary could have stocked up on diapers. Joseph could have arranged for a doula in Bethlehem. The shepherds could have hired supply shepherds to watch the flocks and headed out to “see this thing” (Luke 2: 15) without the fuss of an angel choir. The inn-keeper could have booked the Bridal Suite, brought in a bassinet, boiled the water and had the champagne ready to pop. Although the prophets predicted the coming of the Messiah for a few hundred years, people had stopped thinking about it. They’d stopped anticipating it. They weren’t ready.
God isn’t done breaking through into human history. Something else is coming. Since the time of Jesus another major event has been predicted. Jesus is going to return to the earth. This time he’ll come as a champion and judge completing his campaign against evil and taking his faithful into the presence of God. The danger is that, just as it was for Jesus’ first coming, people won’t be ready this time either. It would, of course, be easier to be ready if we had some idea when this would happen – or would it? Knowing something’s going to happen, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re prepared for it. I once dated a guy who showed up Christmas day without a present. In discussing this with him I asked if he’d been “surprised” by Christmas “Didn’t see it coming, eh? Thought it might fall on a different day this year?” I dumped him – I don’t think he saw that coming either. People spend a lot of time studying and deciphering the book of Revelation to figure out when Jesus will return. Both Jesus and Paul emphasized we would not know the time of Christ’s return. Jesus said, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24: 36) He compared it to the average person in Noah’s time, going about their daily business, ignoring the “nutty guy” building the boat. Then – bam – swept away in a flood. Jesus warned us to “stay awake” (vs. 42); Paul advised “wake from your sleep” (Romans 13: 11). I doubt they meant this physically or we’d all be living on Red Bull. They were speaking spiritually. When I was a kid I loved to eavesdrop on adult conversations so I’d resist sleeping; my parents said it was because “she doesn’t want to miss anything.” To be spiritually awake is to be attentive to God in each present moment so as not to miss anything. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Advent invites us to awaken from our numbed endurance and our domesticated expectations…. to consider our life afresh in light of new gifts that God is about to give.” While it’s true that Advent is a wonderful reminder we are to stay awake, the flaw in the statement is that we are to “awaken” all year long. We’re to be awake in everything we do – eating, drinking, working, playing, serving, loving, etc. We’re to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5: 17), to believe without faltering, to love without thought for ourselves, to trust without worrying and to watch for God every moment in our lives. If we watch for the small ways which God breaks through to us, we won’t miss the big one. When we live wakefully we realize the Kingdom of God is coming and it is everywhere, here and now. (cf. Luke 17: 21)
Another way we get ready for Christ’s return is that we “put on the armour of light” (Romans 13: 12). Often the thought of Jesus’ return is one that scares us. Jesus said, “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left” (Matthew 24: 40). We can’t help but wonder “which one will I be?” And a day of judgement before the throne of God is a terrifying thought. But like his first coming, the second coming of Christ is an act of love, forgiveness, redemption, hope, joy and grace. It will bring an end to all the suffering on earth. It will be the act that brings to fullness the reconciliation between God and those who are “baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection” (cf Romans 6:3). To “put on the armour of light” we need to “lay aside the work of darkness” (Romans 13: 12). Before we can put on, we need to take off. As we examine ourselves we take off fear, pain, and isolation; deadlines, debt and distractions; guilt, shame and fear; cynicism, defensiveness and illusions; greed, grudges and envy. We reject the ways of the world and live as if we’re bound for heaven. A family remembers their grandfather, a clergyman, who irritated them with his incessant chatter of joining Jesus in heaven. He also acted on his expectations, as if the kingdom were already here. He was utterly unconcerned for the things of this world. The family gave him a gold watch for his birthday. He promptly gave it away to a beggar on the streets because “nobody needs a watch in heaven”. Although he had only a small church pension, he sent his OAS to missionaries. They bought him a new felt hat for Christmas. First Sunday he wore it to church, he sat on it. When chastised for his carelessness, Grandpa simply shrugged because “in a hundred years who will care and, besides, who needs a hat in heaven?” The details of what God is calling you to do may be different from Grandpa’s; the point is: if Jesus is returning and we are heaven bound, it should cause us to live differently – as children of the light, rather than of the darkness.
Finally to be ready, we need to prepare. The word “coming” in Matthew 24:37 is a rich word in the Greek language. It’s the word parousia. Parousia was used to announce the coming of a King. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament gives this description: “The customary honours of the parousia of a ruler are: flattering addresses, tributes, delicacies, asses to ride on and for baggage, improvement of streets, golden wreaths or money, and feeding of the sacred crocodiles.” The parousia of Christ is more than just a casual visit for coffee, his coming is an event for which one prepares. Jesus doesn’t need his baggage carried or good road conditions. Yet, if we look at these things metaphorically we see that, as well as preparing our souls, we prepare for Christ’s coming in outward ways as well. We prepare through worship – through words and tributes that honour him and remind us of his Kingship and importance. We prepare through our stewardship – giving our self, our gifts, our finances, our time to Christ and to the work of his kingdom. We prepare by alleviating the burdens of others – we comfort and provide for them in their needs, sorrows, injustices, and trials. We do this not only physically but also spiritually. We offer them Christ, the bread of life, “as one beggar telling another where to find food.” And just as when an honoured guest arrives, we give them our undivided attention, so we prepare for Christ by listening to his Word.
Christmas is coming! So as you shop and wrap, as you bake and cook, as you decorate and celebrate, as you get ready to celebrate the first coming of Christ, ask yourself “in what ways am I getting ready for Jesus’ return?” because ready or not – he’s coming!