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Advent 1 2019 – Coming, ready or not!

READING: Matthew 24:36-44

SERMON

I WONDER IF YOU EVER PLAYED “HIDE AND SEEK”?

Most kids seem to have.

You see it in movies too – the seeker counts to 20 and the hiders scramble for cover.

The key line is supposed to come after the counting to 20 – or whatever period is agreed upon by the players.

Do you remember what it is? “Coming, ready or not!”

Tom Wright tells the story of when he was a bishop living in this historical house. And one Saturday when the family were all at home having a lazy day – reading and snoozing, with lunch bits and pieces not yet put in the kitchen and a general muddle everywhere, the doorbell rang. He answered the door and found a delegation of 30 people from overseas who had arranged to visit the place for a tour.

He’d forgotten all about them.

He hastily took them to the garden to have a look around, and the family quickly charged around and tidied up.

You see it in adverts. Young people shoving all their things in a cupboard because the parents have arrived. And then of course the whole lot comes tumbling out on the floor.

Coming, ready or not?

Are we ever really ready for the Christmas visit by the interesting relatives we seldom see or cope with?

Jesus says in the last verse of today’s Gospel reading:

Mat 24:44  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Matthew 24 is all about readiness. So is Matthew 25. Because stuff is going to happen.

  • The destruction of the temple is foretold.
  • Signs of the end of the age are spelt out.
  • The abomination of desolation is discussed. The desecration of the temple foretold in Daniel 9, 11 and 12.
  • The coming of the son of man is explained.

Then comes a simple warning – learn from the fig tree. When its twigs get tender and its leaves come out – says Jesus – you know that summer is here.

Read the signs!

He continues: Mat 24:33  Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.

People get very excited about this business of the end of the world or the day of Jesus’ return.

We had a couple years ago called in our parish. He was a tough old bloke. And every time there was another earthquake, he would get so excited because the end was nearer – he would say. And she would say – but what about all those poor people!

We get excited too sometimes. Occasionally I hear it in peoples’ prayers. And there have been a whole lot of dramatic things recently haven’t there – earthquakes and rioting, unrest and chaos. Its not helped by the fires and floods too – and the climate change debate.

People would have got excited reading Matthew’s gospel too.

The prediction of Jesus about the temple was fulfilled. This happens within Matthew’s lifetime and probably before he writes his gospel when Titus and his legions destroy the temple. They separate stone from stone – because the gold from the roof melted in the fire seeped into the walls. As a matter of interest, the western wall that Jews pray at today was not part of the actual temple but an outer kind of retaining wall

Readers of Matthew 24 might still get excited about all the other things Jesus lists. All that apocalyptic stuff. BUT – then comes verse 36 – it’s so close, but no one knows!

Mat 24:36  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

We’re in between the “right at the door” warning with all the signs – and this unknowing.

In between his first and second coming.

  • And that’s Advent in a nutshell.
  • It’s about coming. Celebrating a past coming and looking out for another coming.

We think mainly of Christmas preparation really. “Are we ready for Christmas?”

On the first Sunday of Advent when we’re all really thinking Christmas – there’s always a reading about getting ready for Jesus’ second coming.

  • We already know that he will come again. After all he tells us so.
  • Should we worry about when?

Verse 36 makes it clear: Mat 24:36  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Jesus before his ascension in Acts 1 makes it clear again: Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Like knowing the date of your death, this knowledge would not be helpful.

The best illustration is one Mark and I talked about this week. Take for example a deadline that you have. And exam or an assignment due. So often we put things off.

Cramming is not on.  You don’t have to cram to be ready for Jesus’ coming. You can’t.

Tom Wright reflecting on that day when the 30 visitors turned up writes:

You can tidy a house in a few minutes, if you put your mind to it. But you can’t reverse the direction of a whole life, a whole culture. By the time the ring on the doorbell happens it’s too late. That’s what this passage, and the next one, are about.

To quote Mark – that’s our St Mark, you don’t have to be burdened if you haven’t done enough.

  • You can finish an assignment just before the deadline.
  • When you know when the end comes – like an assignment date – you can fall behind early and try to catch up later.
  • You can cram for an exam. But not for his coming.

Our interesting old man in our parish who loved earthquakes didn’t see the second coming. He did die however. As Jesus said in John 14: Joh 14:2  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

Joh 14:3  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. Jesus came for him.

Did he have to wait on edge? Afraid? No. Neither should we.

Just don’t be caught out oblivious of the real issues in life. As in the days of Noah – says Jesus.

Jesus continues: Mat 24:37  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; Mat 24:39  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:40  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:41  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

I don’t know if you remember the Left Behind series? I remember the movie “A thief in the night” years back.

Larry Norman had a song which is unforgettable:
“Life was filled with guns and war… I wish we’d all been ready.” Remember it?

The verses included “two men walking up a hill – the one disappears and the other’s left standing still…” Teenage kids ran out the hall when we watched the movie. People wanted to know whether it was helpful to have Christian pilots flying the planes they were in. In case they were taken and they were still on the plane.

The interesting thing about this passage is Jesus’ line: “As it was in the days of Noah”

And in Noah’s case – the flood took the unsuspecting sinners away?

It seems to be saying that when the son of Man comes, people will be taken away too.

Question: Are the good ones or the bad ones going to be taken away here? Commentators are divided on this. The context seems to hint at the good ones (cf. Math 24:31). But in Noah’s day the ones left behind are Noah’s team. That the bad guys were taken out by the flood. Others reverse it – and say that Jesus will take us away – like the Ark rescued those few families. Whicher it is, it sounds pretty serious.

We need to live in readiness – which is not a paranoia that we might die tomorrow so we’d better somehow cram – do last minute prep. Or be like Constantine who waited until just before his death in May 337 before he got baptized – as he didn’t want to be polluted by last minute sins and not get to heaven.

When you know when the end comes – like an assignment date or exam – the danger is you can fall behind early and try to catch up later.

When you don’t know – you have to be ready at all times. Like some of our spot tests in Hellenistic Greek or Biblical Hebrew.

HOW DO WE GET READY THEN?

Our Advent readiness is one part of this.

  • For me it’s getting ready for various services.
  • For many of you its shopping and gifts and sorting the house out BEFORE the 30 guests are at the door.
  • Pastors should be intentional in figuring out what our response to the traditional way of doing Christmas should be. How we should do things this time.

You have to be ready and watchful daily – not cramming for the exam.

It’s all about how you wait – especially when it gets hard. It’s not about perfection, but about attitude and relationship. About living in a way that honors God’s character and purpose. Abiding in him.

And don’t try to predict. V36 – is key – no one knows except the father.

As we wait the solution is to be intentional – choose to be different even if it’s just between now and Christmas as a starter. And beyond of course.

Call it Advent intentionality for now.

V42 is a second reminder to 36: Mat 24:44  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

– you don’t know! Therefore keep watch!

  • Be ready for Christmas – sure
  • Be ready to move house – ask people moving house about that
  • Be ready for your wedding day – talk to those planning way ahead of time.
  • Be ready for exams (probably too late now – better luck next time)
  • Be ready to die because it’s only a matter of time. But do it without fear – Jesus said “in my father’s house are many rooms, chalets, mansions, baches…” – you choose the term.

The readiness is about being ready for what?  Good question!

Ready for the final accountability which we will face.

It’s not necessarily hell, fire and damnation – but a sense that we want to honour God in our lives in response to his love.

When we come to Jesus and are yoked to him, he walks with us through the challenges. And gives us rest when we need it (See Matthew 11).

But the preparedness is still our responsibility.

For homework (being prepared takes effort) – read the rest of Matthew 24 about the faithful and wise servant which follows. When the master comes, he needs to find him doing his job.The wicked servant is in trouble because “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.”. His fate is pretty grim in verse 51.

Read Matthew 25 to see what preparedness means.

Preparedness involves oil for your lamps – using your talents he gives – and caring for the people listed in the judgement scene where the goats and sheep are separated.

  • The foolish maidens are locked out. There too Jesus reminds his listeners: Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour
  • The man who doesn’t use what God has given him is sorted out in verse 30: – Mat 25:30  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth
  • The goats hear these words: ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Read the warning labels or face the dangers listed. Be alert. Be awake. Be ready.

No paranoia please. Just prayer, praise and preparedness.

Happy Advent.

Sunday Sermon 2 December – Be alert and ready

Readings: Jer 33:14 – 16   1 Thess 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36

Message

So it’s the beginning of Advent. The season of silliness for some – but for Christians a time of serious reflection and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Advent means “arrival”.

Today we look at the second coming of Jesus as we prepare for the celebration of his first coming.

The reading today from Luke 21 is scary apolcalyptic stuff. Followed by

  • A parable
  • Some warnings
  • Some great encouragement.

THE PARABLE

The bonus parable of the fig tree is not very exciting or profound like other parables which are rich in meaning.

It’s really a warning.  Jesus really is telling his listeners in this Luke passage to read the signs. They were signs of the Kingdom. He goes on in verse 31:  Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Remember last week – Christ the King Sunday? The Kingdom concept his central again. The Kingdom had come and was still coming

The Gospel reading is full of interesting bits today of course: Like the next verses.

Luk 21:32  “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Some of this is fulfilled already. Some things did happen in that generation – like the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple by the Romans. (See verses 20-21). Most Bible scholars believe that these passages have prophetic parts that are already fulfilled and major apocalyptic parts that point us to the future.

For both the people of that day and for us and followers in the future there is encouragement and hope.  Take for example that most encouraging and Presbyterian verse focusing on the words of Jesus (Presbyterians place the Bible at the centre of life and faith):

Luk 21:33  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The power of the word of God – the word of Christ – its unchanging nature and truth. This in itself is a sermon brewing away. For now – what Jesus says remains true forever! So don’t give up on him! Trust and believe!

THE WARNINGS

And especially for today and our generation – with patience and watchfulness, I think that God does have a word for us. It’s verse 34. Listen and look carefully:

Luk 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

We always think of Lent as a solemn time of reflection as we prepare to face the terrible truth that it was for our miserable skins and sins that Jesus died.

Advent is also a time of reflection and a stark reminder that people were supposed to get ready when Jesus came. In fact the Eastern Orthodox Church treats it just like Lent. Very seriously and not in the Christmassy kind of tinselly way that we do.

Of course at that first Christmas there were people who were ready and open to God and did respond – the Marys and Josephs listen to the Spirit speaking through dreams and the clear voice of angels, the shepherds who had heaps of singing angels getting their attention, and later the wise men who were carefully studying signs as well.

We could be enjoying those nice stories today but no – we are faced with the prospect of his second coming – and the piercing question about our lack of readiness.

Listen again to verse 34:  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap”.

This is another one of those sermons where we think “if only so and so were here to listen to this!).

Warning 1: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down with Dissipation (gluttony, self-indulgence and wastefulness).

Our hearts may not be weighed down with dissipation (which is self-indulgence and wasteful living) but there is something for all here – ESPECIALLY at Christmas where people do overdo things. And of course in the wealthy parts of the world we do waste so much!

Warning 2: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by drunkenness. That needs little explanation.

There is a local problem in our nation of too much alcohol – and especially binge drinking. It’s a scourge – an affliction.

If this does not really involve us – look at Petersen’s translation The Message here which goes like this: “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.”

Sound familiar?

The third one is for the purists and tea totallers here who are not often gluttonous and don’t drink:

Warning 3: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by the the anxieties of life.

The anxieties of life do weigh down our hearts.

Anxious about so much, we forget Paul’s injunction in Philippians 4:6-7:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So again: Luke 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

You will be caught unawares. The day will come.

AVOID SPECULATION

Here’s the thing. I don’t believe in speculating about when the day will come. After all Mark in a similar passage adds this reminder to stop speculation:  “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

It seems to me, however, that if it does not come in our lifetime, there’s this amazing leveller called death that will come. Remember John 14 from the funeral this week (for those who were here)? I go to prepare a place for you…

We need to be just as ready. We never know when our lives will end in any case.

Jesus carries on in verses 35 and 36: For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.

It’s about being ready

About the right perspective: Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

IT IS A SERIOUS MATTER.

I remember well one of the brothers  in our lives – from years ago –  who was so excited about the return of Jesus that he would jump for joy at the announcement on the news of every earthquake. His wife was far more pastoral, and prayed for the poor souls stuck under the rubble. He just wanted Jesus to come back!

For the early church – ravaged by persecution and destruction – the coming was also longed for. MARANATHA was their prayer. Come Lord! (1 Cor 16:22)

The word to them was really about patience. They needed courage. Verse 28 was for them a great verse:  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

O my. What a powerful verse – and how good for us too! Stand up and lift up your heads – for your redemption is drawing near!

Redemption is at the heart of this whole story. Like Christ the King ushering in his Kingdom, it’s a word that crops up a lot.

This is not “redemption” as in the letters of Paul – a theology of the cross.

This redemption means rescue. And rescue from the mess they would find themselves in.

Holding on for God to come

He is coming

Maranatha!

For us today – we can combine verse 28 and verse 36 in a simple recipe for life:

Stand up and lift your heads – and watch and pray.

For us this also means:

  • He is our redeemer It’s about perspective and confidence – that God is the one who makes our lives different and that he will come through for us.
  • He will do it! (Psalm 37:5-6) – whatever it is we are hoping for him to do he will come through for us.
  • Don’t be distracted and weighed down! And for most of us it’s the anxieties of life (v34) that can weigh our hearts down! Be careful, says Jesus! “That day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”
  • Be alert and ready! The trap imagery is a little different from the other simile “like a thief in the night” which we find in Paul’s writings in 1 Thessalonians 5:2
  • Trust Him even if your world is shaken. You get the idea. It’s about watchfulness and readiness. However our lives are shaken – we are to be alert.

But mainly it’s about Hope!

The first candle of Advent which we lit today is the candle of Hope.

As we Stand up and lift (y)our heads – and watch and pray – we will be  focussed on the King who came in Jesus and who will come again.

May the glory always go to him!

Amen.