December 1, 2002
It may have surprised some of you that I would read a text from the Bible such as this one.† You probably expected some other text to be read especially since it is the season of Advent, and now to hear a text about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ may stir up feelings of awkwardness and confusion.† After all, isnít Advent supposed to be the time during which we await Christmas, the four Sundays before Christmas when we light the advent candles, sing Christmas songs, decorate our homes, and prepare ourselves for Christmas morning?† Well, sure Advent certainly comes before Christmas, and it is certainly a time when we begin to prepare ourselves and celebrate the coming of the babe in the manger who is Christ the Lord, but Advent should mean something else to us, something much more than it does now.
Our text for us on this first Sunday of Advent is strange to our ears, and even more importantly to our hearts, because we are a people who are asleep, not literally mind you, but theologically and spiritually.† We have become accustomed to the every day normalcy of life, to the flow of time, and the days and months of the calendar.† We go through the motions of everyday life without any expectation of what is coming and who is coming very, very soon.† We have become accustomed to our normal routines and practices without being mindful and awake for the approaching age to come, the time when Christ comes again in all his glory.
Maybe that is why our text for this morning is so important for us to hear, because we need a wake up call, a reminder that our hope and expectation is not wrapped up in the Christmas season, but in the reality and promise that Godís time and our time not only intersects now, but will intersect in a dramatic way in the not so distant future when the same Christ, who was born in the manager 2000 years ago, will come again in great power and glory as Lord and Judge.
Oh yes, my friends, we are a people who need a wake up call.† The past 2000 years have lulled us to sleep, we have lost our sense of urgency and expectation, and we have forgotten our call to be awake and alert as we await the Advent of our Lord.
††††††††† During this past week, my family and I went to Memphis for Thanksgiving.† On our way to Memphis we stopped in Nashville and went to see the Opryland Hotel.† If you have never been to the Opryland Hotel, it is truly amazing, especially when it is decorated for Christmas, and we saw it during the day, so you can imagine what it is like at night.† Let me tell you that hotel spares no expense in its decorations.† Millions and millions of lights, thousands of poinsettias, a life-size nativity scene, model villages and trains, and all kinds of decorations hanging over the atriums.†
Then on our way back home, we spent the night in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee which is an unbelievable sight at night.† It reminded us of the strip in Fort Walton Beach, FL minus the ocean.† The whole town was lit up so bright that Hollie and Kara sat in the back seat with their mouths gapping open at all the lights.† Saturday morning we all went to the Christmas House, which is a huge village style Christmas store that was packed with people, so many people that it was all we could do to keep the girls in our sights.†
But I have to tell you that as much as we enjoyed visiting these places, we longed to get home to Stuarts Draft.† There was something about these places that stirred in us a sense of awareness, that we, as a people, have truly forgotten what this season is really about, that we have become so caught up in the gift buying and commercialization of the Christmas season that we donít even take time to really think about Advent and why it is so important for us.
We read passages of apocalyptic prophecy such as this one in the Bible, and we hear words like tribulation and read about events such as the sun being darkened, stars falling from the heavens, the Son of man coming in the clouds, and the elect being gathered up, but we donít even bat an eye.†
For our twenty-first century ears, the Jesus' words seem to just roll off our tongue without any thought of what is being said.† The images that flash through our mind's eye are as commonplace as the numerous visual images we have seen in movies and TV shows.† For many of us, the power and relevancy of Jesus' words have been subdued by a contemporary world, if not silenced altogether.
††††††††† That is why we longed to get home, that is why longed to get back to the church with all of you, because we needed to hear texts like the one we read this morning.† We needed to be reminded again why we celebrate Advent and why Christmas has the meaning it does.† We needed to be awaked again from our sleep so that we might yet again focus our hearts and minds on the hope that we have as Christians, the hope in the promise of Christís return.†
We needed to be reminded again that Jesus' words are indeed relevant and contemporary for our lives of faith, that the prophecy of Christ coming in glory may not have been fulfilled in the last two thousand years, but the promise of the Gospel is that Jesus' words will never pass away, they can be depended upon, they will not fail, and the prophecy will soon be fulfilled, maybe even in my life time, maybe even this week, maybe even today, maybe even right now.
And that is why Jesus has called for us to keep awake at all times, that even though we do not know the time of Christís return, we do know that he is coming.
We do know that Christís reign will finally and fully be realized, not in some distant future, but at any moment of time.† Whether it be in the evening, at midnight, at dawn, or in the morning, it doesn't matter, for at all times we are to keep awake for Christ's return.
Okay, I've said it several times now, we must keep awake, so what does that mean?† Let me first tell you what it doesn't mean.† It doesn't mean we need to consume ourselves with trying to figure out when Christ will return.† There is no secret code or symbol in Jesus' words that if we decipher then we will know when. †
Our world is already full of people who think they have figured out the end of the world, and our world is already littered with Internet web sites, books, television evangelists, radio personalities who claim to have a date in mind.† Let them spend their time worrying about it, not your time.†
So what does it mean to keep awake?† It means to keep our eyes open on what is in front of us and around us at all times.† There are too many people today who keep their eyes only on the heavens, so focused on the end of time and the coming of Christ, that they forget to look where they are walking, they forget to have their feet firmly planted on the ground ever mindful of what is going on around them.†
Keep awake! Look at where you are walking and what you are doing, do not let opportunities for service in God's kingdom come and pass by, unseen and left undone.† Life can be full of regrets, but the worst regrets are not the ones of the things we wish we could have done, but of the things we should have done.
To keep awake means to we don't neglect the times and events for the renewal of life in communion with God.† Too many people have become so complacent in their faith to where periodic church attendance, Bible study, prayer, and fellowship are seen as doing enough.
Keep awake!† Be in communion with God at all times and in all places, especially in the Church.† We live in the between times of the first Advent of Christ in the manager and the next Advent of Christ coming in glory, so what are we going to do with this time?† Will we spend it as Christ's disciples in every area and time of our lives, or only on Sunday mornings between 9:45 and 12:00?† Is Christ going to be your Lord and Savior now, or is that something you will confess later?† Has the living spiritual presence of Christ already come in glory for you, or will Christ find you asleep when he comes again in his physical glory?†
To keep awake means to be vigilant and mindful of our duty as Christians, as servants in God's kingdom.† What better example of vigilance and duty is there than that of the Marine guards who guard our nations capital, or the guards at Buckingham palace.† They stand at attention every moment they are on duty, nothing distracts them from their appointed responsibilities, nothing compromises their mission.†
Keep awake!† In every waking moment of our lives, we too are on duty, called to be loving servants and faithful witnesses at all times.† We are to live in such faithful obedience to God's word that nothing can distract us from our appointed responsibilities as Christ's faithful disciples, nor compromise our mission in the world as Christ's faithful servants.
To keep awake means to follow and trust Jesus' words.† They have not become obsolete for us, they are just as profound and relevant for our lives of faith as they were to the lives of faith of the first Christians.† Let us again regain our sense of urgency this Advent season, and let us live in the hope that Jesus' words for us today will come true.† Christ will come again.† We will see him coming with the angels in the clouds with great power and glory, and we will be gathered with the rest of his elect from all corners of the world, and there will be justice and there will be peace.†
This is our hope, this is our Christian faith.†
Therefore, let us keep awake this Advent season and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord.† In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.