Sunday, November 28, 2004

First Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Therefore be ye also ready; for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh.

There is a commercial for our local television news crew focusing on the weather department. With the terrible weather in Texas this week, they have much about which they can boast. They stayed on for hours, reporting the trouble areas and warning the listeners about the most severe storms. The commercial says something to the effect, “Years ago the only warning you had of an incoming storm was the rumbling of thunder. Now you have our weather team.”

Here in Texas the rumbling of thunder does not necessarily mean we will see the storm. Since the land is so flat, we can watch the thunder storms wander by twenty or thirty miles from our home. I’ve spent many nights on the patio watching the fascinating light show without concern because I know those storms will never come our way.

Yet, during these past few days, some of the storms popped up out of nowhere. Unless you were sitting in front of the TV or at the computer screen watching the most up to date information, it was difficult to know where or when these storms might strike. Just yesterday morning I watched as a storm went from light showers over San Antonio to a heavy, dangerous storm that covered the next county completely in a matter of minutes. These are the most dangerous storms because they bring fast rushing water on the roadways without warning.

Hundreds of people were caught up in these currents, their cars drug away by the force of the water. There were two tractor trailers crossing a road near a rising creek bed when a wall of water rushed at them. The water pushed the two trailers off the road so that they were hanging at a precarious angle off the interstate. The drivers were eventually rescued. It is easy for us to think that they should not have even been there, but when they tried to cross the road was still safe. It was a sudden wall of water they could not predict that sent them to their uncertain fate.

I watched the news for most of that day and listened as the reporters and city officials repeated the warnings to drivers over and over again. Do not cross a barrier. Do not drive on a road that is covered with water. The water rises quickly, so stay away from any low water crossings even if there is no water at present. They suggested that everyone should stay where they were, to not try to go out if at all possible. The storms would pass and the water would recede, so everyone was safest staying off the roadways. Yet, many people were panicked and they did not listen or watch for the danger signs.

While there were floods that came suddenly, there were things the drivers could do to avoid trouble. They could avoid the roads that typically get flooded. They could stay in one place through the storm. They could be aware of the rising water even if it was not yet on the roadway and turn around to find another way to their destination. The key to being safe was being aware of the possibilities.

This is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of the church year that leads to Christmas. This is a time of darkness as we wait the birth of our Savior. It is also a time when we look forward to the Second coming of Christ. It is a time of longing, of waiting, of being prepared. The scriptures for today talk of keeping watch because we will not know the time or the day. These are warnings to be prepared at all times because Christ could come in the blink of an eye.

It seems hard to believe that the Church has held on to this promise for so long, after all, the language makes it sound like the return was imminent. How disappointing it must have been for those early Christians whose lives were changed by the Gospel and the hope for His coming. Yet, the Church lived on. In our modern age, people are once again yearning for the coming of Christ. Even secular culture has been caught up in the idea of the rapture and the final judgment. Books, movies and games play on the theme of Jesus’ appearance in the clouds. Prophets are warning of the signs. Religious zealots are living as if there will be no tomorrow.

Yet, perhaps we should be looking at the imminence of the coming not in terms of earthly time, but in terms of God’s time. The scriptures tell us that for God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years a day. He does not follow time as we know it. What has happen then is happening now and will happen in the future. The salvation of Christ is given at the cross to all who believe, as well as give in this day and will be given in that final day. Christ is near in time, not because the Day of Judgment will be today or tomorrow, but because all that He has done is timeless.

When we think of Christ only in terms of the past, the present or the future, we do not live fully in His presence. If we stay in the past, we live as if there is nothing left to be done. We do not bother to keep watch or to wake up from our slumber. If we stay in the present, then we think what we do matters in terms of our salvation. When we look only to the future, we think we have time to get ready and we put off the things we should do for the sake of the kingdom.

In other words, Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. As we live in this truth, we realize that our faith is not a past, present or future reality. It is all three. We die with Christ through our baptism, going with Him to the cross. We live with Christ in this present reality, a reality that includes faith and grace and the hope of the promise to come. We look forward to the fulfillment of the promises. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

That’s why Advent is not just a time to wait for the coming of the baby Jesus. We tend to focus so heavily on the preparations we are making for the Christmas season and we forget that we live as Easter people even through the darkness of Advent. Even while we are decorating our homes, baking our cookies and purchasing our presents, we should be ready for the coming of Christ in His glory.

Paul calls us to live godly lives in Christ while we wait. “Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” We should take these words to heart as we begin the mad dash to Christmas with too many parties and too little focus on Christ. We get so caught up in the festivities, the lights and the revelry that we turn from the very one which we are supposed to be honoring. We drink too much and eat too much. We overspend and give with the wrong motives. We bicker with those we live because we are tired and frustrated. We lose sight of the Christ in the midst of the glitz and glitter of the holiday.

This is why Paul calls us to wear the armor of light, to wear Christ through everything we do. This is why Jesus tells us to be prepared. We can so easily fall into the temptations of this world that if we do not keep our eyes on Christ we end up living in the darkness.

Isaiah tells us that there will come a day when the law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. This day came with the first coming of Christ, when Jesus who was the Law and the Word of God in flesh came to save humanity from sin and death. He walked the streets of Jerusalem and all of Israel, preaching the Kingdom of God and healing the sick. He brought light into the darkness of this world. It is this Incarnation for which we prepare during Advent, looking forward to the light of the world being born in that stable in Bethlehem. Yet, the promises found in Isaiah are not yet complete.

Isaiah says, “And he will judge between the nations, and will decide concerning many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Ask anyone living in the Holy Land if this has been fulfilled and they will say certainly not. Jerusalem lives under threat of violence on a daily basis, the residents die from violence no matter what creed they profess.

So, while God has given us the Savior, taken away the darkness and replaced it with the Light, the darkness still exists in this world. We live in those last days, but the end has not yet come. It is that time for which we also yearn, the coming of the King of Glory. Until that day we can only walk in faith watching and waiting in faith that He will come soon. We keep our eyes on Jesus so that when the day comes we will not miss Him as so many did that first time so long ago.

The Psalm for today is a hymn of joy and prayer. It comes from a pilgrim’s perspective as he entered into the Holy City of Jerusalem. Imagine the awe of one who visited from a small village in the desert, having seen only a small corner of the world. Jerusalem must have been incredible with the closely built homes and the amazing temple. This was the city of kings, the place of God’s dwelling. This was the center of Jewish life and hope and peace. The pilgrim says a prayer as he stands in awe of this city. He prays not only for the peace of Jerusalem, but also for the safety of all those who love her. His prayer is not only for the city, but also for the people. “For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. For the sake of the house of Jehovah our God I will seek thy good.”

This is a cry we often hear in today’s world. How lovely it would be if there were peace in Jerusalem, for too many people are suffering from the senseless violence of this war over misplaced hope. Those who fight over the turf are still missing the only One who offers true peace. God no longer dwells in a temple, now He abides in the hearts of those who believe. In faith we wait with patience and endurance, keeping our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. He will come like the flash floods, quickly and without warning. Though there will be signs we can recognize, we must remember that time is meaningless in the eyes of God. We may think the signs point to a specific moment, but only God truly knows when Christ will come again.

During this Advent, we are called to live clothed in Christ, keeping from the deeds of darkness. The people in Noah’s day had no idea what was to come, they kept living as if they were safe from the judgment of God. The same was true of those people who did not heed the warnings of the officials and reporters the other day during the storm. It will also happen to all those who do not prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus in His glory, for this will be a day of judgment for those who continue to walk in the darkness.

However, it will be a day of joy and peace for those of us who have died with Christ and live with Him in faith through our journey in this world. Then we will see Him fully and know the fulfillment of all His promises. Come Lord Jesus. Come.

Thanks be to God.

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