Sunday, November 28, 2010

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

And many peoples shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.

Let's go! It seems like I'm always off and running to one place or another, and it can get a little frustrating when I'm waiting for someone who's going along. This morning I wanted to get out of the house early enough to get my errands done so that I'd have plenty of time to accomplish the work left at home to do. I was ready and hollered, "Let's go!" "I'm coming," someone answered and yet it still seemed like forever until they were ready to leave.

Not that I have a right to complain, since I'm often the one who is holding up the journey. "Let's go," someone will say and we begin to gather our things. I'm usually the one who needs to run to the restroom, or put on my shoes, or find my keys. "I'm coming," I answer, and it still takes minutes to be ready to go.

There are different things that can hold us up. We don't need much for a quick trip to the grocery store, but we might be held up by a phone call or a problem. We are more careful when leaving on a long journey, checking our lists and ensuring that we have everything we need, because we won't be able to come home for it. We are more anxious to get going on those journeys, because they usually lead to something far more exciting than the grocery store.

Imagine what it must have been like preparing for the journey to Jerusalem! For those pilgrims traveling long distances, the trip could mean weeks away from home. They didn't have a McDonald's on every corner, so they had to carry food and water for everyone. The probably didn't pack enough clothes for every day of the week, but they needed more than the clothes on their backs. They also needed the gifts and offerings they planned to make at the Temple. Someone calling "Let's go," was probably filled with as much excitement and exasperation as it is for us today.

We go on many types of journeys. We journey on a daily basis from home to school or work. We journey to the store or to our leisure activities. We journey to a neighbor. We usually don't think of those trips as journeys, and yet each step takes us to a new place, even if we travel the same journey over and over again. Is work the same day after day? It might seem like it, but each day is unique. Is school the same thing over and over again? I hope we learn something new each day. So, though those small journeys might seem insignificant, we can see them as opportunities to share God's grace and grow in faith.

We go on longer journeys, too. We travel on vacation, take business trips and return home for holidays. The season we are about to enter is filled with those types of trips. I'm sure many of my readers are preparing to visit someone, or have someone visit, for Thanksgiving. In the next few weeks, college students will return home for a long winter break. Snowbirds will move south for the winter. Families will gather together to share the joy of the season. I can still hear my dad calling, "Let's go" as we prepared to visit Grandma's house for one of those gatherings.

But we don't move from place to place on all our journeys. We journey through life, from childhood to adulthood, moving from one age to the next. We journey through our education, from Kindergarten to graduation day, learning and growing and changing every step along the way. We journey through our faith, walking with Christ from the moment we first heard His voice to the day we will hear Him calling us into eternal life for ever. These journeys don't take us to a place on a map, and they are often harder to identify. Sometimes we don't realize we are moving forward, or backward. We don't see how we are growing or changing. We may even think we are standing still, or even worse, that the journey we are on is pointless or insignificant, much like the trip to the grocery store.

The scriptures for this week are for the first Sunday in Advent, that period of time when we journey toward the manger. These four weeks may not seem very important, and they certainly get lost in the hustle and bustle of our quest for a perfect holiday. But in chasing after that perfection, we forget that we are beginning a journey toward the Temple in Jerusalem where we will worship the Living God. We haven't made it to Christmas, yet. The Temple is Christ Jesus, our Lord, and for the next four weeks we are meant to look forward to His coming even while we know He has already been here.

So, come, let's go. Are you ready? I'm not asking if you have all the presents for the tree or the invitations to your open house printed. Are you ready to spend the next four weeks looking forward to Christ? It might seem odd, since we just celebrated Christ as King, to return to the idea that He has not yet been born, but that's what advent is about. We begin again in darkness, with only the promise of what will come. We'll probably hear the same scriptures and the same music. The world around us will look much the same as those reusable trees and decorations are brought back out of the attic. The banners will look the same, the Chrismons have not changed. Yet, we are beginning a new journey, a new advent, a new time of looking forward to the coming Christ.

How will you make this trip worthwhile? How will you make it different? How will you make it worthwhile? What opportunity will you grab along the way to grow in faith and share God's grace?

The beginning of Advent brings us passages looking forward to the end of days. Paul says that salvation is nearer now than when they became believers. We might wonder about that; so much time has passed since they knew Christ Jesus. How was it any closer? Yet, each day that goes by brings us closer to the day when Christ will come again. So, as we look forward to the birth of the King, we remember that the King will come again. We live between the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Until that day, we are called to live in Christ, who is as present now as He was then and as He will be in that day.

I have to admit that sometimes I wish we were at that time when Christ will come again. As a matter of fact, as I look at the world around me, I think that the coming of Christ would be the best solution to all our troubles. The fear would end, the evil would no longer have a hold on us. Our worries about tomorrow would be unnecessary because Jesus has taken care of eternity for us. When someone tells me that the end of days is December 21, 2012, I think to myself: good, only two more years.

Yet, we can't live as if today is that day. Jesus said that no one will know the hour or the day, not even the angels. There's no reason for us to sit around waiting for that moment. There's too much left to do. We still have a journey to travel; we haven't made it to the Temple, yet. But we are reminded to be aware, to be on guard, to keep watch, for He is coming. We don't want to be caught unawares. We don't want to miss those opportunities we are given to shine the light of Christ in the world. Who knows, that opportunity might just happen at the grocery store.

The end will come. The birth of Christ was just the beginning, and in the next four weeks we'll look forward to Christmas day. But let's not get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season that we miss God along the way. You never know what moment Christ will come.

Perhaps that's what Jesus meant when He talked about the two men in the field. He said, "Then shall two man be in the field; one is taken, and one is left: two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left." This passage is interpreted in terms of the rapture, when Christ will come and take away the faithful. However, isn't this also how it is on our every day journeys? Don't some of us see Christ in our neighbors and others completely miss those opportunities? Don't some of us have faith and others just go about our days, step by step toward an unknown end? Don't some of us live in darkness while others have seen the light?

So, which are you? Are you ready for Christ to come, for Christ to rule as King forever? Or are you just ready to celebrate just another Christmas? Are you ready to go on this journey of hope, or have you already arrived at the manger? This journey is just beginning, so let's go! Let's go together to see what God has waiting for us along the way. We might just find, in the midst of the ordinariness of another Advent, that Jesus has some surprises for us. Be ready, for He is coming, not just on Christmas Day or in some future end of all days, but in our everyday life. Be ready to share God's peace with the world. We are headed toward the mountain, we are headed toward the Temple, but there's a long journey in between now and then.

Let's go, let's learn, let's walk in God's light and grow in faith so that we'll be ready on the day Christ comes.

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