Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was the evening of our annual staff party; early December in Salem Oregon, and Marsha and I were hosting the gathering at our home. The party was to start at six; I arrived home at ten minutes to five to help Marsha prepare. Now, I know what you’re thinking; You’re thinking “If I was hosting my husband’s staff party, and he came home 70 minutes before the guests were to arrive, I would be furious!” You might be thinking that, and you’d be right!
I tried to lessen the tension by jumping right in and folding dinner napkins. It didn’t work. I tried complimenting Marsha on the appearance of our home. That didn’t work, either. I only had an hour to convince Marsha of my remorse for coming home late, and my appreciation for all that she had done…and then the doorbell rang. It was Lauren, our visitation pastor, and his wife, Doris. Standing at the front door with a poinsettia in hand, they must have thought the party started at 5:00 o’clock. Marsha was mortified; oh, and did I mention that this was all my fault?
Now here is the irony in this story; the house looked great! It really did. Candles glowed in our living room, the table sparkled with china and silver, our Christmas tree still emitted a fresh smell, the St. Olaf Choir was on the stereo, and I thought Marsha looked particularly nice in her pink sweat suit! The irony was, the house was ready, but we were not. The meal was prepared, but we were not. All the details had been completed — except for us! Our guests had caught us by surprise, and we were embarrassed.
Today, the world is full tilt in its preparation for Christmas, and many of us began preparing weeks ago. Neighborhoods turned on Christmas lights on Thanksgiving night, fresh cut trees are on sale, and Christmas shopping has begun in earnest. This week-end, American shoppers spent 8 billion dollars, and retailers are just licking their chops! We are all trying to get ready for Christmas, and for many of us, it will take four full weeks to do so. But here is the irony; the Church is always the last to prepare. For example, you will notice that we are not singing carols today. There are no Christmas trees on display, or wreaths or garland. In fact, we have nothing in place to suggest that Christmas has arrived. Because in the Church, we have this Season called “Advent.” Four weeks of getting ready; four weeks of watching, and waiting, and anticipating the coming of the Savior.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “I just want to let you know I loved the sermon for last Sunday. The sentence that stands out in the sermon is this: ‘You will find that five plus two PLUS JESUS makes everything possible!'”
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On a day when we expect to hear details of shepherds and stables and stars, we are met with a Gospel lesson that, instead, tells of floods and kidnappers and thieves. What’s up with Advent? Why do we begin here…with stories of the end times…stories of the end of the world as we know it? It is because, in the Church, “getting ready” is not about lights and poinsettias and wreaths and trees. In the Church, “getting ready” is about the heart. It is about taking an inventory of one’s life, in order to be prepared for the Guest who is surely coming. Because, what if the Guest arrives early? What if my friends Lauren and Doris are merely an allegory for the coming of the Savior, and our homes are lovely, and the gifts are all wrapped, and our meals are planned, but our lives are a mess…and the Savior knocks? What then? That’s the tone of Advent.
Jesus gathered the crowd around him on that day so long ago, and announced to them that they should always be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man, lest they be surprised…like the contemporaries of Noah, who had no clue that the flood was coming! Or two workers in the field, when suddenly one of them was taken away, but the other was left standing. Or the two women who were grinding wheat, when one was taken away, while the other was left standing at the mill. Or the family who slept while a thief broke into their home. If they knew the time was at hand, of course they would have been alert. But Jesus says nobody knows; not the angels in heaven, nor even Jesus himself, when the Son of Man will come. So be ready. Always ready. That’s the message of Advent.
Ah, but how do you know if you are ready enough? That is the question of every age. If you knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, and the world as we know it was coming to an end, what would you do? And how would you know if it was enough? Would you have to give away all your stuff…all your money and cars and investments? If I thought that was the case, I would have brought it up last Sunday; Stewardship Sunday! But that’s not it. Would you contact everybody you have ever wronged and apologize? Would you write letters to an ex-spouse, or an estranged child, or a former colleague, and seek their forgiveness? While that might be a gracious thing to do, that’s not what is called for in Advent. Would you start reading your Bible every day, and begin and end every day with prayer, and never miss a Sunday morning worship service? Well, those are always good practices for us, but that’s not what readiness is, either.
So what is it? What does Jesus mean when he calls us to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man? I believe it is this; I believe it is an attitude. It is an attitude of devotion to Jesus Christ. It is an attitude that leads us to be honest with ourselves and honest with our God as to who we are and what are the flaws of our lives. It is an attitude of turning to God and saying “If this is the day, I’m ready to come face to face with you, Lord. Or if it’s not today, then I am content to work today, and ready to face you tomorrow.” And it’s not about being good enough. It’s about faith that God’s grace will be good enough. And if you doubt that God’s grace is sufficient, then you are not ready. Or if you doubt that God loves you without strings attached, then you are not ready. Or maybe you have never been in a relationship with Jesus, and even this morning, you find yourself running from him because of the secret sins in your heart; if that’s the case, you are not ready. But this is God’s message to you today; “I am coming. Soon! Be ready for my coming so that we can spend eternity together. Trust in me. Accept my love and forgiveness. Then you will be ready for whatever tomorrow holds.” That is the purpose of Advent.
Would you like a very personal and intimate illustration? Tomorrow morning there will be a funeral in our sanctuary. Helen Nelson was 92 years young, and on Friday, she breathed her last and died. But she was ready. Twenty years ago, when she was diagnosed with lymphoma and survived, Helen concluded that there was a reason for her life being spared — so she kept on living, and giving, and baking bread for her family and friends, and watching the birth of her 16 great grandchilren. Last June, Helen had a heart attack and nearly died, but she didn’t. There must have been some other reason for her life to continue, and over these five months, her four children sat at her bedside, and in the process, they connected with each other more deeply than they had in a long, long time. But about three weeks ago, Helen said she was ready to go be with Jesus, so she stopped eating and started shutting down. She was prepared to meet the Savior face to face. On Friday, quietly, gracefully, she went to the other side. She was ready…and the Lord took her home.
So what about us? What about you? What is the condition of your heart? Is it in tune to the details of this life, and all stuff that keeps us busily preparing for Christmas? Or is your heart in tune with Jesus, the Savior who is to come? Get ready, friends, because you never know what tomorrow holds. Nobody does. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2004, Steven Molin. Used by permission.