“Time to Get Ready!”
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Matthew 24: 36-44
November 27th, 2016
Hear now these ancient words as recorded in the gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 24, verses 36 thru 44. Hear Jesus’ response to questions regarding the coming of the Son of Man, the messiah.
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
May God open your hearts to the deeper meanings of these ancient words of Jesus.
Here it is the 1st Sunday of Advent… Light from the First Advent Candle shines brightly, reminding us of the journey ahead. Surely it shall be a journey – because I don’t think we are all ready for Christmas yet; and the coming of Christ into our lives is a big event! Yes, Advent is a religious ritual of remembrance; and yes, the birth of the baby Jesus happened a long, long, time ago. But, again let me say it: are you truly ready for all that this holiest of holy nights represents? The lifting up of the season of Advent is the lifting up of hope, hope for the promise of God… the very promise of Christ – to come into our lives! This hope is not just for you as an individual it is for all of us as a community as well! One theologian puts it this way: “As the days grow shorter and the darkness grows, we light Advent candles each week to remind us that we do not face the darkness alone but that, indeed, the light of the world has come, shining on in the darkness to illumine our lives and lead us forth not in fear but courage…and even joy.” /David Lose/
Even as the season shifts and all that Advent and Christmas brings life goes on and life situations shift and change. My wife Lois and I, are in the process of buying a house. With God’s grace, we will close on it this coming Wednesday. Getting ready to close on a new house is very much like preparing for the coming of Christmas. There is a lot of preparation! It takes focusing on the goal, finding a new place to live! And diligence, as bankers want to know everything about one’s financial life! I mean everything! We have needed to practice persistence, tirelessly supplying the smallest of details, frequently seeming redundant and unnecessary. This time of preparation has taken a lot of patience; I know mine has been stretched at times to the limit, and I am sure I have tested Lois’ patience as well! So many details and different things to follow-up on! Inspections to be scheduled, contractors to be paid, insurance agents to work with and on and on. All these things of course came after picking a home to live in! Should it be big or small. Not too small nor too big either. How much can be spent? Will it stand up to the test of time and on and on! Does it have shutters? Is it made of wood or mortar? Are the floors tile or are there carpets? We started in September and here it is the end of November! It has taken a great deal of faith and trust! Faith that God will guide us to the right choices, the right new home, and trust that we picked the right mortgage broker and realtor to guide us through the process!
Yes, indeed, buying a house is like preparing for the coming Christmas event. There is a lot of preparation to be done! Yesterday, Saturday morning a good number of folks helped put up the decorations for this service today. The Christmas tree, the manger, the Advent candles. They did not just appear we had to schedule a time to do this. So many details to be planned, so many sets of hands needed to get things done! Now we need to stay focused on the journey. In order to do so we must know, at least at some level, what is the focus, what is the goal in the journey? Like buying a house, a place to live, we need to focus on why we have a time of preparation as we travel to our annual Christmas celebration. It is to celebrate the miraculous birth of the Christ Child, God incarnate. God is personified, is embodied in the flesh; God comes to life in the retelling of the Christmas event! Christmas is the beginning of the story – the advent of Christianity!
As we begin to focus on Advent and Christmas let us be sure what it is and what it is not! First, let’s discuss what it is not! Many of us have seen magic shows in person or through the eyes of television sets. Magic is of course some type of illusion or trick. Many of their secrets have been shared with us, yet there are many that have not been. I know I saw a few magic tricks on the America’s Got Talent show this past season. I have no clue how the magician, the entertainer performed or conjurers up such mystifying shows. It leaves me stumped at how they could have possibly done so. Yet, I know that what they do is not real it is an illusion. Magic is a trick. Magic is not a miracle. Magic is meant to be entertainment for the enjoyment of those who watch the performance.
Christmas is not a trick; it is not magic; Christmas is a miracle! To embrace and trust in the message of Christmas we must have faith. Now, let me be sure we are all in sync on what I am saying. Christmas is a mystifying miracle, not at all like the other things we have brought into the picture to help us enjoy and celebrate its meaning. Unlike the illusionist, Christmas is not about entertainment. Christmas is all about salvation and the love of a God who became willing to come and live amongst us. It is about a God who came to humankind in the simplest of venues. Let’s take a moment to reflect on what we know of the birth narrative.
Mother Mary and her husband Joseph were common people. He was a carpenter, a tradesman. He worked hard to scratch out a living to feed his wife and have a home for them to raise a family. An illusionist would have picked a much grander and spectacular entrance for one such as the Christ Child. Over the history of time, there have been many efforts to beautify the birth of a baby, born out of poverty in a feeding-box, a manger, a crib of the crudest form. No, the baby Jesus came to us in a very humble setting. Sure, it is ok to make a beautiful celebration out this very humble event. We want to bring attention to it and attract others and even share it with the whole world. But, we must be diligent, attentive and careful in remembering what and whom we are celebrating. Christ is the heart of Christmas. Things, decorations of all sorts are meant to glorify the event and portray great joy over the greatest of occasions. Christmas is about the baby named Jesus!
For those of us who only buy a house very occasionally in a lifetime, there are a lot of rituals involved in the process. And there is a lot of faith and trust that must be put in those whom help the process along. The beautifying of the Christmas event over the Centuries of time has been done to help the process of teaching others of the splendid joy and miraculous love that this event depicts! It was never done to trick or fool someone into believing in the Christ, the baby born of a human woman named Mary. These things have been added to enhance our ritual. Prayerfully, as we tell others, as we tell our children and grandchildren of Christmas, we shall not try to fool them into believing, yet help them uplift the hope that it brings, the love it symbolizes, and the joy of knowing how much God loves them. If we keep this our focus during this season of Advent, the peace of Christ and the shining light of God’s holy will shall be spread throughout our families, our communities and yes, even throughout the world! Prayerfully, when we get to the closing date, when we get to Christmas, what we find there will not be an illusion with false promise, rather we shall find a safe home, a safe place in the arms of a loving God!
Now, there is one more important detail we need to remember about this journey. The dates on the calendar, Advent and Christmas, are symbolic as we sojourn ever forward. Indeed, Jesus’ birth happened a long time ago. Mary and Joseph, their journey to Bethlehem happened a long time ago. We are traveling through our religious calendar toward these historic events as a means of reminding ourselves and educating others of their importance; the miracle of Christ’s birth and all it means. We are also being reminded this morning that Christ has promised to come again. Thereby, the retelling of the old, old story, is reminding us how we must continue to get ready for that special day. We must ask ourselves: will we, will I be ready? What “If the Son of Man appeared while I was busy at work – would I be prepared to drop everything and go to Him?” /Catherine McElhinney and Kathryn Turner/ The two theologians who wrote this sentence were making a point. Are you ready to receive Christmas, the true meaning of Christmas into your life?
In our scripture, this morning, we hear Jesus responding to questions. His answer was to the questions regarding how will we know when the Messiah shall come? 36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” /Matthew 24:36/ You see, within this passage is a foretelling of Jesus coming again at the end of time. So, our annual observance of the first coming of Christ keeps us on our toes for the second coming. Ultimately, Jesus is saying to those listening to him, those whom were blinded to who Jesus truly was: “You must stay awake for the exact time is not known.” 44 “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” /Matthew 24:44/ Advent is all about preparing for the coming of Christ.
In our annual Christmas celebration, we are honoring the birth of the Christ Child. Our scripture lesson this morning is telling us to use the season of Advent to prepare for the second coming of Christ. Our practical minds, in conjunction with our realities, tell us how unprepared we often are as we respond to the Christmas season ‘with all its hustle and bustle’ while keeping the true meaning of Christmas – close to our hearts. Clearly, the second coming of Christ has the potential of catching many of us unprepared. Consequently, as we prepare for Christmas, it would be prudent for us if we strive to stay focused, on what the annual celebration is all about and to do so with diligence! Amen.