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Advent - Ready or Not?

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Luke 21:25-36
First Sunday of Advent
(3-12-12)

Happy New Year everybody! If you were here last week you will know that, being Advent Sunday, it’s the first day of the church year. Advent means ‘coming’.

What’s coming? Well whilst I don’t want to dismiss the fact that Santa is, or that Christmas is, what we celebrate at Advent is that Jesus is coming. Have you seen those T-shirts saying ‘Jesus is coming, so look busy’. I don’t think that’s a correct idea but I’d like you to think about what you would want to be found doing if Jesus suddenly appeared on the scene? Whatever it is, it’s probably what we should be doing now anyway.

And whilst the second coming should be a cause for celebration our reading this morning made it plain that it will be surrounded by a lot of bad news. The church, knowing that the second coming will take place amongst pain and suffering, begins to use the colour purple for Advent. It would have to be said that Advent hasn’t really captured the world’s imagination in the same way that Christmas has and this is made visible by the way everyone’s busily decking their homes out in red, green and gold!

But we hear the promises that Jesus is coming back and in the middle of the uncertainties going on in the heavens and on the earth, Jesus calls to us from the future and assures that they are signs that cause us to hope, not despair.

There’s a hopefulness in Advent. But also there’s a warning that we must be ready for Jesus’ second coming. We must not take salvation for granted. It cost Christ His life and we must repent. Dietrich Bonhoffer says: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

The First Sunday of Advent is a special time set aside in the Christian calendar to slow down and reflect on how ready we are? Its rather like when my grandchildren are playing hide and seek the one who is to do the seeking counts to 20 and then shouts out ‘coming, ready or not’!

Are you ready? I thought I was for the midnight service last Christmas Eve until I got here only to discover there was no wine! Unfortunately many people prepare to meet God in a similar way – having forgotten the essentials!

Be alert, be ready, Jesus says. Good advice, there might well be 23 shopping days until Christmas but we don’t know how many days there are until His return!

In the Creed we say, “I believe that he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” If we believe that then surely we should live our lives in such a way that we won’t be caught off guard if He came today?

When people ask if we’re ready for Christmas we usually say ‘Not yet.’ We’ve still got shopping to do or food to prepare. But, as we all know, Christmas comes whether we’re ready or not. The second coming will be the same – it WILL come!

Our days may well be incredibly busy, so, how can we find time to be spiritual? There are so many other things we have to be doing, going to work, shopping, looking after the grandchildren, paying bills etc. The spiritual side of life is often treated as an option: once the rush of Christmas is over there’ll be more time to concentrate on thinking about reading the Bible, praying, going to home group and church.

Many of us realize in Advent that another year has gone and we still don’t have our spiritual lives in order. Time for reading the Bible, praying and reflecting just hasn’t happened. We’re not ready for Christmas and we’re not ready for Jesus either.

Jesus said we don’t need to be fearful about His return: if we are ready. He doesn’t leave us at the fear stage. He gives instructions as to what we need to do. It’s a bit like fire drill. He prepares His disciples by warning them (us) to be ready and alert for when the world begins to fall apart around us.

There’s a story about a man visiting a school class telling them that he will give a prize to the student whose desk he found in the best order when he returns. They asked when he’s coming back but he said he couldn’t tell them. One girl, noted for her untidiness, announced she would win the prize. Schoolmates jeered: her desk was always a mess! She said she’d clean it on the first day of every week. ‘But suppose he comes at the end of the week?’ they said. ‘Then I’ll clean it every morning.’ ‘But he might come at the end of the day’ they replied. She thought for a moment before announcing that she knew what she must do. "I’ll just keep it clean" she said.

He tells us, in the reading, how to be ready: “Be careful. Do not spend your time feasting and drinking or don’t be too busy with worldly things. “Be careful or your hearts will be weighed down by the ANXIETIES OF LIFE. If you do that, you will not be able to think straight and then that day might come when you are not ready and it will close like a trap on all people on earth. SO BE READY ALL THE TIME.

We’re meant to be aware of what’s going on around us. We mustn’t be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good! We need to know what’s going on in the world but able to see it through the eyes of faith and understand it via God’s wisdom. But at the same time, we’re not told to be continually trying to guess/work-out when He’s coming back. We should live each day in the knowledge that it might be our last. We should live, laugh and love fully enjoying the gift that each day brings.

We can do this in the assurance that Jesus died on the cross for us. We are forgiven, have the hope of heaven and the assurance of being in His constant presence.

Instead of being anxious or turning to drink to numb our minds, we’re invited to pray. Prayer can give us the strength to face life. In prayer God assures us of his love. In prayer we can experience the peace that is beyond understanding.

Jesus assures us that we can have hope even in really difficult times. The signs He warns about are all around us: wars, uncertain financial times, natural disasters, people distraught by what’s happening around them. Often it feels like out lives are totally out of control. Jesus says we can stand firm and hold up our heads. Yes, there are signs around us, but they don’t need to make us fearful. The signs lead, not to the end, but to the beginning. The signs lead, not to destruction, but to wholeness. God’s salvation is at hand! Stand firm in the Lord!

Advent is a time of anticipation and celebration, a chance for us to look forward, to see the world, not for what it is, but for what it can be. In seeing the “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars…the distress among nations,” instead of being afraid,  we can stand confident in Christ’s promises that salvation is at hand.

The joy of Advent comes, not just in the birth of a baby, but in that baby’s return to claim the world that’s His. The joy of Christmas morning can’t begin to compare to the joy of eternity when all pain, death and suffering will be abolished.

BUT be aware God’s promise is not the same as the world’s idea of the spirit of Christmas. The world thinks that the angels announce Christ’s birth with these words: “Peace on earth and goodwill to all men”

That’s not quite right. That’s the popular sanitized version. What they actually said is this:“Peace on earth and goodwill to all men with whom God is pleased” Who will God be pleased with? Those who have honoured Him and prepared themselves to meet Him. Jesus tells us to be ready for good reason. Christ may not return in our lifetime, but if he does, we must be fully ready to welcome him with open arms and hearts.

Let me read you a poem that sums up this message:

'Twas the night Jesus came
'Twas the night Jesus came and all through the house
Not a person was praying, not one in the house.
The Bibles were left on the shelf without care,
For no one thought that Jesus would come there.
The children were dressing to crawl into bed,
Not once ever kneeling or bowing a head.
And mom in her rocker with baby in her lap
Was watching the Late Show while I took a nap.
When out of the east there rose such a clatter,
I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash
Tore open the shutters and lifted the sash!
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But angels proclaiming that Jesus was here!
The light of His face made me cover my head --
It was Jesus returning, just as He said.
And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth,
I cried when I saw Him in spite of myself.
In the Book of Life which He held in His hand
Was written the name of every saved man.
He spoke not a word as He searched for my name;
When He said, "It's not here" my head hung in shame.
The people whose names had been written with love
He gathered to take to His Father above.
With those who were ready He rose with no sound
While all the rest were left standing around.
I fell to my knees, but it was too late;
I had waited too long and thus sealed my fate.
I stood and I cried as they rose out of sight;
Oh, if only I'd know that this was the night.
In the words of this poem the meaning is clear;
The coming of Jesus is now drawing near.
There's only one life and when comes the last call
We'll find that the Bible was true after all.

(A Poem by Margie Knight on the meaning of Christmas)

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