Advent means YOU! (December 3, 2017)
Advent means YOU!
It’s coming! You know it’s coming because it comes at the same time every year. As Thanksgiving passes, we turn our attention to the coming of Christmas on December 25th. And there’s a lot to do to get ready for Christmas, right? Last week many of you stayed after church to help set up our sanctuary for Christmas. Maybe you climbed on the roof to string lights, or you busily unpacked and carefully placed your Christmas decorations around the house. Then there’s the company as well. Have you figured out travel plans? Meals? Cleaned the house? There’s so much to do to get ready for it’s coming!
There’s something else coming that we need to get ready for as well. Actually, I should say, someone else coming. Jesus promised before he ascended into heaven that he would come again, and that the day he came would be the last day. And you know, Jesus has a pretty good track record on keeping his promises. In fact, every promise of his that you read about in the Bible has come true except this one. So, are you going to be ready? Yes, I’m talking specifically to you, because advent means YOU! Be ready for his coming by being an alert Christian, being a responsible Christian, and being an expectant Christian.
We know it’s coming, we just don’t know when. Since we don’t know when, there are a couple different mindsets that someone could have. You may think, who knows when he’s coming so why worry about it? You may even go so far as to think, well, the world has kept on spinning without a sight of him for 2000 years, I don’t think he’s coming any time soon.
But what happens to someone who is not on the alert simply because they don’t know the time? If it’s your duty to guard a military installation against possible attacks, it would be foolish to think, “Well, I don’t know when to expect an attack, so why even worry?” Or it would be foolish to think that a thief would call you to schedule a home break in – they just want to make sure you are ready, right? This is foolishness, yet so often we consider the uncertainty of Christ’s return to be cause for carelessness.
Uncertainty calls for increased watchfulness, not careless indifference. In fact, the very reason for this strong warning, “Be on guard! Be alert!” (Mk 13:33) is because you do not know the specific time of his return! If we knew that he was coming back on May 4th, 2028, then we could sit back and relax going about doing whatever we want to do, until perhaps a short time before that specified date. But since we do not know, be alert! It could be any day, any time! All the prophecies concerning the End Times have already been fulfilled. Be alert and ready for his coming!
Now, does being alert mean staring into the sky several times a day looking for Jesus? No. Think of this alertness or readiness in another way. When I was younger, my parents would at times leave us kids home on our own while they went out for the night. But before they left, they always gave us some instructions. Here’s the food you can have for supper. Wash the dishes and sweep the floor afterward. Finish your homework, and you know your bed times. So guess what we did while our parents were out? If we decided to be careless, we would slack off. Dishes would be left in the sink. The floor would be left dirty. And we would be scampering off to bed as our parents caught us unaware of their return. We would be found unprepared and there would be consequences!
In a similar way, before Jesus left, he assigned his followers certain tasks. God has given each of you special gifts and abilities to use faithfully. Each servant of God is given a special assignment. Each Christians is called to use the means of grace wisely, to live as children of the heavenly Father, and to spread the gospel at every opportunity. There is no such thing as an inactive follower of Christ – no such thing as a dead member of the body of Christ. And if you are looking at yourself thinking, “There’s nothing I can do anymore” or, “I’ve lived a long life and already used up all my gifts.” But even those who are seemingly helpless and dependent on others can by their Christian patience and forbearance set a powerful example of faith for others. Each and every servant is given a special assignment. Yes, that assignment can change as your life changes, but be a responsible Christian with the task that God has given you.
There is one servant that is singled out. The watchman is especially charged with being alert and keeping watch. Yes, all the servants are to be alert, but the watchman is to give special attention to this task and keep others ready for Christ’s return as well. And if you were to guess who the watchman in the parable corresponds to, who might you say? Probably the first person that comes to mind would be pastors, and you are definitely correct. Like watchmen it’s the pastor’s duty to keep other awake, alert, and going about their assigned task. But I think it could also be broadened out to the church leaders as well – the council members that you have elected. They are responsible for keeping the pastor on task. They are also responsible for the other servants. So leaders of the church, and I include myself in this exhortation, be responsible Christians.
If the leaders of the church do no alert their people to the Advent call of watchfulness, who will? And I know we may often think of reprimanding and warnings of doom and destruction. But what really is the watchman’s message primarily? Not doom and gloom, but joy and hope! It’s a message of promise and of final deliverance from sin and death! Think of John the Baptist, who yes preached repentance but the overarching message of his preaching was, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Remember that the Lord who is coming is your Savior! His return is a joyous occasion – one to be celebrated and eagerly expected!
Be an expectant Christian. Do not misunderstand and become lax because there is a watchman. The whole point of this reading is that all are to be alert and watching continuously. It’s a very personal charge that Jesus gives. “Keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back” (Mk 13:35). The watchman reminds you of his immanent coming, but he isn’t assigned to the specific task that you have been given. You also need to be expecting his return any day so that you joyfully carry out the task that God has given you. Expect him every day because you do not know when he will return.
The Bible reading says it could be “in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn” (Mk 13:35). Take special note of these 4 designations of time. In the parable, the master will arrive sometime during the hours of the night – at a time least expected, when people are most likely to be asleep. No doubt about it, there will be many people who will slumber in apathy. But do not let him find YOU sleeping.
It’s hard to do, because human nature likes to postpone and put things off until the next day. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll have more time to think about my Christian responsibilities.” “Perhaps next year I’ll be able to devote more thought to spiritual matters.” The advent message puts the emphasis on the “now,” and the “today!” Tomorrow or even next year, even though it is barely a month away, may be too late! The time to be ready is now. The time to make the change is now.
That’s really an interesting thought as we look ahead to New Years. How many of you are starting to make a list of resolutions that will be undertaken on January 1st? Why wait? Especially when talking about our resolve to be Advent Christians who are alert, responsible, and expectant. Why wait? Why not set the goal now – whether it be family devotions, more time for prayer, or reading the Bible on your own. Set the goal now. Start working on it now. Then, on New Year’s, renew your resolve in sticking to those spiritual goals.
Christ is indeed coming. It’s the only promise of his that he has not yet made good on. But he will. And when he comes, are you going to be ready? No, I don’t mean in just a general way. I don’t simply mean being ready by attending a church that is sharing the gospel and building up Christians. I mean you personally. Are you alert? Understanding that Christ could return at any time. Are you being responsible with the tasks that God has given you personally? And are you eagerly expecting his return? And doing all this not merely to avoid eternal doom, but because you are eagerly looking forward to eternal salvation and life with Christ! Advent means YOU because Christ is returning for you!