CALL TO WORSHIP:
Listen to the Spirit urging us to get ready....
Our calendars are jam-packed full.
Listen to the Spirit calling us to wait....
We've already been waiting; there's a line everywhere we go.
Listen to the Spirit inviting us to walk in the way of the Lord....
This is good news!
The way of the Lord is the path of peace....
We are glad to be in the house of the Lord!
May the Advent blessing of peace be with you.
We rejoice, for we are blessed to walk in the light of God!
THE CANDLE OF HOPE
As a family here today, we come in celebration of hope. But what do we hope for?
As we head towards Christmas we often hope that we can find the perfect gift to give, the perfect outfit to wear, the perfect tree to decorate. But the first Christmas was far from perfect.
The Hope of the Nations came to us on a night of messy circumstances. The Light of the World was born in a stable, laid to bed in a feeding trough and was attended to by field hands. They were messy circumstances, and yet it was just right for Jesus Christ, a perfect Child, surrounded by all of the love two parents could give.
This morning we light the Candle of Hope, as we pray for Christ to come into our hearts again:
(Light Candle of Hope)
Let us pray: Lord God, help us not to be so focused on finding perfection in this season that we miss out on the hope that only You can bring to us. Amen.
SERMON: Wait, and see!
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the start of the church year: The day when we begin the preparations for the coming of Jesus Christ. We begin to light the candles, we sing the Advent hymns — and we wait — we prepare. Advent seeks to take us back to simpler times, without the frantic pace that is the signature of so many lives today.
During Advent, we celebrate how Jesus comes to us in three ways. We celebrate the first coming at his birth some 2000 years ago, and we re-enact the birth in the pageant and the carols.
We celebrate his coming amongst us now — most notably in Word and Sacrament. We celebrate how Jesus comes among us in one another, in the least of our brothers and sisters, as we will read in the chapter that follows today's text.
We celebrate the idea of Jesus' Second coming, as well, when he will come again, welcoming a time of peace and joy that is spoken of so eloquently in the reading from Isaiah today.
And here's the important part: We are led to understand that this eventual end is coming.... but when?
The desire to know this 'end' is very much a part of our society. We are a society living in an information age: An age of instant gratification. When I was a kid and I wanted to know something, I had to ask someone, or dig up an encyclopaedia, or perhaps visit the library. These days, most of the store of human knowledge is accessible through our cel phones. We're becoming accustomed to knowing. And it follows that if we know when this eventual end will come, we can do pretty much as we like for today. If we know the end, then we can make our final rush preparations later and do as we like for now. We have RRSPs, TFSAs and pensions to sustain us through years of old age... The problem is.... we do not know which of us might or might not live to see even today's sunset.
Today's text from Matthew speaks of the mundaneness of his coming. People will be eating and drinking, getting married, baptizing their children, working in the field.
If we know the end is near, perhaps we'd be tempted to hole up in a bomb shelter, or perhaps take up arms in a fortress in the mountains and wait. Instead, we are asked to live with the uncertainty. We're asked to live each day uncertain of what might be. Fortunately, we've been given another certainty that helps us endure this `unknowing': The certainty that Jesus Christ is in the midst of it all with us.
When we stop trying to figure out when, when we stop trying to know, we have more energy to listen to what God is calling us to do today. And therein lies one of the great ideas behind this season of Advent. Advent preparation is about removing the noise from our lives so that we can hear and see the coming of Jesus Christ among us today.
Advent is a time to watch lest we miss his coming. If we ignore and trample our neighbours today in our eagerness to be religiously prepared to welcome Jesus on some later tomorrow when he returns from heaven, we will not be prepared at all.
We are to live in constant readiness, attentive to Jesus who gives us hope for today and for tomorrow. If this were your last day on earth, how would you spend it?
Well, Paul tells us not to neglect being together:
We need to make time for getting together, for worship. We need to take our time together seriously, but in hope and joy. Our hope is in the one who came, who is among us, and who we're told will come again. We are to heighten our awareness of his coming. We are to "Live in the light of that day even before it appears," as Paul said in Romans.
Yes, we are to live with uncertainty, but an uncertainty about those things that really do not matter, if our certainty is in the one who is with us and will continue to be with us, Jesus Christ.
Advent is a time to refocus and regroup. Christ came as a baby and we celebrate. Christ will come again, of that we are assured. Christ comes into our midst today and that is where the living is today.
And Advent is also about opening ourselves to receive God's message:
The days of telegraph messages are long past: I've never received or sent a telegraphed or cabled message across the ocean, and I never expect to. But telegrams still have an important place in today's society: That of a sermon illustration!
Apparently the telegraph and cable companies used to have a certain code which they required for each punctuation mark, and they would use that code for the punctuation marks instead of spelling them out as they do today.
The reason they changed is this - some years ago a woman was touring in Europe and she cabled her husband this message -"Have found wonderful bracelet. Price seventy-five thousand dollars. May I buy it?"
The husband promptly cabled back - "No, price too high." Unfortunately, however, the cable operator missed the signal for the comma when transmitting the message, so the reply which was actually received by the woman in Europe was NO PRICE TOO HIGH, therefore she dropped the 75k and bought the bracelet.
Ever since that time, the users of Morse code have been very careful to spell out all punctuation marks.
This morning as we begin our march through Advent, we must pay careful attention when it comes to sending and receiving messages, especially messages which help shape and impact the relationship we have with God. We don't want to leave out a comma, or inadvertently add a semi-colon, and in so doing lose part of the message which Advent brings.
Sometimes that's the way I feel about Advent, particularly when I read this morning's passage from the gospel of Matthew: I'm just not always sure what to make of this talk in the Bible about Jesus coming once again to earth; the Second Coming. The End of Days.
Of course every once in a while some pseudo-prophet will rise to claim the headlines by asserting that they have read the astronomical signs and matched current events with the descriptions in the Gospels, and they know precisely that hour when Jesus will make His return.
But then too these prophets have had to live with a red face when the time came and went without the heavens breaking open and the trumpets blowing and Jesus descending to be with us forever.
I guess, though, this abuse, this false telling of God's word can be understood a little bit when we pause to remember that very few of us care for the unknown. It's as we spoke about earlier: We're a society that places a high value on 'KNOWING'. We would prefer having all the answers in a neatly wrapped package, and so we look for signs, we hunt for clues to unravel the mysteries of our future.
It can also frustrate us that Jesus doesn't seem interested in helping us learn the time of that final hour. What he seems to be far more concerned with is the "now" of God's coming into our lives, how we are living our lives at this present moment. One day at a time is still the way it goes, and any one day could be the last day.
And so for each of us there comes a sort of "midnight hour," a time when we cannot avoid the coming of Christ in our lives, when none of our rationalizing will hide us, when our old excuses will no longer cover our nakedness, when we must take that breathless look deep within ourselves, be completely honest and come clean.
This is one of the reasons we have to be careful with our punctuation during Advent, because it invites us to take that ultimate step of facing God's truth about ourselves, of facing what Kierkegaard once wrote of as "that midnight hour when all men must unmask", or, as one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams called it: The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul.
And not only are we invited to take that step, we are further invited to be ready to take it a moment's notice - two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
Our gospel passage this morning reminds us that we must prepare now, that now is the time to get our lives in order, now is the time to reaffirm our love for Christ, that the best way to meet this Second Coming of Jesus is to live every day as though it would be that day.
Martin Luther is supposed to have said that if he knew the end of the world was coming tomorrow, he would plant an apple tree this afternoon. Luther was not given to speculation of the end times. He focused rather on the purpose of the world which God intends for the present time. What may happen inthe future does not excuse you from what God requires of you here and now.
Of course the obvious question for us is 'are we ready?' Do we feel prepared to face our midnight hour? Do we have our lives sufficiently in order? What is the state of our spiritual affairs? How fresh is our understanding of the experience of Jesus' saving grace, how active is our prayer life, how fully have we, at this present moment in eternity, given of our entire selves to God - our minds, hearts, thought, motivations, attitudes, prejudices, and on and on the list could go.
These are questions which are not always easy or pleasant to deal with - but our text from Matthew is quite clear - they must be dealt with, for there will come a time, and we do not know when, that Jesus will meet us face to face. And so in light of this gospel passage, Advent clearly is a time of preparation, a time to think through the ways of our living and ask ourselves these kinds of questions.
You might think of it sort of like that police car that sometimes gets behind you in traffic. You know how it is - you're pretty much a safe and law-abiding driver anyway, but when that police car shows up in your rear-view mirror, you know that being "pretty much" within the law might not quite cut it.
There's nothing like those blue lights behind you to make you a safe driver!
In the context of these words of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew, Advent can serve the same purpose. It can serve as a reminder of the fact that just as accountability is a part of having your driver's license, so too is it a part of being a professing disciple of Jesus Christ. What we do with our lives does matter. How we think, act, speak, these are a part of the fabric of our response to God's grace, and we will, someday, face an accounting of our living.
What then does this mean for us, this fine November morning? It means that as Christian disciples we are invited to do more than decorate Christmas trees, buy presents and go to parties. It means that in addition to these very worthwhile and exciting endeavors, we are to set aside time for reflection on the nature of our daily living, set aside time for prayer and worship, set aside time for taking inventory of our lives and making certain we have things in order, so that we will be ready.... Whether it's for the Second Coming of Christ down to Earth, or the coming of the Christ child afresh in our hearts at Christmas, whichever comes first.
And, just as the police officer or the municipal judge have the responsibility and authority to hold us accountable for our driving, so too does God carry the responsibility and authority to hold us accountable for our living, and to be ready for that accounting, we must take time to prepare.
But there is a very important distinction that we need to remember here: When Christ acts as our judge, He does so as the God who has cares for us so much that He has given the life of his Son. He provides the means our lives to become meaningful and genuine!
What God would prefer is to return to earth and find all of us living for Him, and He has done so many things to point us in the right direction - we have the Bible for a guide, we have the Holy Spirit for a Comforter and Friend, we have the church to offer teaching, encouragement, and support.
So if we are not ready this Advent to meet this God, if we do not have the same confidence to face our midnight hour as did Martin Luther, it is not God's fault, it is ours. We are the ones who refuse to give our lives completely to Him, we are the ones who want to reserve all control for ourselves, we are the ones who are unwilling to trust God's love enough to let Him shape and mold our hearts.
ARISE, THE KINGDOM IS AT HAND
(Tune-Hosanna, Loud Hosanna)
Arise, the kingdom is at hand, the King is drawing nigh;
Arise with joy, thou faithful band,
To meet the Lord most high!
Look up, ye souls, weighed down with care,
The Sovereign is not far;
Look up, faint hearts, from your despair,
Behold, the Morning Star!
Look up, ye drooping hearts, today, the King is very near;
O cast your griefs and fears away, for, lo, your help is here!
Hope on, ye broken hearts,
At last the King comes in His might;
He loved us in the ages past when we lay wrapped in night.
Hope, O ye broken hearts, at last!
The King comes on in might, He loved us in the ages past
When we sat wrapped in night;
Now are our sorrows o’er, and fear And wrath to joy give place,
Since God hath made us in His grace His children evermore.
O rich the gifts Thou bringest us, Thyself made poor and weak;
O love beyond compare that thus can foes and sinners seek
For this we raise a gladsome voice on high to Thee alone,
And evermore with thanks rejoice
Before Thy glorious throne,