Are You Ready?
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 27 November 2016
“Are You Ready?”
Isaiah 2: 1-5
Romans 13: 11-14
Matthew 24: 36-44
I couldn’t wait for our Christmas tree to be stood up in our house. Each year, the tree would take its place in the corner of our living room midway through December. Back then, the artificial trees were not as prevalent as they are now and the needle factor had to be brought into play. If the tree was put up too early then the piles of needles on the floor might outnumber the needles on the tree. I have learned that families can be either a clear light family or a multicolored light family. We used multi-colored Christmas lights on our tree. The ornaments we placed on the tree were a solid mix of glass bulbs, handmade ornaments, and store bought specialties. Finally, the glorious gold star was placed upon the top of the tree and, all at once, with a push of the plug the tree came to life.
Normally, I would make many stops on my way home from school. Maybe, I would play a pickup game of football, or find a particularly interesting ice formation in a shallow puddle that needed my help in shattering. But after the tree was on display my route was a beeline to the house. I would rush into the house, make my way into the living room, and stack as many records onto the arm of the record player as it would hold. For you younger folks, the arm was the old version of a multi-disc player. You could not stack too many vinyl records on it, or when the tension gave way allowing for the records to fall, the whole stack would come down. I had figured out that four records was the max number allowed on ours. I set the Christmas records on the arm and activated the switch to begin the turntable. Soon, John Denver was singing of the beauty of Aspenglow.
Grabbing my stack of Christmas books, I would take my space in the very corner of the room behind the Christmas tree. It was a different world to me. If there ever were a Christmas dimension then it would surely be in the space I occupied during those times. The smell of the pine, the glory of the music, the twinkling of the lights, and the beauty of the ornaments as they each moved and danced in my young imagination. But, it was the story, that I held in my hands that brought the whole mechanism to life. I opened my favorite book and as the pages released a family stood and a manger rose from the center of the page. In the extended arms of the baby in that manger, I saw something magical, something special, something spiritual. Of course, I had no idea of what it was that I was feeling or what I was doing, all I knew was that in my corner immersed in lights and sound I was waiting for...I was preparing for, Christmas.
Isaiah had a tough draw when it came to being a prophet. He was to declare God’s greatness at a time when the Babylonians and the Assyrians had taken control over Judah and the Israelites. Most of the Jews were disgruntled at God’s failure to protect them, as they felt God had promised. Yet, Isaiah stood firm in his resolve declaring the Sovereignty of God. To declare this sovereignty, to put forth this explanation of the Truth, was to suggest that God was allowing the Jewish people to fall victim to their captors. His words were not comforting to most and likely angered others. It is certainly an interesting irony though, because the declaration was designed to give hope to the Israelites. Help is coming from the Lord and will stream from Jerusalem. Isaiah harkens for them to be prepared for the one who is going to show the path to the Kingdom of God will soon be with them. No one will have to fight for deliverance as it will be granted from the Lord and God will decide the righteous from the wrongdoers and will fashion peace in every outcome. So, Israel held captive by kings from other cultures waited for their salvation. They waited for this mighty king from the line of David to rise up and to lead them and all nations to peace. Amidst oppression and tumultuous times, they waited in hope for a single redeemer to come into their presence.
Coming of Jesus
Then many years later in a manger, the King was born. A King born and surrounded by his mother, father, and common farm animals while wrapped in clothes from a barn. The King, the redeemer, the one to unite all nations, was born on a cold night and was attended to by shepherds from the field and serenaded by angels. This king, this mighty king, this savior on who the world had been waiting was fragile and innocent, fully human and entirely God. Laying in the manger that night was the Hope that the world was so desperately in need of and the hope the Israelites had been waiting for. Yet, His birth was unheralded by most.
That baby grew into a young man that had a very short ministry on earth. But, while He walked the earth He demonstrated to each of us how we were to interact with one another and how we were to worship God. He showed us that our first thought is to be about the one who has less and our first action is to care and love for the one who is uncared for and unloved. Our hearts should abound with forgiveness and let go of jealousy and anger. The world was to not be about our selfish desires but the collective love of God amongst all creation. Jesus showed us that the swords were to be turned into plow shares, not by the hand of God but by the human hands that God had created.
Then, in direct opposition to his quiet and unnoticed birth, He was lifted high on a cross and put to death. Only then, only as He breathed his last breath, did the sign above his head acknowledge who He truly was, Christ the King. But, in this death, in this final act of love He showed us His true strength, glory, might and gave us the ultimate hope, for He conquered death and rose again on the third day, thus allowing the Kingdom of Heaven and the people of the world to be reunited in communion with God. Hope was restored. He left us the gift of the Spirit, with the promise to come again to restore the world in its final creation.
Just like the Israelites we now must wait. We must wait for the next coming of the King who reigns in the Kingdom of Heaven and rules in all righteousness. We must wait for the King to come who will take down tyranny and turmoil from all of our lives and restore it with peace and love. We must wait for the King who will come and establish the final rule of God the creator on all of His creation. Lion will lay down beside lamb and war will be no more. Peace will reign on every mountaintop and in every valley.
Our period of waiting is different though. Our preparation is different than those who first heard Isaiah’s prophecy. Our period of waiting has seen, heard, experienced, and been saved by the King in the manger and the King on the cross and the King who overcame death. We have the right perspective, we have the right focus, we have seen the example of the life to be led in the incarnate God. We know Jesus.
We must prepare differently. Waiting is not enough. Because we know Jesus, because we have been left with the Holy Spirit in our lives, we must prepare differently.
Don’t Let It Sneak Up on You
Jesus delivered a parable to his disciples. The parable considered a thief in the night coming to steal from the master, but surely if the master knew the thief was coming, he would be prepared. I think we can agree that this is true, even in our world today. Security alarms and beware of dog signs are a common sight in neighborhoods across America. In Alaska, I would venture to say that the home defense mechanisms are a bit more robust. Nevertheless, securing one’s loved ones, one’s belongings, and one’s safety are paramount among all of us. But, what does a thief have to do with the coming of the Son of Man? Why on earth is this a reading to be considered on the first Sunday of Advent?
I think Paul gives us a bit of the answer in his letter to the Romans. Paul is a resounding alarm clock in the ear of the listener of his epistle. “Wake up!” he yells, “The hour has already come! Put away actions of the night and live in power of the light!” Paul’s alarm is sounding against the darkness that creeps in and tries to steal our eternal life in Christ right from under our noses. Through procrastination, through omission, through the cutting of corners, our lives become more about us and our time and less about God and devoting our time to Him.
We have received a wonderful gift of salvation and the time has come where the Kingdom of God is in the present. It is to be realized on the earth and it exists all around us. As we sit here in this chapel today, we sit as royal citizens of the Kingdom of God. All outside the doors of this church that we encounter or that we may never meet are also members of this royal Kingdom of God. This membership was a gift given to us by God who became man and through Grace forgave us of our sins by bearing them in death for us. We are not the citizens of Israel who waited for a King to restore their people, we are the active Kingdom of God awaiting the return of our King in His earthly rule and we stand already restored in God’s light.
Therefore, we cannot be surprised. We cannot pretend that today is an ordinary day. We cannot focus on ourselves and our wants and our desires. We cannot put off doing what God wants us to do because we do not know when the return will be. We do not know when we will be standing before our Lord in righteous judgment. We cannot let it sneak up on us.
Bringing it Together
But, what I have just told you is no different than what Isaiah delivered thousands of years ago. Our world, the society in which we live, despite all of the technological advances and the changes in culture and sociological norms still suffers from the same ills. We are a sinful lot. Our sin rests within our concern for the self rather than the care for others. We self-indulge and marginalize our faith and our lives outside those things which do not affect us directly. We shake our heads at the inhumanity we see on the news and read in the papers, then continue with our day, meeting our needs with those things that give us personal satisfaction.
When I was the young boy, sitting behind the tree in the corner of the room, listening to carols and staring at the lights, I don’t think I understood what the cross was. I don’t think I fully knew what this baby that jutted out from the page truly was sent to do for me and for everyone else. But, I knew and I felt that whenever I sat behind that tree, I was not alone. I felt warm, I felt happy, and I felt love. Without knowing the word, I felt hope.
That is what Jesus brought with Him on the night in the manger. Hope in a better world and He showed us it existed. He showed us that we can all sit down together and break bread. He showed us that we can use love to heal and words to cure. He showed us that a touch, when it is full of faith, is like a weapon of God’s light against all things existing in the dark. Hope was born in the manger.
The baby grew into a man, who in death and resurrection brought a fallen world back into life with God. So, the hope that was born in the manger that night...it now exists in each one of us. That hope is part of our created and restored identity in Christ. We can hide it. We can refuse to believe it is there. Or we can let it loose. We can prepare for God by letting the hope of the Holy Spirit shine through us and the example we make of our own lives.
Hope was born in the manger and is carried by us in our joyful anticipation that Christ will come again.