Friday, December 2, 2016

You Don’t Know When the Time Will Come (Mark 13:32-37) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Christians start your engines.  Perhaps that is a good slogan for today.  We have scarcely      recovered from our Thanksgiving meal, we are still catching our breath, we are just finishing putting things away, Black Friday is a frightening f because you put yourself in harm’s way fighting crowds and already it’s the First Sunday in Advent which leads us to Christmas.   But ready or not, Advent is upon us.

Advent is the time we prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus.  It is a season of waiting, watching and expectation; a season where we look to the future.  Are you curious about the future?  I think human beings in general are interested in the future.  What is going to happen in the future?  What will the future hold?   What are the first 100 days going to be like with a new Commander and Chief?  We think about and sometimes worry about our own future, the future of our family, our children and grandchildren, our church, our nation and of our world.

Christ is coming!   A biblical word which captures the spirit of Advent is Maranatha!  It is an Aramaic word.  It means “Come Lord” or “Our Lord, Comes”.  It is both a prayer and an affirmation of faith which has emboldened Christians down through the ages.  Advent says the future belongs to God.  Wow you got to worship God and learned a little Aramaic too.

Do you think about Jesus coming?  Robert Lee imagines the different headlines we might see on the day of Christ’s return:  Time Magazine might read: “He’s the Man of the Millennium.”   The National Enquirer might say: “Christ Comes Back and He’s Seen Elvis.”  And the headline for Atheist Monthly would simply read: “Oops.”

Some people are inherently optimistic about the future?  They are filled with hope.  They see a light at the end of the tunnel.  They envision a better future for themselves and their children and the world.

Other people are filled with dread about the future, they are pessimistic and anxious.   They believe the problems in our world with the environment, terrorism, disease, and war will only increase and bring a future filled with darkness and disaster.

How do you see the future?  And yet, in spite of our questions, our uncertainty and our fears, Advent says - Don't lose heart, stay the course, hold on, you have a bright future, a hope-filled future because the future belongs to God and God’s plans for the future will be fulfilled.

Advent announces that Jesus is coming!  Do we know precisely when?  Despite some who claim they do know the day and the hour, those who make such predictions are at best misguided and at worst deceivers.  You must always be on the alert for false prophets. No, we don’t know.

Advent declares that Jesus is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.  Life has a purpose.  History has a direction.  The world is headed somewhere.  Everything in the world is temporary.  There is an end time for history.  The earth as we know it is coming to a close and a new earth will dawn.  We are not just accidents in an empty universe.  The universe sis not just a random occurrence.

The Stoics of Roman times believed human history was an eternal treadmill.  Every 3,000 years civilization would be destroyed by some catastrophe.  Then history would start over once again.  That cycle of world destruction and rebirth would repeat itself forever.  Advent says No!  God has a plan and pattern for all human life.  The culmination of God’s great plan will be the coming of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Steve Brown tells about a car he saw one day parked along the side of the road while he was driving home.  It was the ugliest car he had ever seen.  It had a large gash on its side, the windows were all smashed, the roof was dented in, one of the doors was held together with bailing wire, several body parts were missing, the rust had eaten away most of the paint and what little paint was left was of different colors.  But the most interesting thing about the car was the bumper sticker.  It said: “This is not an abandoned car; the owner will return.”   The message of Advent is that this is not an abandoned world and you are not an abandoned person.

We read in I Thessalonians: “Now concerning the times and seasons brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark: “You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.  It is like a man going on a journey when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Keep awake, watch, for you do not know when the master of the hour will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn.”

Who are those servants left in charge?  We are.  You and I are.  Christ has put us in charge.  We each have a work to do.   And while we work we are to be on watch, to keep awake.  The days are coming.  We are to await that day and that hour.

Finally, Advent says the days are coming when the Messiah will bring shalom throughout the land.   The 8th prophet Isaiah envisions a future time of peace throughout earth.  Here his prophecy: “God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Isaiah says further: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox, the nursing child shall play over the hold of the asp.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

A Christian woman recalls her trip to Israel and a holy moment, when she experienced a foretaste of the peace Christ will one day establish on earth.  She writes:

“We walked through the dusty streets of Bethlehem town and soon came to the entrance to the Church of the Nativity. We stood in line for what seemed like hours, winding our way downward into a series of caves.

Once there, I was hushed by the holiness of it all. There were candles lit here, there, and everywhere. Hundreds of people were on their knees in prayer, scattered about on the cold, damp floor. We made our way to the traditional cave of the birth where we read Matthew's story once again. Soon we were singing. "O Holy Night," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Silent Night."

Right there in a church that has been ravaged by war and terrorism and today is owned by four different religious groups, we prayed for peace.  As we left, I passed by all the pilgrims yet again. Some were from Germany, Poland, or Italy and others from England, Spain, or China. They, too, sang and prayed.  Anger and violence wrestled about in all our worlds, but in that moment we had all come together in Bethlehem to worship and celebrate the Prince of Peace who was working shalom into the folds of our lives, as he will, until the day he returns to work it into all things, once-for-all.

I too as have some of you experienced that moment of peace, serenity, in a cave under the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born.  Yes, we justifiably question whether peace in our world will ever become a reality.  While we await, the scriptures, and our Christian faith, remind us that we too can experience today a foretaste of Christ's coming peace.   The prophet Isaiah says: “God will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on him, because he trusts in God.”

Peace comes when we trust in God's control of events and circumstances, of both our yesterdays and our tomorrows.   Nothing is beyond the control and will of God.  Advent stirs our hearts.  It declares that the future belongs not to evil, not to sin, but to God.  Jesus is coming to establish an unimaginable world.  C.S. Lewis writes: “When the author appears on stage, you know the play is over.”

I close with these inspiring words from the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, see the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them as their God, they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them, he will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will cease, for these things have passed away.”   Amen 

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