In Times Like These
29 November 2015 RUMC
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The word Advent means coming; this is the time that Christians everywhere prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus’ birth at Christmas.
Now our scripture text for this morning is an odd one. It says nothing of shepherds, the manger or the baby Jesus. But what we have is a different type of Advent scripture. It is called the Second Advent which looks for the Second return of our Lord.
My text Luke 21:25-36.
There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day to day life. Don’t let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth. Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Human One.
This is the word of God. Thanks be to God.
When Jesus was asked about when he was to return. He didn’t look at a calendar and give a date, but instead he looked at all of eternity and told them to be alert and wait in expectation of his return. He cautioned all of his disciples, to stay awake, be alert and be on guard. Not to go soft or become bored or lapse into complacency.
Several years ago, there was a tourist who traveled into the area of Northern Italy and had visited an old castle called the Villa Arconti. When he arrived, he was met by a friendly old gardener who graciously showed him the estate which was kept in perfect order. At the conclusion of this tour, the tourist asked these questions:
Tourist: How long have you been here?
Gardener: 24 years.
Tourist: And how often has the owner been here during that time?
Gardener: 4 times.
Tourist: When was the last time he was here?
Gardener: 12 years ago.
Tourist: Has he been back since then?
Tourist: Does he write to you?
Tourist: From whom then do you get your instructions?
Gardener: From his agent in Milan.
Tourist: Does this agent come out here quite often?
Tourist: Who then comes here?
Gardener: I am almost always here alone; once in a while a tourist comes.
Tourist: But you keep this garden in such fine condition and take such excellent care of all the plants, just as though you expected the owner to come at any time.
Gardener: I expect him to come today. I believe if the owner were to unexpectedly show up and visit the castle, I think he would be pleased that everything was kept in perfect order.
I very much like the attitude of the gardener. He seems to be top notch in everything.
On the spiritual level, I believe the Lord of heaven appreciates the faithfulness of his children who live in readiness, either for his return, or if we were to meet the Lord in death. You see, when we wait, it is not an idle activity where we just sit down and do nothing. On the contrary, it is to prepare for the inevitable. To act in such a way that the appointment can come anytime.
Figuratively speaking, it is when we keep the house clean, when we have the books in order and the towels in the bathroom are neatly folded. Spiritually speaking, we need to have Christ in our hearts, to live for him and be of service to others.
Observing communion on the first Sunday of the month, that is when we proclaim the mystery of faith found in our hymn book. It says in bold print. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Every Sunday as we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
So whether Christ comes back in our life time or we meet him in death, we need to live in expectation and do those things that would please him to help bring the Kingdom of “God to those around us by our acts of kindness and good works.
In today’s scripture passage Jesus does give us a glimpse of what to expect and some day in the future, Christ will return. In just about every funeral and graveside service that I have attended or conducted, we read the words of Jesus in John 14:1-3:
Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you. And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.
Those who were alive during World War II may remember sixty-two year old Army General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur had to leave the Philippines Island and lead his troops to Australia. But before he left, he said, “I will return.” Two and a half years later on October 20, 1944, General MacArthur stood once again on the soil of the Philippines and said, “This is the voice of freedom. People of the Philippines, I have returned.”
Now if MacArthur could have that kind of credibility, how much more should we believe the Lord of Heaven when he said he would return? So in the meantime or between-time or in the end times, we are to live in expectation of his return or us going to him.
This past Thanksgiving Day, there were three NFL football games on TV. When I went to my sister’s house, we got to see the Philadelphia Eagles and the Detroit Lions game; it was on their flat screen television with the volume turned down. That was followed by the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers. When I got to my father‘s home, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers were on. Perhaps you had seen some of those games. But what they all had in common was the 2 minute warning when the referee blows a whistle to alert the players that the game will be over in 2 minutes.
What Jesus had to say in Luke 21 does seem that there is a possibility that we might be living in the 2 minute warning especially when our Lord spoke about the confusion and distress of the nations, the image of the fig tree as the symbol of Israel as a nation.
Are we really in the 2 minute warning? I don’t know, but our world does seem to be in a real state of change. But the important thing is this, are we ready? Are we living like the gardener in Italy who expects the owner to arrive at any moment? Are we in service to do those things and pray that God’s kingdom come, that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
- Matthew 24:36 tells us no one knows the day or the hour.
- Peter in his epistle tells us that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day.
- Paul in Thessalonians tells us the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Therefore, I don’t think any of us could go wrong if we lived each day as though it were our last, while at the same time, planning as though we will live over 100 years.
On this first Sunday in Advent, we are prepared to celebrate Jesus first coming at the same time as we look to Christ’s Second Advent. Because of that, let us dedicate our lives more fully to the Lord: to show more kindness to those who could use it. I would encourage all of us to do something special this coming year, such as read the Bible through in a year or put your faith into practice and do something incredible.