Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9
“Margaret was all ready for her date. She was wearing her best outfit, her hair was fixed, her makeup was perfect. Imagine her disappointment when her date didn’t show up! After an hour of waiting, Margaret decided that he wasn’t going to come. She changed into her pajamas, washed off her makeup, gathered up a bunch of junk food, and parked herself in front of the television for the evening. As soon as she got involved in her favorite show, there was a knock on the door. She opened it to find her handsome date standing on the doorstep. He stared at her in shock, then said in disbelief, “I’m two hours late, and you’re still not ready?”
Ah, it’s that time of year again, isn’t it! The talk about Christmas ultimately leads to talk about getting ready. You know what I’m talking about, right? Seems like the world is getting ready before we in the church are ready to get ready. Two local radio stations were playing Christmas music 24 hours a day two weeks before we even had a chance to get our Thanksgiving menus written down. I made it a point not to listen to those stations, by the way. Black Friday and Small Business Saturday – are just now past. Cyber Monday is just a day away. There are even some houses in our community who have had their outdoor Christmas lights on for more than two weeks now. I guess some people like to get ready sooner than others.
But, now that Advent is here, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t urge YOU to be ready. To get ready. And unlike that young lady whose date arrived late – to stay ready.
Now I know, it can be an enormous job to get ready for Christmas. And ultimately, I do think it is worth it. The celebrations that we have – and I am talking about the celebrations that keep Christ at the center of things – and again – in our society – I know that that’s not always an easy thing to do – but again – I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t encourage you – in the busyness of this season – in the getting ready – and all the preparations – I would not be doing my job if I didn’t encourage you – to keep Christ at the center of it all.
Because what are we really getting ready for? What I like about Advent is that Advent is a celebration of what has been – and what is yet to come. Anyone who has been around here any length of time knows that Advent – this four week period in the church year that precedes Christmas – you know that the focus for getting ready is not just to celebrate the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ at his first arrival in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago – but to be aware that we are waiting for his second arrival – his second coming – at some point in time in the future.
And since we don’t know when that’s going to be – we wait. We wait with hope and expectation. We wait for the Savior to return. And we get ready and we stay ready by living a life of repentance that leads to forgiveness.
We get ready and we stay ready by being the kind of people that God is calling us to be – living the kind of lives that God is calling us to live – lives that reflect the light of Christ in our hearts and our lives – making a difference in the lives of others for the sake of Jesus Christ. That’s how we get ready. That’s how we stay ready.
Why? Because we know that we too – even we – are in need of a Savior. Believers as well as non-believers. Believers are in need of a Savior because – well quite frankly – we are sometimes prone to wander. Sometimes we run away from God. Or we chose to stay away. SO we are always in need of a Savior. We are always in need of the Good News. Jesus our Savior has come. The Gospel – the Good News – reminds us that we are forgiven. AND the Good News shows us what it means to be “livin’ forgiven.” It means, as someone once said, "preaching the gospel to yourself every day." I know I need to hear it. I need to hear that Good News every day!
And non-believers are in need of the Gospel too. There is a whole world out there that needs to hear that there is a better way. There is a whole world out there that needs to hear that their wait for a Savior can be over.
“The story is told of John Henry Newman, who, in the 1800’s, was an Anglican minister in England. His religious pilgrimage ultimately took him to Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. He ultimately would become a cardinal in the Catholic Church and the most preeminent leader of that church in Europe.
“While serving as Cardinal, he received a message from an English priest from the tiny village of Brennan, a dirty little mill town north of Birmingham. It seems that an epidemic of cholera had decimated the village and the priest was asking for help, for another priest to assist him in the giving of the sacrament, administering the Last Rites, and to do funerals, so many people were dying.
“Newman read the letter in his office, and he spent the next hour in prayer. Finally a secretary came in and said: Cardinal Newman. We must give an immediate reply to Brennan. Your eminence, what shall we do? Newman answered: The people are suffering and dying. How can I send a priest to do this work? I must go myself.
“At [this time of year, we remember that] God looked down upon his dying people, dying from sin and distraction, pride and preoccupation. How, under the circumstance could he send a substitute? He came himself—in the person of Jesus Christ.”
Advent is about getting ready. It is about repentance. It is about the believer’s and the non-believer’s need for a Savior. What the world needs to know – what they still need to hear – in the busyness and sometimes the craziness that hits us every December – is that the Savor the world is longing for is Jesus Christ.
Now – I think that we have a great opportunity every year at this time. For those of us who know we have a need for a Savior – and indeed we have come to know that Savior in the person of Jesus Christ – what we have is a tremendous opportunity during Advent to invite our unbelieving friends and relatives – and maybe even especially our believing but un-churched friends and relatives – to come here to worship. To come to discover the Savior – maybe even to discover him again for the first time.
Folks – the world is in a mess. Politically. Economically. Financially. Morally. All you need to do is read the front pages of the newspaper, or turn on the evening news to know what I’m talking about. Jesus comes to make a difference in this messy world of ours. If I didn’t believe that – if I didn’t believe that he has made a difference in my life – then I wouldn’t be up here preaching to you this same Good News week after week after week.
Earlier I said that Advent is a time to celebrate what has been and what is yet to come. What we often talk of as the first coming and the second coming of Christ.
But you know – we miss something if we don’t also talk about the third coming of Christ. He was born in Bethlehem. He will come again. But the third way – is that he also comes to us today. And this is also what Advent celebrates. Let me share with you a story.
“A couple from the United States spent some time serving as missionaries in one of the former Soviet republics. They were caring for children in an orphanage and, like anyone who has been involved in ministry with such kids, they were simply overwhelmed by the tragedy of so many children who’d been abandoned.
“On one occasion this missionary couple was teaching the children about Christmas. They told them all about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men, and about the baby Jesus. They told them all about the stable, and the manger, and the star in the sky. They told them all about God’s love for the world embodied in the birth of Jesus. And after teaching the children the Christmas story, this couple invited them to draw some pictures of the manger scene.
“All of the pictures were wonderful! But one in particular caught their attention. It was drawn by a little boy named Misha. And what made Misha’s drawing distinctive was that there was not one, but two babies lying in the manger.
“‘Misha, what a wonderful picture!’ said the woman missionary. ‘But who is the other baby in the manger with the baby Jesus?’
“Misha looked up with a lovely expression on his face. ‘The other baby is Misha,’ he smiled.
“‘Oh? How is it that you added yourself to the manger scene?’ she asked.
“And this is what Misha said. ‘When I was drawing the picture of the baby Jesus, Jesus looked at me and said, ‘Misha, where is YOUR family?’ I said to Jesus, ‘I have no family.’ Then Jesus said to me, ‘Misha, where is your home?’ And I said to Jesus, ‘I have no home.’ And then Jesus said to me, ‘Misha, you can come and be in my family and live in my home.’”
That’s a wonderful story of how Christ comes to us and invites us to let him enter into our lives. Enter into our homes. Even as we invite him to come to us and live with us – in our hearts – our lives – our homes. And that is what Advent is all about.
If an emotional fix were all that we needed, then I guess all we would need would be a few warm and fuzzy Hallmark Channel Christmas specials on TV. No. We need more than just an emotional fix. What we need – what the world needs – is a Savior. His name is Jesus. And he comes to you and to me today – and he comes to us, and says, “Come. And be in my family. And live in my home.”
God sent us the gift of Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago. And we also know that Jesus will come again someday. But he comes to us in the now – today – because he knows we need a Savior. The world – believers and non-believers need a Savior.
And that’s why we tell the story – because his story can change your story. Amen