(watch here: https://youtu.be/S_2Xs5TRS2U)
25”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. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34”Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”…reminds me of the joke I once heard in seminary to caution us would-be preachers from being too clever. It’s about good ole Jeb. Every Sunday ole Jeb would go to sleep half way through the sermon, sometimes to the point of snoring. The preacher decided to have some fun with Jeb, so the following Sunday, he began his sermon as usual. Soon he noticed Jeb was drifting off to sleep, so he began to talk softly. “Now friends,” he said to the congregation, “I’m sure that each one of you here is a God-fearing Christian, and wants to go to heaven,” and the congregation all nodded agreement. The preacher continued softly “Well, if there’s anyone here that doesn’t want to go to heaven, and wants to go to hell, then…” and the preacher takes a deep breath and shouts “STAND UP!” Well, Jeb is startled awake with the shouting and instantly jumps to his feet! The preacher looks over his pulpit at Jeb and asks, “Jeb, are you really sure you want to be standing up?” Jeb looks around and replies, “Well, preacher, you’re the only other one a-standin’, but I’m with you all the way!”
Good ole Jeb won’t be alone, will he? Just goes to show you…try to be too clever and you just might get wrapped up in it yourself. Besides, it’s hard staying alert all the time. Maybe Jeb has an extremely tense or stressful job or home life that require his constant alertness and focus. When he’s at church is the only break he gets so we shouldn’t judge him for using that time to get a little sleep. Perhaps we ought to be glad that Jeb has a place to do that and encourage him to take advantage of it. We just don’t know his situation.
But in today’s reading we are encouraged to stay awake and alert for the coming of our Lord. It’s an appropriate passage for the start of our season of Advent as we await the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is a season of waiting and preparing our hearts and minds so that when he comes we will be ready for him. We will know who to expect and how best to welcome him. We will be able to present the best parts of ourselves and give a full account of what we’ve done with our lives that would make him proud. Make no mistake about it, Christ is coming! And he’ll want a full account of how we’ve lived out his commandment to love one another as he loves us. He’ll want to know how we honor his sacrifice on the cross. He’ll want to know how we remember all that he did for us the last time he was here. And it all starts with a little baby in a manger. The time will come when we celebrate his immanent return but for now we wait and prepare.
So who do we await? Our reading for this week doesn’t really help answer this question but it does give us an idea of what the situation will be like. Verses 25 and 26 state, “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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Jesus gave a pretty scary description of what it will be like when he returns, certainly not represented by a baby in a manger. Who would faint from fear at a baby in a manger? Jesus wants us to pay attention and realize just how amazing his return to us will be. Jesus wants us amazed, awestruck, befuddled. Such great power, such divine majesty, come to us in a wee, little baby! God comes to us not as mighty warrior but as a vulnerable, helpless, little baby! And He does so to reinforce just how awesome his deeds are. Jesus has done some amazing things and has taught us so much about who God is. And yet he comes to us as a little baby. This in itself is mind-blowing, to have such power and might inside something so fragile. We should be afraid that God would be so unassuming and so exposed. How bold! How daring!
Which is all the more reason to stay alert. If God has already come to us in the least expected form of a baby, who knows how He’ll come to us when He comes again. At the end of the season, we’ll celebrate his having come in the form of a baby but odds are He’ll return in a new and unexpected form. And our four week season of waiting has an end to it. That is, we know when Jesus will come—December 25. For some, Jesus will come to them on that day but for many he won’t. For many, Jesus will remain hidden and unknown. We pray that all will come to know Jesus on Christmas but many will be too busy unwrapping presents or preparing feasts or gathering with loved ones. Not that Jesus can’t be found in such activities. Indeed, Jesus is found in the giving and the feasting and the gathering and the loving. Where else would Jesus be than in those activities?! Of course Jesus is there! Yet some of us don’t have the opportunity to give or feast or gather or love so where is Jesus then? Again, Jesus comes in many forms and often when we least expect him. Jesus can come in the form of a day without pain. Jesus can come in a phone call from an estranged loved one. Jesus can come in a pay raise at work. Jesus can come in a test at school. There are many ways that Jesus can make himself known to those who seek him. The key is to stay alert. Be open to receiving Jesus each and every day. Recall what Peter advises us in his letter: “Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:13) We are to work our hearts and minds to stay open and receptive in this time of waiting. It’s all too easy to shut our hearts and minds as we wait. We allow fear and doubt to creep in and overwhelm us. It takes exercise and discipline to maintain hope. The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Thessalonians, “so then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” (5:6) And in his letter to the Corinthians: “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.” (16:13)
The season of Advent represents our lifelong waiting for our Lord. We simply don’t know when or how he’ll come to us. He may come again as a baby, he may not. He may come on the 25th of December, he may not. Regardless, we must stay alert and receptive for him in our time of waiting. Be assured that when he comes he’ll want a full accounting. Don’t get caught asleep or unaware! Of everything the military taught me, this advice stuck with me the most. You don’t want to stand before our Lord without anything to show for your life. Love and serve your neighbor. Do good when you are given the opportunity to do so. Be kind and generous with what God blesses you with. Our Lord IS coming so STAY ALERT!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.