Advent 1 12/3/17 Mark 13:24-37
Today we kick off that wonderful season of waiting and watching known as Advent. Small children, of course, are waiting for Christmas and the coming of Santa Claus. Though I hear Santa is struggling a bit to keep up with today’s technologically savvy kids. I heard about one little boy who climbed onto Santa’s lap. Santa asked the usual question: “And what would you like for Christmas?” The child stared at him open-mouthed, horrified. Then he gasped, “Didn’t you get my Snapchat?”
Waiting for Santa is difficult for boys and girls and going through the busy Advent season is a lesson in patience for adults. There is so much to do. The next few weeks will be a time of exhausting activity--buying presents, attending parties, mailing Christmas cards, etc. Someone has said you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
One focus of Advent is preparing to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. But today’s focus is on preparing for that far off day when Christ will bring in his kingdom in all its fullness and glory. In today’s gospel Jesus says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware! keep alert! For you do not know when the time will come.” Every once in a while someone will come along who claims to know when the day of the Lord’s coming, the end of everything as we know it, will be. But Jesus is very clear that nobody knows when that day will be. Nobody knows what the future holds. The best we can do is to be prepared for whatever may come our way.
Unfortunately, even the best preparation can prove inadequate. We can do our best to be financially secure or to take care of our health, but unforeseen circumstances can change everything in the blink of an eye. There are very few sure things in life. The only certain investment that you can make in this world is to put your trust in God. Only God will never forsake us. Only God will be there for us and give us the strength to endure.
After we’ve done all we can do to prepare ourselves externally, we need to prepare ourselves internally by spending time in God’s presence. By spending time daily in God’s presence and in living as God would have us live, we develop a trust relationship that makes it possible for us to endure even the most horrible worst-case scenario. In other words, we are confident that all will be well because God is in control. As long as God is in control, God’s children have nothing to fear.
It’s like a story told by Irish writer Patrick Taylor in his book, An Irish Country Christmas. It is about a woman named Eileen whose eldest son is running a high fever. It’s Christmas, and she has no money to provide her son with proper medical care let alone prepare a Christmas meal for her other kids. The village doctor is moved by her dire situation and decides to help her by arranging a raffle to raise money for Eileen and her family.
To get the job done, he calls on a friend named Donal, a well-known conman. An anonymous donor has bought a ticket--number 4444— for Eileen in hopes that she will win the drawing. The night of the drawing Donal fills a hat with the raffle tickets, and the mayor is called upon to pick the winning ticket. He shovels his way through to the bottom of the hat, eventually picking a ticket. On revealing the winning ticket, it reads “4444.” Eileen and her sons leap for joy. They have won. The crowd cheers loudly, sharing Eileen’s joy. Eileen’s winnings are enough to prepare a nice meal for her family as well as take care of her sickly son. Soon after the drawing had ended, O’Reilly walks up to Donal and asks, “How did you do it?” Donal gives a whimsical smile and brings out all the stubs from the hat. Every one of the tickets had 4444 printed on it. So, the Mayor did not pick the winning ticket by chance . . . no matter which one he had chosen, it would have been a winner. (1)
This is the only thing we need to know about the future. Regardless of what may come, a loving God is in control. There may be dark hours--there may be surprises, both positive and negative--but we will never be forsaken. God is in control. “But about that day or hour no one knows,” says the Master. Obviously that is true. But we do know how it all turns out. Those who are in Christ win. Amen.
1. (Forge Books, 2008).
Additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2017.
Advent 2 12/10/17 Isaiah 40:1-11
A postal worker came across a letter addressed in shaky handwriting to God. He thought he should open it to see what it was about. The letter read: Dear God, I am a 93-year-old widow, living on a very small pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had $100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension check.
Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with. I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. Can you please help me? Sincerely, Edna. The postal worker was touched. He showed the letter to his fellow workers. Each of them dug into their wallets and came up with a few dollars. He collected $96, which he put into an envelope and sent to the woman. The rest of the day, all of the workers felt a warm glow for the kind thing they had done. Christmas came and went. A few days later another letter came from the elderly woman addressed to God. All of the workers gathered around while the letter was opened. It read: “Dear God, How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift of love, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift. By the way, there was $4 missing. I think it must have been those thieves at the Post Office. Sincerely, Edna.” (1)
Well, the folks at the Post Office tried to help. Helping people is what life is all about. Which brings us to one of the most beautiful passages in the Scriptures, as recorded in our first lesson from Isaiah. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
“Comfort my people.” Isaiah words were addressed to the Israelites at a time when the city of Jerusalem, the temple and the Jewish armies had all been destroyed by the Babylonian Army under Nebuchadnezzar. Ten thousand of Israel’s best citizens were marched off to Babylon in what is now modern day Iraq. Many of those left behind were imprisoned. Isaiah’s words were good news for the Jewish people who, at this point in time, were feeling God-forsaken. God has not forsaken them at all, Isaiah says to them. God has forgiven their sins and has reclaimed them as His own people.
Of course, this joyous message is not only for the people of Israel. It is for all who have fallen short of the glory of God. That means it is a joyous message for all of us.
Pastor Keith Anderson tells about a memorable experience from his teenage years. His father had purchased a magnificent new red Chevrolet convertible. Keith himself had a humble little Volkswagen Beetle. One day his Dad let Keith drive his new red Chevrolet convertible to a friend’s house. Keith took a back way down a twisting rock-lined mountain road. The speed limit was 45 mph on this road, but a friend told Keith that it was impossible to maintain 45 mph on that road and stay in the right lane. Keith knew he could do it. He was wrong. His friend was right. Keith swerved wildly and smashed up his father’s car so bad that it couldn’t be driven. The police came. Keith called home. His father came immediately in the VW. He told Keith to go on to his friend’s house in the Volkswagen and he would deal with the police and the car. Keith Anderson says his father never mentioned the accident to him again. Years later Keith found out that his father’s insurance rates doubled for the next three years because of this accident, but his father never asked for the money. He never told him the cost. (2)
He was probably quite attached to his red convertible. There was probably a part of him that wanted to give his son the thrashing of his life. But what would be gained? He knew his son felt bad enough as it was. At that moment he knew his son’s greatest need was to be reassured of his father’s love.
When a parent gives love like that they are reflecting the nature of God. God didn’t forgive Israel because they deserved to be forgiven, or because He regarded their offenses lightly. God forgave them simply because He loved them. Maybe we haven’t wrecked our Dad’s new car, but all of us have sinned. All of us have needed forgiveness. God’s words of comfort to us this morning are “You are forgiven.” Amen.
1. Source unknown.
Additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2017.