When O Lord?
Have you gone shopping for Christmas yet? Did you fight the crowds at the stores on Friday? We didn’t go out this year. Last year, my wife Sandy went out on Friday, she was one of the early risers last year. That’s one day of the year I avoid shopping for anything. I know how hectic things can get. It seems every year, somewhere there is some ordeal over some little thing, pushing and shoving to get the last of a super deal.
On Thanksgiving morning, we went through the papers, looking through the store ads to see what might be really good deals. I know that a lot of people were up extra early, and it keeps getting earlier every year. One store was open at 3:00 am this year. Several were open with special deals good on Thanksgiving day only. That seems crazy to me, I remember a few years ago Computer City had a really nice laptop computer on sale for half off - it was a really great price, and my niece was planning on getting there at 4:00 am to try to get some deals. She was after the computer and a digital camera. But even if she got there at 4:00, she knew there would be a line, and that she probably had very little chance of getting either one. But she figured it was worth a shot.
I can understand why tempers get a little short, getting up hours before the sun to stand in line for hours more, waiting for the store to open, being one of the first ten or fifteen people in the store, and still not getting that item that you so badly wanted. When stores do things like this, advertising so heavily for something they only have a couple of, it’s little wonder that people get frustrated and a little angry when they miss out on that one thing they really wanted.
Like it or not, a lot of people participate in this yearly ritual. Pushing and shoving for the years most popular gifts, always stocked in very limited quantities. And the saddest part is, this is what the Christmas Holiday has become to many people, isn’t it. At least for some, consumer driven, materialistic people that see Christmas as just a retail holiday, rather than the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior.
I hope that we, as believers, have not lost track of that true meaning of Christmas. I hope that we don’t get sucked into that game. I hope that our faith makes a difference in the way that we live our lives, and most of all, in the way that we approach our shopping this time of year.
This is, as you know, the first week of Advent, and while the retail world has been preparing their store displays for Christmas for several weeks now, pretty much since Halloween, and the retail season began in earnest on Friday, we see the Christmas season as officially beginning today. And as they see it as a chance to dramatically increase sales before the year-end, we see it as a chance to prepare ourselves again for the coming of the Messiah.
I love Advent. It is a holy time of year for me. A chance to reflect on God himself becoming human, being born in the most unholy of circumstances. Truly becoming one of us, even one of the least of us. Yet inside, he was still God. Living on the outside just as you or I might have, yet, pure and holy. Our divine Lord.
So in the season of advent, we remember His coming, and we prepare our hearts and our minds for His coming again. Especially today, on the first Sunday of Advent, when we emphasize his promised coming again. What does that mean for you? Does the promise of his second coming influence your attitudes this time of year? Does the knowledge that when the time is right, he will come back, change your outlook? I hope that you are filled with an inner peace knowing that. I hope that it not only affects who you are, but that it actually defines who you are. That you are truly one that lives for the day he will come back, just as he said he would.
Our reading in Isaiah gives us a glimpse of what it will be like when he gets here. The mountain of the Lord’s temple, which is Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, will be established as the chief among mountains, all nations will stream to it – they will look to it as the center of power in all the world. Revelation 21 talks about the New Jerusalem, God himself will live there and will rule the nations. And as we heard this morning, swords will be beat into plow shares and spears into pruning hooks, because swords and spears will no longer be needed. The world will be at peace. My friends, I don’t believe the world will ever truly be at peace until this day comes. But this day will come!
In fact, I think that it will more than likely come in my lifetime. If not, then at least in the lifetime of our kids. I have a couple of reasons for believing that, maybe someday I’ll share them with you. But we can certainly echo the idea that Paul wrote to the Romans, that that time is nearer now than when we first believed. Surely the day is almost here, the hour has come for us to wake up from our slumber.
If they felt that the time was that close 2000 years ago, then certainly it is much closer now. He talked about the night being almost over, that refers to the evil times they lived in. Those evil times are not yet gone, are they. We live in evil times today, don’t we? If you watch the news, you know that. Last year, a hunter shot six people dead because one of them told him to get out of their tree-stand. This guy was hunting on posted property without permission, climbed up into somebody else’s tree stand, and when the owner of the property told him to leave, he got into an argument and wound up killing six and injuring at least two others.
If that’s not enough proof of the evil around us, how about this one. A soldier from Iraq had to fly home to be with his wife, who was in intensive care in the hospital after being shot in the head while going to a shopping mall. The fellow that did it didn’t know her, it was a drive by shooting, and the police said he was just out looking for someone to kill, it didn’t matter who. This guy spent a year in a war zone, only to find out that the home he left was just as dangerous. We don’t need any more proof that we live in evil days, do we? The media wants to convince us that Iraq was a big failure. We heard of names of every soldier that died there. And each was a tragedy
But we don’t often hear how many thousands are killed here in our own country each day by the evil around us. We don’t often hear how many young women are shot down trying to get into the shopping mall. Or how many hunters shot down while trying to enjoy their own property, and maybe even bring home some dinner. Innocent people that just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and fall victim to the same evil Paul wrote about 2000 years ago.
But the Bible tells us that daylight is coming. The day is almost here. The time to behave decently is here. The time to clothe yourselves with our Lord Jesus Christ has come. Three quick ways to do this: first, we identify with Christ by getting baptized and becoming a member of his church. This shows that we are a part of His body, the church family. We need to commit to him, and to his family. Second, we live by the qualities Jesus lived by while he was here on earth; these are love, humility, truth, and service to others. In other words, we sort of role-play what Jesus would do if he were in our situation. We try to become imitators of Christ. And thirdly, we watch ourselves carefully, so we don’t fall into any sin. We need to monitor this carefully, because sin starts with such a tiny temptation. We need to make sure we avoid any opportunity to fall victim. When we work on these three things, we will be ready for his return.
Our final reading in Matthew reminds us that while the time is near, we won’t know the exact time of his return. Therefore, we need to be ready all the time.
I guess it’s probably good that we don’t know the exact time of his return. If we did, we would probably be tempted to live for ourselves right up to the last minute, being lazy in our faith, not doing the work Christ would have us do. But we must live our lives of faith here on earth. We have work to do here. Christ put us where we are for a reason, he has work for us to do. And we must keep doing it, working on, until he determines the time is ready.
One final thought, the way that Matthew words this, ‘the Lord will come at an hour when you don’t expect him.’ This sounds to me like there won’t be any chance for last minute confessions, no opportunities for last minute repentance or bargaining. We must be found living a life of faith. We must be ready before that time comes. For there will be a day when it’s too late.
William Coffin once said, “We have learned to soar through the air like birds, to swim through the seas like fish, to soar through space like comets. Now it is high time we learned to walk the earth as the children of our God.” This advent season, make sure your ready for his return. Make sure you’re walking as one of his children.