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Keep Alert

11/29/2015 First Sunday of Advent The text is Luke 21:25-36.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The scripture you’ve just heard may have taken you by surprise on this first Sunday of Advent.  With refrigerators still full of left over Thanksgiving turkey, you’re probably thinking about Christmas.  You can’t help it – after all, in order to get started on seasonal gift giving, you’ve just survived one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year.  With colder temperatures on the horizon and snow falling to the West of us, you’ve probably put up your outside Christmas lights and begun to organize you card list.

But, what do you get when you come to church today?  No carols in sight, and one of the most un-Christmas-like scriptures.  Instead of hearing about an impending birth and a gentle stable scene, we read:  “There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars…People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”  Yes, Christ is coming…but not as a baby lying in a manger.  So, “be on guard,” lest “that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.”  Now, yesterday you may have wondered if the January credit card bills might catch you unexpectedly, but I’m willing to bet you never dreamed that Christmas, or the coming of the Son of Man should cause alarm.

So, just when we’re beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, what kind of scripture reading is this?  It’s the type of reading that gets us to sit back on our tails and take some time to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

Now, we might think that, as we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, we are taking time to prepare for the coming of Christ into our home and our very lives.  But during the season of Advent we are invited to ponder two comings.  Sure, we are reminded of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, but we are also encouraged to focus our attention on his second coming, which we still await, when Christ will come in glory and judgment.

When Jesus came to Bethlehem, he didn’t finish the Christmas story.  His birth was only the beginning.  The job wasn’t finished in that little town, nor was it finished on Calvary’s mountain.  In Bethlehem, power was let loose in the world to transform our planet, but the birth didn’t complete the Christmas story.  Jesus came to save the world from sin.  Jesus died on the cross to make us right with God.  Jesus came into the world to bring peace and salvation.  But, I don’t have to tell you that sin is still an active force in our world.  All you need do is listen to the news and you will hear about fatalities in a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado, shootings in France, and beheadings and uncovered graves in the Middle East.  Heaven knows, people are not perfect.  The world is not perfect.  The world remains broken.  That’s why Jesus announced to his disciples that he would come again.  And when Jesus’ comes again, the power unleashed at Christmas will complete the transformation of the world.

Jesus said that not even the angels in heaven know the time when this will happen.  But Jesus did give us some guidelines.  There will be “signs in the sun, the moon and the stars.”  People “will faint from fear.”  But these events have occurred hundreds of times in history.  There have been hundreds of times when people have seen signs n the sun, moon and stars, and hundreds of times when peoples’ hearts have fluttered in fear.  Maybe Jesus was speaking about an instance like no other that we have ever experienced on our planet, or maybe he was giving such an unspecific warning in order to keep us on guard, watching and waiting to see him face to face even during this joyous time of the year.

Be on your guard, Jesus says, so that your heart is not “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”  Be on guard and be sure you don’t miss Christmas by being caught up in all the doldrums of grief and pain.  See the joy and hope and salvation that God has in store for those who watch and wait expectantly for his son.  Be on guard and be sure you don’t miss Christmas by being caught up in the hazards of living in a world full of unhealthy choices.  Choose God instead and find the courage and peace and contentment to live life as it comes to you, with the good and he bad, the joys and the sorrows, the windfalls and the struggles.  Be on guard and be sure you don’t miss out on Christmas.  Focus on the meaning and reason for the season instead of the frills and pageantry.  A Macy’s Thanksgiving parade is good if it gets you to think about God’s gift to you and for all people, but it can also distract you and take you away from the true meaning of the season, turning your eyes to the commercialism surrounding this holy season.  So be alert.  If the times are good and prosperous, be alert; such times may tempt you to dissipation and drunkenness.  If the times are filled with ominous headlines and personal struggles, keep alert, because at such times the worries of this life can destroy the hopes and dreams that come with Christmas and the return of Christ.

All of us are in danger of being caught off guard, even if we pray and worship and read our Bibles regularly and know God’s word.  So, Jesus gave some succinct advice.  “Be alert,” he warned, “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.”  Live each day as if this is the day you will see Christ face to face, and you will never be taken by surprise.

So, be alert, my friends, and live as if there was once a Christmas to celebrate, and still a bigger Christmas on the way.  Stay alert, and be watchful even as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  And may this Christmas and all Christmases to come never catch you by surprise, but may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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