Advent 1: Waiting

Ian's sermon from Sunday 2nd Dec.  Readings from Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36.

December 2nd – my sons 29th birthday – where did those years go?

Just the other day something our youngest son said reminded me of all our children. He said what they and thousands of others have said before him.  Can you guess what it was?

4 weeks to Christmas – I can’t wait!

It seems that children look forward to Christmas with an eager anticipation, straining forward as if they can make it arrive sooner; while their adults can’t wait for it to be over.

We spend a lot of time waiting.

Waiting for the next big event

Christmas – birthdays – wedding days

Celebrations like this we look forward to eagerly; but not all waiting is like that.

Waiting outside the principals office can be quite a different experience.

Waiting for NCEA results likewise will be a tense time for many.

Some waiting is outright fearful.

Waiting for a child to come home, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for a drunken spouse to return; waiting like this can be debilitating.

Or can you imagine what it has been like for the people of Palestine waiting for UN recognition.

Or all the people of that region – Israeli and Palestinian – who currently wait for peace. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in constant fear.

Imagine living in the Gaza Strip where daily life is under constant scrutiny – Israeli high-flying drones constantly hover above providing live pictures of movements on the ground: a child cannot poke her tongue out without being seen.

And the threat of an air strike is never far away.

Or trying to settle your child to sleep after another long-range rocket has slammed into the building not far from your home on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

Imagine growing up in Colombia with it’s almost 50 years of internal conflict and violence; in Burma – especially if you are part of the Muslim minority; Kashmir – caught between nations; the Niger Delta; Congo and the list could go on. So many places waiting for peace.

And we know all too well it’s not just nations that long for peace. Here in our country – God’s own we like to call it – yet even here violent and sexual abuse towards women and children continues unchecked. Too many live in daily fear – often alone they must wonder if it will ever end – and in the meantime does anyone actually care.

How do people live like this?

Somehow they do – somehow they live in fear, waiting, longing for peace but so often that must seem like an impossible dream.

Peoples embroiled in conflict: there is nothing new in this.

We read from Jeremiah. He was a prophet in a time immense difficulty for God’s People.   The Northern Kingdom had fallen and Judah was about to follow suit. Jerusalem would be destroyed and Babylon would take the people into exile. Jeremiah is sent by God to pronounce judgement on the people. Much of their problems they had bought upon themselves – so Jeremiah in chapter after chapter tells it as it is.

It would seem there is no hope for the nation. Their neighbours are likewise condemned for the evil they have perpetuated.

Then here in chapter 33 a new sound is heard.

Jeremiah still speaking – still bringing God’s word but the tone has changed.

Jeremiah begins to encourage the people – yes they have been judged, but God is merciful.

And while they will have to live with the consequences of their actions there is the promise that an end will come, God in God’s time would restore them.

Once again they might know God’s blessing upon them.

God – Jeremiah declares – will raise up a righteous saviour from King David’s line. One who would restore God’s blessing upon the people.

Therefore wait in hope – you are not alone, not forgotten, the end is in sight.

As Christians too we wait. Right now we are waiting for Christmas and while it is good to celebrate the coming of Jesus, our righteous saviour from David’s line – more important surely is to wait for his return.

That’s what this time of year is about for me.

The twin truth:

 Jesus – the Christ has come. Jesus is coming again.

And we wait, and prepare for that day.

We all know that much is made of his coming – big money has been made by writing about this day that we all look to.

And right now we are counting done to the ‘end-of-the-earth’ as some believe. Apparently according to the Mayan calendar we’re not even going to make it to Christmas: instead the world as we know it will end on the 21 12 2012.

But don’t get too worked up about this – it is meaningless.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:36 and following that no one knows precisely when he will return: Speculation therefore about the exact date is a waste of time, not even the angels in heaven know when this will be, nor as Jesus says does he.

Furthermore Jesus appears to have no particular interest in the subject – what concerns him more is that we be prepared for whenever that day may be.

By contrast one of the heresies of the western church is speculation of the day and hour.

  • Speculation distracts us from the important task of proclaiming the gospel of Christ, and of living it – focusing our energies and time on trying to decipher the signs detracts us from serving God.

and

  • Speculation denies the truth of the teaching of Jesus. He tells us that no one knows the day or hour, absolutely no one. So what are we saying when we claim to have figured out the date, or even when we make the effort to find out – certainly all we are saying is that our LORD did not know what he was talking about – that he got it wrong!  I for one am not prepared to say that.

and

  • Speculation detracts from our calling to live by faith not sight.  This is the way Jesus lived – he did not need to know all the minute details – rather he trusted his Father in heaven. Despite outward signs he knew that God had all things under control.  This means to place our trust in God and not in our knowledge and abilities.  To remain faithful – doing what is right – despite the uncertainty of life.

We do not know when but we do know he will.

Luke points out that the signs are all around us: this rattly old world is showing signs of wear and tear. The signs remind us that God has not done with us – we are not forgotten – Jesus the Christ, the Son of Man, is returning.

The challenge for me – possibly for you – is to wait well.

By this I mean three things.

First wait expectantly – believerly? Yep that’s not a word but you get the idea. Wait like a believer; with hope filled anticipation. Believing – trusting the words of Jesus – he will return in power and glory.

Second wait in confidence. We have nothing to fear about this day – it is the fulfilment of life. It is our God coming to be with us – to personally take command of all the forces that oppose life and dwell with us.  So we – who are called by his name – can look forward to it.  This is our source of hope.  Evil will come to an end, peace shall be established, and we shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Finally be prepared.    But you don’t know when! Then always be prepared.

Despite the signs we don’t know when, despite the signs we will be surprised, caught unaware, but we should not be caught unprepared.

Are you prepared?

Billy Bray, the Cornish evangelist of the 1800’s, once prayed: ‘LORD, if any have to die this day, let it be me, for I am ready.’

Could you pray that prayer?

Billy I believe lived by the words of Romans 13:11-14

11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

It is time to put off our slumber – wake up – time to be prepared. According to Jesus we must live every day as if it is the last day.

Do our relationships, priorities, use of time, habits and attitudes please Jesus?  As we read Romans 13:11-14 we see that like Billy Bray we should live as if today we will meet Jesus – to be ready, prepared for his return, so that we will not be ashamed.

Are you prepared?

Firstly are you in a relationship with Jesus.  If you come to Jesus, and place your life in his hands, seeking his forgiveness, then he will forgive you, and he will hold his arms out to you and invite you into his family.

Having done that we also need to live for him daily – this involves obedience, baptism – dying to self and living for him, this involves faith, this involves living to serve others and not living for self.

Are you prepared?

No doubt Christmas will once again catch a few of us out – there will be the last minute rush; retailers delight! Some cards won’t make the post in time. But these things don’t really matter.

How much worse it will to find that we have not prepared for what is really important and that, when Christ comes, we’re not ready to receive him.

Arohanui - Ian