11/28/04, Advent Sunday, 1A
Know What Time it Is
“Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24: 44)
ost of us like to keep up with the time, especially men; especially men. The average man had seven watches: Some of them are sometimes working. Some are in the sock drawer and haven't been wound for years. But we guys have them; anyway. I am one of those who likes to keep up with accurate time. I'll check my most accurate watch with the U.S. Government Atomic Clock, at least once a week. In today's world our quarts watches are about as accurate as the Atomic Clocks. We know what time it is. In our Sanctuary I have three clocks: A new one on the back wall, which a friend hung this week. I have a small quarts clock on my Pulpit and a third watch on my wrist. I know what time it is and try to subliminally keep an ongoing tally of a “time in motion” study going during worship; as do most loyal Methodist victims of too long winded preachers. We know what time it is!
In Jesus day they did not carry around wrist Sun Dials, so they became more adept at estimating the time. Most folk kept up with what year, month and usually what week it was. We have become so watch dependant that we sometimes have to look at our wrist watches to remember what year it is. But, our watches are accurate, and we know what time it is.
Some of us can look in the mirror and be reminded of what year it is. Marilyn's Aunt Ruby was called “The Lou Gizzard of Jesup.” Paul Harvey went to college with the Publisher, Editor, Owner of the Jesup newspaper, and he often quoted her column. One day Paul Harvey announced: “Ruby Spivey of Jesup , Georgia says that you can stay as young as you want to be-- as long as you take all of the mirrors out of your house!”
Years fly by when you pass thirty, but when you are a kid Christmas Morning seems as slow as molasses. Grownups want to hold back time but our wonderful children can't wait to get grown-up. Every Christmas Child in this room knows exactly how many days there are until Christmas.
Sometimes we wish we didn't know what time it is, but we really do.
Our texts remind us to get ready and stay ready, for we never really know how many years, or seconds, we have remaining on our inward calendar. Our ticker is ticking away the seconds.
This is the First Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the Church year and the beginning of our annual Advent-Christmas Season. Our worship places are decorated with Purple, the royal color to welcome the Child, born a King. It's interesting that Purple is also the color that most Churches use on banners and paraments during Lent and Holy Week. This connects the Birth of Christ to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. Jesus' birth is inseparable from his death. As a baby Christ was laid in a manger and as a man he was laid in a tomb, and neither could hold him long.
Advent has a dual focus on the past and future. We remember the beautiful story of the Baby, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds; and we look expectantly beyond the first Christ Event toward the Future Advent, the final consummation to the history of God's dealings with humanity on earth.
Our happy expectancy of the inbreaking of the Father stepping down the stairway of Heaven with a baby in his arms, is our primary worship focus during this happy season. However, even during the Joyful Christmas Season we are constantly aware of what time it is. A mark of all of the orthodox denominations is that we believe that Christ came and is coming again. Yet, we also confess that we do not know the day or hour. All of those who have claimed to know when Christ would return have been wrong. Of course, for those experts who have died, their personal time has come.
May of you have read all of the Tim LaHaye Rapture series of novels based on the pre-millennial interpretation of the end times. This popular view, which is the assumption of most evangelicals, and Methodists, is that Christ will return preceded by the various prophecies often quoted in the Bible. However, now a Post-Millennial series of novels has come out that say that all of the prophecies were fulfilled during the first few centuries of Christendom. Then there will be room for the rest of us who are A-Millennialists, who leave it up to God and say that we do not really know the hour or the day, which actually seems more in line with Jesus saying, “For the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” My feeling is that for most of us, He will come for us individually prior to His coming at the consummation of time.
“Therefore you must be ready…” Jesus says. We are ready to live and ready for the eventuality of our unexpected demise. In this acceptance of both the Birth of the Holy Child and in the awareness of the ultimate death of that Man-Child, we find something of one of the most blessed aspects of our dear faith. The old folks used to say, “My bags are packed and I am ready anytime to Lord Calls me home!” They always seemed to know what time it was.
If we knew exactly when we were going to depart we would either be hopeless, losing all incentive; or either, we would lay back and coast along because we would know that we had sufficient time to get packed.
At the close of our worship on this Advent Sunday we will sing a favorite Christmas Carol: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel ! However, in plain view of the Purple we are also praying the very first recorded liturgical prayers of the early Churches: “Marinatha,” Which is interpreted, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
But some may be asking, “How do I get ready?” There are actually two levels of preparedness that we need. One is the practically of having your house in order; or, having your will, finances and records all in orderly manner. Then, we need to live under the awareness of the last goodbye. That's who we always kiss goodbye. Marilyn makes me kiss her again if I kiss her on the forehead. “I am not your sister!” she says.
Almost inseparable with these practical matters is the necessity to keep prayed up, as well as kissed up. Just as we stay right with our spouse and children, we must keep right with God. Just as your marriage would fail if you both did not keep the relationship vital, so your relationship with God can reach its expiration date. Year old Christmas candy would be stale by now. We have to keep the candy jar replenished, and we have to keep on availing ourselves of the means of Grace. You may experience Grace in your private prayers and devotions; or, you might feel God sidle up beside you during a song on the car radio, but the most ordinary way that the Holy Spirit is able to pour out a fresh anointing upon us is through worship, where we can be reminded of what time it is and that we need to repack our bags.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor