< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 29 November 2020

First Reading                                        Isaiah 64:1-9

1Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence — 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. 5You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. 8But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.

Psalm                                                          Psalm 80:1-7

1Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim. 2In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, stir up your strength and come to help us. 3Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. 4O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people? 5You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have given them bowls of tears to drink. 6You have made us the derision of our neighbors, and our enemies laugh us to scorn. 7Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Second Reading                                   1 Corinthians 1:3-9

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — 6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — 7so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel                                                        Mark 13:24-37

24{Jesus said,} “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35Therefore stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning — 36lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Be Prepared

Waiting, waiting, waiting… it seems we have nothing better to do these days but wait.  We wait for the sales, we wait in lines, we wait for things to be delivered, we even wait to hear good news about a vaccine.  Yet even when the signs appear, we still must wait.  There’s no way to know whether tomorrow’s dawn will be the big day, or merely another day full of signs.  But the season of Advent isn’t about the wait associated with consumerism, it’s about anticipating the return of our Lord.  And as our readings over these past four Sundays remind us, being prepared and watching for a sign is part of what we’re commanded to do.  The signs we look for seem without end, just one calamity after another, the world and its days are full of them, which leaves us to question, will they ever end?  The generations have rolled on, one after another, yet the admonition is still the same, “Stay awake.”  

Each generation has put its own twist on what exactly this “Stay awake” command means.  So perhaps the best clue comes from Jesus himself as He simply says, “…He puts his servants in charge, each with their own work.”  Like those servants in charge, each generation—ours, too—is a generation of workers.  Jesus admonishes, “No sleeping on the job.  Stay awake!  Don’t use the signs of the end as an excuse.  Just do your job.”  Anytime we consider the state of the world’s socio-political or economic conditions or when we read end-of-time passages in the Bible, it’s hard for us to understand Jesus’ delay in His coming.  But the command is clear, watch and wait; be about the business the Master has entrusted to us.

For those who look forward to Christ’s return, God’s time clock somehow seems out of sync with ours, as Little Jesse learned one day as he was laying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day.  Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape.  Soon, he began to think about God.  “God?  Are you really there?”  Jesse said out loud.   To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds.  “Yes, Jesse?  What can I do for you?”

Seizing the opportunity, Jesse asked, “God?  What’s a million years like to you?”  Knowing that Jesse couldn’t possibly understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jesse could relate.  “A million years to me is like a minute.”  “Oh,” said Jesse.  “Well, then, what’s a million dollars like to you?”  “A million dollars to Me is like a penny.”  “Wow!” remarked Jesse, getting an idea.  “You’re so generous… can I have one of your pennies?”  God replied, “Sure thing, Jesse!  Give Me a minute.”

For the past few Sundays our readings have focused on the end times, on Christ’s second appearance and on our need to be vigilant.  Jesus has been telling His followers that we need to remain awake to the signs of the times and be diligent in our efforts for the kingdom.  In short, we’ve been commanded to be awake, to be active and be ready.  And our text for this morning is no different.  This week’s gospel text is taken from the chapter in Mark which is often referred to as “The Little Apocalypse.”  

As today’s text unfolds, Jesus reveals God’s mission behind the unfolding of these eschatological events, the approach of the Parousia, a fancy word referring to the return of God’s presence in our midst.  This Presence that we look forward to goes by the name of “the Son of Man”, “The Second Adam”, “The Humble One”, “Emmanuel”.  The “Son of Man” will usher in the best of times which, as it moves beyond this world and brings in God’s kingdom, moves beyond any human measurement of time to the end-time.

Generations, including ours, have expended much energy, suffered great anxiety and ruined great reputations by applying to their own times, the “signs” Jesus outlined.  This has made apocalyptic expectation a kind of bad joke in theological history.  The problem is that too often the church has been more focused on the “what will happen” and has failed to face “who” is in charge of what’s happening and “why” this is happening in the first place.  Jesus’ words in today’s text reminds us that human history isn’t simply a circling cesspool of “trials” or a draining whirlpool of “tribulations.”  There is at work in the world a divine mission for rescue and redemption, hope and happiness.

Instead of appointing ourselves as time-keepers, Jesus exhorts His disciples to take on a different role.  We’re instead commanded to stand at the gate and act as ever vigilant watchmen, always on guard for the return of our master.  Because the return of the Son of Man will be marked by the gathering together, the “home-coming” of the elect, then it’s imperative that we who look for His coming keep awake.  The role of those waiting for the homeowner, for Jesus to return is twofold:  first, to “beware” or “be on guard;” and second, to “be alert.” 

Our job as the watchman-at-the-gate is to be prepared for and alert to our Master’s homecoming.  That our Master will return is without doubt.  But the timing of that homecoming is beyond knowing.  As watchmen-at-the-gate, as those charged with keeping our eyes peeled for a home-coming event, we’re given the task of being faithful in our assigned duties and to “Watch!”

Today marks the beginning of Advent and the gospel reading for this morning somehow seems an unlikely scripture for the first Sunday of the new church year.  In our rush to Christmas, we find our reading has nothing to do with Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, or of shepherds watching their flock.  Today’s reading is a story about a wealthy landowner going on a trip.  The servants left behind were given charge of the estate and when the master returns, he will check on their stewardship.  Like the readings of the last few Sundays, this is a story about being prepared, about getting ready.  In that sense then, this is an Advent story, for Advent is the season of watching, waiting and of being prepared.  But Advent is also more; the season is also about God’s willingness to identify with the human situation.

God came in the form of human flesh and lived among us.   Paul worded it this way in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that through his poverty you might become rich,”  Paul called this the foolishness of the gospel.  It’s foolishness because it’s an action that goes against our sensibility; to think of someone who’s rich and all-powerful to voluntarily becoming poor in order to make someone else’s situation better.  Common sense, as we understand it, examples from our own experience, and history tell us that those with wealth and power don’t become poor to make the situation of others better.  Their concern is to make themselves richer at the expense of others.

Several years ago, when Princess Diana was killed in an automobile accident, there was a tremendous amount of backlash against the Royal Family.  After several days of bad press, the Queen reluctantly came on television to express her remorse.  The problem was, she so detested Diana during her life, that her words rang hollow.  I seldom pay any attention to news surrounding the royal family, but I found the comments of the people in the street quite interesting. 

When asked about the Queen’s reaction, one said: “The Royals don’t know how we live and furthermore they don’t care.”  Another said: “They’ve been isolated in their palace for so long that they don’t understand the common people.”  Yet another said: “The Royals never come among us.  They’re totally detached and preoccupied with their riches.”  And while these comments may seem harsh, they are telling of the nature of elitism; of how privilege, wealth and power can affect how we view and treat others.  But thankfully, the same can’t be said about our Heavenly King.

God isn’t some detached Royal who doesn’t know or care about how we live.  He came to earth in human form, born into a common family.  His Christmas wrapping wasn’t one of tinsel, paper, and bows, but of human flesh.  His very name, Emmanuel, means God with Us.  This is the good news of the season.

Because God willingly shed His divine nature to take on our human nature and live among us, there is no feeling, no trial or no experience that you or I can encounter that God does not fully understand.  He went through the loneliness of Gethsemane, betrayal at the Mount of Olives, deep sorrow at the death of Lazarus, the temptations of the wilderness, the joy of the wedding at Canaan, the pain of His passion and seeing His own mother suffer while He was on the cross, and even death.  Considering His birth, life and death among us, it’s inconceivable to think that God doesn’t understand.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve encountered, or what you might be going through, God has been there.

In the embrace of family and friends, God is there.  In the suffering of children who are the victims of violence, God is there.  No night is so dark that God’s light will not shine.  No place so barren, that new life cannot emerge.  No person is so lost or weak that they cannot be exalted.  Emmanuel means God with us.  The season of Advent is a reminder to us that we’re to ever be ready for the return of Christ.

Jesus put it this way, “What I say to you I say to all: Keep Watch!”  We’re commanded to keep watch and be prepared for His return.  Jesus also reminded us that His return would be sudden, “like a thief.  Blessed is he who keeps his garments on” (Rev. 16:15).  And while we wait for that glorious time, we must be about the Father’s business.  This includes our relationship with God.  The holiday season can be a busy time of the year.  Even with the limitations imposed by the Coronavirus, choirs are rehearsing Christmas music; sanctuaries are being decorated with candles, Chrismon trees, and Advent wreathes.  Children are preparing for pageants and pastors are busy preparing for worship.  It’s a hectic yet exciting time of the year.

The activities and mood of the season can make it difficult for us to stay focused on anything but our own agendas.  Amidst the shopping, with family and friends and meal preparation, we need to take time from all the hustle and bustle of the season, to remember what we’re really celebrating.  We need to take the time to thank God for coming among us and providing the way of our salvation.  I realize that talk of Jesus’ defeat of sin on the Cross somehow seems inappropriate at Christmas.  After all, “Tis the season to be jolly.” 

Talk of sin, judgment and repentance and turning away from our comfortable world of self-indulgence runs counter to the season.  Talk of our sinfulness and need of redemption seems to bring down the festive mood.  We like the season to be upbeat.  But the Gospel message is clear.  Without God’s gift of grace, Advent can become just an acquiescence to sin.  The pre-requisite for us to receive the Christ child is the willingness to give up our violence, selfishness, idolatry, and self-seeking ways.  Unless we accept God’s grace, we can’t accept God’s good news of His coming among us.

I’ve often wondered why so few recognized the baby Jesus for who He was—the long-awaited Messiah.  Perhaps it’s the same reason why so few recognize Him today.  In order to identify the child, we must first make a stop at the Jordan River and be baptized.  We must see the Cross for what it is, God’s sacrifice on our behalf.  We must see the need to stop seeking our ways and seek the ways of God.  God looked down and saw a world drowning in sin, a world that was in desperate need of a Savior.  How could the people be saved?  What would make them turn their backs on sin?

The story is told of John Henry Newman, who was an Anglican minister in England in the 1800’s.  His religious pilgrimage ultimately took him to Rome and the Roman Catholic Church.  Ultimately, he became a cardinal in the Catholic Church and the most preeminent leader of that church in Europe.  If you go into almost any Catholic church today, you’ll find a Sunday school class called the Newman class.  These are named after John Henry Newman.

While serving as Cardinal, he received a message from an English priest from the tiny village of Brennan, a dirty little mill town north of Birmingham.  It seems that an epidemic of cholera had decimated the village and the priest was asking for the help; for another priest to assist him in the giving of the sacrament, administering the Last Rites, and to do funerals.  So many people were dying.

Newman read the letter in his office, an office that’s still there today.  Newman read the letter and he spent the next hour in prayer.  Finally, a secretary came in and said:  Cardinal Newman.  We must give an immediate reply to Brennan.  Your eminence, what shall we do?  Newman answered:  The people are suffering and dying.  How can I send a priest to do this work?  I must go myself.

At Advent God looked down upon His dying people; people dying from sin and distraction, pride and preoccupation.  How, under the circumstance, could He send a substitute?  God came himself—in the person of Jesus Christ.  Advent is about our need of salvation and of how God answered that need.

Perhaps you’ve heard the fascinating story of Marie Krassman.  Marie Krassman was a Polish Jew who, during WWII, was rounded up along with thousands of others, and put to work on the German war machine, in forced labor.  She was sent to the Volkswagen factory, that at that time was making Tiger Tanks.  She was pregnant and soon gave birth to her baby boy.  The child was immediately taken away and sent to the Volkswagen Children’s Home.  She never knew what happened to him; she was never allowed to visit.  We now know that these babies were fed sour milk and ravaged with lice.

One night in desperation she snuck out of the camp and hiked the eight miles to the children’s home.  If she were caught, it would have meant instant death.  She found her child and she hardly recognized him.  He was nothing but skin and bones.  She kidnapped her own child and literally walked away from the home and never came back; remarkably she was never caught.  Of the 300 children who entered the Volkswagen Children’s Home, this one child survived.  Over the years, the child Vladimir Kreassman and his mother Marie have been interviewed many times to tell their incredible story.

That was a rescue mission.  It was a salvation mission.  One day soon God is coming on a salvation mission and the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the power in the heavens will be shaken.  We will all see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And He will gather His elect from the four winds, from the four ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  And we shall survive.  Not just one child, but all God’s children.

Our gospel reading for this morning at first may seem out of place in the season of Advent but it’s not.  Jesus is telling us to be prepared, to be vigilant and to be about the business of the Kingdom.  Advent is a season of preparation; of preparing ourselves to receive our King.  It’s God’s message to us that we need to pause amidst the frenzied rush of the season, to remember why and who we celebrate.  Advent isn’t about the twinkling lights, the presents, or the parties.  Advent is about preparing ourselves and others to receive the King of glory.  The Bible tells us that His return will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye.  Jesus’ command is clear: “What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!


Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive