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Sermon Notes - 12.03.17 Home » Member Resources » Sermon Archives » 12.03.17

Preparation
Sermon By: Dr. Randy Hyde
Key Verses: Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37 Listen Onlinesermon notes

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a Facebook post by my cousin who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. By the way, he has been here before and worshiped with us. He proudly wrote that not only had he completed all his Christmas shopping, everything was wrapped and ready to put under the tree.

He began his pronouncement by asking his Facebook friends not to hate him, but it’s probably to no avail. I’m sure everyone who read what he posted havsat least just a little bit of hatred in their hearts for him, not only because he is so ahead of the game, but that he chose to rub it in so blatantly.

Yet, even for those of you who resent people like my cousin in Louisville, it’s not a bad idea for you to be reminded that the Christmas season is well nigh upon us and you better get with the program.

Recently, Marty and I had a conversation about how having a Sunday between Thanksgiving and Advent is nice – it really is, especially for those of us in church work – but it kind of lulls us into thinking we have more time than we do. And now that Advent is here, due to the way the calendar works this year, the season is shorter than usual, what with Christmas Eve coming on the fourth Sunday in Advent.

You may not have given any thought to that whatsoever, but again, people in church work think about it… a lot. Gotta get ready, you know. Gotta be prepared.

Actually, preparation is one of the basic themes of Advent, and it is based on what Jesus told his disciples… if for no other reason than this season is not only about Jesus’ first coming, it has to do with his second coming as well. And since that hasn’t happened yet – at least as far as we know – we find ourselves in the season of Advent giving thought to preparation. And that isn’t just about making sure your shopping is done and all the gifts are wrapped and under the tree. It has to do with preparing for Jesus when he comes.

It’s not that easy to do. After all, we’ve got a lot on our plates these days, both literally and figuratively. The last thing we need is for anyone, the Bible included, to come in and add more stress to that which we’re already experiencing. And frankly, you can’t get more stressful, in terms of scripture, than this passage from Mark where Jesus talks about suffering and the sun being darkened and the moon not giving off light and stars falling from the heavens.

What’s up with that? My guess is that, while you may believe from a biblical standpoint that Jesus will come again, from a practical consideration you’re not going to spend a lot of time or emotional energy thinking it’s going to be any time soon. I mean, it’s been two thousand years and it hasn’t happened yet. Why do we think it might occur during our lifetimes? On the face of it, isn’t that just a bit arrogant?

I once saw a bumper sticker on a vehicle that read, “In case of rapture, this car’s yours!” My immediate thought was, no thanks. I prefer mine, even with the payments! Now, if it had been a Mercedes or BMW… One minister has said that talk of the second coming has been co-opted by people who set our teeth on edge.1 In other words, by those who don’t think the way we do.

Well, here I am talking about it. Do I set your teeth on edge? Don’t answer that! Consider this, if you will: so did Jesus. He talked about his second coming more than we might realize.

So what do we do with what Jesus said? It’s hard to dismiss it. Well, let’s try to put ourselves in the place of those who are hearing this passage the very first time, and maybe that will help. Mark’s congregation was just far enough removed from the days when Jesus conducted his earthly ministry that they’re starting to get anxious, anxious because they haven’t seen any evident signs of Jesus’ imminent return.

The same thing happened in the churches Paul served. We know he addressed the issue in his letters to the Thessalonians, some of his earliest letters. It was obviously being preached in the churches, talked about in the churches, promoted in the churches.

Everyone in the Christian community had taken Jesus to mean he would come again… soon. It was at the very center of their hope and faith. They, for the most part, lived with persecution on a daily basis. They lived in a pagan world, surrounded by those who not only didn’t share their religious perspective, but hated them for having it. They lived in constant danger of being found out, and those who lived right next door could be quite vindictive when it came to ferreting out those whose beliefs were strange. From the perspective of those outside the church, Christianity was about as strange as it could get, what with its belief in resurrection and the eating of flesh and drinking of blood. “This is my body broken for you, my blood shed for you.”

It was a tough world for the first-century Christians. They expected Jesus to return soon, and they wanted Jesus to return soon, longed for his soon return. They desperately counted on Jesus returning soon. Mark includes this story in his gospel, not to scare the wits out of them, but to help keep their hope alive.

Okay, but we don’t live in their world. So why are we still dwelling on this, especially in this special and holy and anticipatory season?

We may live amongst those who are strange in their beliefs – you know, people who call themselves Methodists or Presbyterians or Catholics – but at least they share the gospel with us. And because we live in the Bible Belt, even those who may not profess faith in Jesus leave us alone to do our own thing. Oh, there are those sometimes-pesky Jehovah’s Witnesses who visit our doorsteps on Saturday mornings, but we can handle them. Ours is a respectable southern, if not Christian, society that has its certain mores and attitudes, and to breach them is to invite disfavor, perhaps, but we’re certainly not persecuted for it.

There are Christians in other parts of the world who experience persecution, primarily in the Middle East and Asia, but not here. We have enough to worry about without the Bible scaring us with its talk of the heavens collapsing. Just let us do Christmas the way we’ve done it before and in our celebration maybe we can find a little bit of hope, a little bit of love, a little bit of joy and some peace.

A cartoon shows two men suffering in the torment of hell. One says to the other, “My motto was, ‘Go with the flow.’ I had no idea the flow would end up here!”

Jesus was not a proponent of going with the flow. He encouraged his disciples  to be alert, ready for whatever the world, for whatever life, would throw at them. He was surrounded by sleepy disciples — still is, isn’t he? — and told them repeatedly to keep awake. He didn’t mean, or at least I don’t think he meant, that they weren’t to get any sleep. He wanted them to be ready for whatever challenges their faith would provide them. When they were faced with tough questions, they could find in him the answer. When grief grabbed them by the throat, they knew the One who conquers death. When sorrow or pain or hopelessness confronted them, they found in him the strength to go on. Is there ever a time when such things don’t exist?

One of the things I do each year, in preparation for my Advent sermons, is to go through what I have said in previous years. You see, the texts don’t vary that much. In other words, I’ve preached on this text before. It’s been awhile, but this is not the first rodeo for me when it comes to this scary proclamation in Mark’s gospel.

In those sermons I often have alluded to current events. And though the names may have changed, the issues we deal with, the threats that come our way, don’t change all that much. Each year, as we approach this holy season, the challenges in front of us are pretty much what we’ve gone through before.

In the past, for example, it was Saddam Hussein. Now, it’s Kim Jong Un of North Korea. We used to talk about al-Qaida; now it’s ISIS or the Islamic State. The names change, but the issues don’t… not really. My guess is you could go back and re-visit the news headlines for this time of year over the last two decades and you will find it to be pretty much the same as it is now: the world was and is in a mess. It always has been, and unfortunately, it always will be. Bah humbug.

If Jesus is to be believed, what we have at our availability is his desire that we prepare for whatever life gives us. Jesus is telling his disciples to be alert, to be watchful, to know the signs of the times. How do we do that?

The answer is going to come across as perhaps rather mundane, but I am convinced it is the answer nonetheless. Or, at least, it is an answer. If you think you have a better one, I’m open to hearing it. I really am. But this is my response: to be watchful and alert, according to the purpose and will of Jesus, is to live each day faithfully, believing that indeed Jesus has come again. In fact, it is to believe that Jesus never left. A life of faithfulness finds Jesus in all things and all things in Jesus.

My friend George Mason is pastor of the Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. He tells of the time he attended the funeral of a friend, and sat down by another friend who had recently lost her husband. He asked her how she was going to spend Christmas. She would be spending the time with her family, she said, though they were all still feeling the loss of her husband. “It’s kind of hard,” she said, “when the central figure is gone.” And then she smiled, realizing the irony, not to mention the error, of what she had just said. She knew in faith that indeed the central figure of Christmas is not gone. Her husband was gone, but not the central figure of Christmas. Not gone at all.

I would encourage each of us to believe this more than we believe anything. The central figure of Christmas is not gone. Indeed, Jesus never left! The central figure of Christmas tells us to be alert to his presence, to see him in all things and to see all things in him.

The operative word for this first Sunday in Advent is hope. I would submit to you that what we have talked about this morning is about as hopeful as it gets. The late John Claypool was famous in church circles for a lot of things, but perhaps no more so than his classic benediction. In fact, I used it recently at the Hillcrest Thanksgiving service, and again Monday at Cass Pierson’s burial. This is how it goes:

Depart now

In the fellowship of God the Father,

And as you go, remember:

In the goodness of God

You were born into this world;

By the grace of God

You have been kept all the day long,

Even until this hour;

And by the love of God,

Fully revealed in the face of Jesus,

You are being redeemed.

Did you hear that? If we are being redeemed – present tense – how can that be true if it is not through the abiding presence of Jesus? If you hear nothing else this Advent season, please hear this: Jesus is coming, yes. Truer still, Jesus is here!

Lord Jesus, come into our hearts, keep us awake, that we might see you in all things, and see all things in you. In your blessed name we ask this, Amen.

Notes

1SermonWriter, December 1, 2002

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