Monday, December 3, 2007

In the Meantime: Be Ready

(A sermon for the First Sunday of Advent based on Romans 13:11-14 & Matthew 24:36-44)

What do we do in the meantime? The meantime is the time between. In this case, we are talking about the time between the First and Second Advents of Jesus Christ. We are dealing with three facts. First, Jesus came to Bethlehem’s manger all those years ago. Second, Jesus will come again. Third, we are alive right here and right now. This is our meantime. What will we do with it?

During this Advent season I will say to you that we should spend our time being ready, being at peace, being compassionate, and being amazed.

The question for today is this: are we ready for Jesus to come?

When push comes to shove, you just have to get ready. We all know what that is like at this time of year. If family or other company is coming over and the house needs to be cleaned and the food needs to be cooked, we do it. If it’s almost Christmas and there are still presents to be bought and gifts to be wrapped, we do it. Why do we do such things? We do them first because they need to be done. But we do such things second because they are important to us. When push comes to shove we do that which it is important to do.

Nothing is more important than being ready for Jesus to come. The issue for those of us who are Christians, though, is that he has already come to us in our lives. Because he has already come we are already in the process of getting ready for his Second Coming. The issue for those who are not Christians is that you have not yet let Christ come into your life. You need to take the first step in getting ready by opening the door of your heart and letting him come in.

We exist side-by-side, those of us to whom Christ has come and those of us to whom he has not come. Just this week someone helped me notice for the first time that those who have been getting ready—the one in the field who will be “taken” and the one working at the mill who will be “taken”—have a responsibility to the ones who are at this point destined not to be taken. Here is a place where discipleship and witness dance hand in hand. What we are becoming and what we are sharing go together.

Make no mistake about it, though—when Christ comes into our hearts and lives things begin to change and they keep on changing for as long as we live. It should come as naturally as breathing to us. As O. Hallesby pointed out,

The air which our body requires envelopes us on every hand. The air of itself seeks to enter our bodies and, for this reason, exerts pressure upon us. It is well known that it is more difficult to hold one’s breath than it is to breathe. We need but exercise our organs of respiration, and air will enter forthwith into our lungs and perform its life-giving function to the entire body.
The air which our souls need also envelopes all of us at all times and on all sides. God is round about us in Christ on every hand, with his many-sided and all-sufficient grace. All we need to do is to open our hearts.
[O. Hallesby, Prayer, cited in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, ed. Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck (Nashville: Upper Room, 1983), p. 17]

Yes, it should come as naturally as breathing to us. Jesus Christ is in our lives; we are clothed in him; he is our atmosphere and our environment.

Holding our breath is harder than just breathing. Keeping Jesus out is harder than letting him in.

And yet we have to be reminded. Paul reminded us: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…” (Romans 13:11-12). Jesus Christ has already come to us. Jesus Christ will come again. But right here, right now, is the time for us to wake up and to live like people of the light and not people of the darkness. And we are ever to be moving forward and growing. As Martin Luther reminded us: “To stand still on God’s way means to go back; and to go forward means ever to begin anew.” [Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1954), p. 172]

We need to be reminded that we are not waiting to be caught up in what God is going to do; rather we are already caught up in what God is doing. As Emil Brunner put it,

Where faith in Christ looks at the future, it turns into hope. Yet this future is not remote—something that glimmers on the distant horizon of history. It is the future of the Lord, and this future is already in process of happening…..With every hour we approach it more closely; already it throws its light into the darkness of the present. Faith is indeed nothing but living in the light of that which is to come. [Emil Brunner, The Letter to the Romans (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959, p. 113]

We are not just waiting for what God is going to do; we are already a part of what God is doing.

In the church of my childhood, at this time of year rehearsals for the annual Christmas play were in full swing. Parts were assigned, scripts were distributed, and rehearsals were undertaken. Those plays were at the same time awful and wonderful. They were awful in their amateurishness. But they were also wonderful in their amateurishness. Those were just normal folks up there acting for the sake of our entertainment—and for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ. Always at the end of those plays a nativity scene got worked into the plot, usually as a dream sequence. But something very important was said in that, namely, that our story is somehow caught up in the Christmas story, that our story is somehow caught up in the story of what God has done, is doing, and will do through Jesus.

As we grow and live in Christ, living in the light and not the darkness, we bear witness to the light to those who are living in the darkness. How do we do that? There are all kinds of ways.

We bear witness by what we don’t do. We don’t live as those do who live in darkness. Now, this is not legalism. This is rather living in the grace of God that changes us always for the better.

We bear witness by what we say. We need to be careful how we speak. We need especially to be careful to speak up for Jesus at every opportunity.

We bear witness by how we serve. We bear witness to Christ for the sake of others as we give of ourselves in service.

So, in the meantime, let’s be getting ready. And let’s be showing others how to get ready.

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