Are You Ready for Advent? (Matthew 24:36-44)

Advent Starry Night #5 by Virginia Wieringa

Jesus said, “But about that [judgment] day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (New International Version)

The best way of observing the first advent of Christ, his incarnation, is by preparing ourselves for his second advent, his return to the earth.

Just because there is sun today doesn’t mean everyday will be that way. The storm clouds are gathering; the Day of the Lord is at hand. Will you be ready?

Satan once called to him some demons of hell and said he wanted to send one of them to earth to aid women and men in the ruination of their souls. He asked which one would want to go.

One creature came forward and said, “I will go.” Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell the children of men that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.” 

Then another came forward, darker and fouler than the first. Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that not only will good be triumphant, but that evil will be defeated. You may not go.” 

Then one last creature came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. Satan said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid them in the destruction of their souls?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

Most people’s crime in not some gross sin, but indifference, without much thought to a coming judgment. It seems we are all spiritual procrastinators. Why do today what we can put off till tomorrow? 

But the spiritually indifferent won’t know what hit them. 

So we need to be deeply concerned for the coming Day of the Lord, which may be very soon. 

The question for us is not, “When will Christ return?” Rather, the question is, “Are you ready for Christ’s return?” We must:

  • Keep watch, stay alert, and be ready, like a watchman on an ancient city wall scanning the horizon for an advancing army.
  • Remain vigilant and not forget that Jesus is coming again. 
  • Live every moment of our lives in light of the promise of Christ’s return. 
  • Be busy (not busybodies) because we don’t know the day of Christ’s second advent.

What does it mean to keep watch, be ready, and stay alert? 

In between these two advents of Christ, believers are to bear witness to a world going about their merry way unaware of the judgment that is about to overtake them. Like Noah, we actively build the ark of the church instead of living as if Jesus weren’t coming.

Noah was a preacher of righteousness in both word and deed, building an ark in a place and around a people who had never seen rain. What’s more, constructing the massive ark took a solid one-hundred years. This was no easy feat.

Like Noah, we must plug away and be faithful stewards, doing the tedious and patient work given to us. We aren’t supposed to be like the irresponsible teenager who, when given the responsibility of watching over the house while the parents are gone for the weekend, throws a big party and trashes the place. The parents will come home at a time that the teenager does not expect, and then there will certainly be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

When the Lord returns, we don’t know who will be taken and who will be left. Two different people might look the same on the outside, doing the same work, but each of those persons working side by side can really be very different on the inside. So, let us be patient as we await the coming of Christ and avoid losing sight of what is truly important.

One day a man named Denis Waitley was trying to catch a flight but running late. So he literally ran through the airport terminal and got to the gate the split second the flight attendant closed the door. Denis explained his situation, that he had a speaking engagement and needed to be on that flight, but the attendant didn’t budge. 

Denis stormed out of the boarding area and back to the ticket counter to register a complaint and reschedule his flight. His anger intensified as he waited for more than twenty minutes in a line that barely moved. Just before he got to the counter an announcement over the intercom changed his life. 

The plane he missed getting on, Flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles, crashed on takeoff and killed every person on board the plane. Denis Waitley never registered his complaint. In fact, he never returned his invalidated ticket.

He took the ticket home and pinned it on a bulletin board in his office to remind him whenever he got frustrated or upset that life is more than day to day impatience and worry and complaints. It’s about serving a lost world destined to slide away from God apart from the grace that can turn judgment into blessing.

It could be today. Every day we must live with the reality that Christ’s return is imminent. Until that happens, we are to be faithful servants of God by serving a world that is tremendous need of getting on the ark and being saved from the judgment that will come. 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Thanksgiving Day (Psalm 100)

By Rochelle Blumenfeld

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
    Serve the Lord with gladness;
    come into his presence with singing.

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him; bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever
    and his faithfulness to all generations. (New Revised Standard Version)

On this day, many of us Americans will engage in our annual rituals. Several verbs characterize our activities. We will:

  • “Shout” at that crazy uncle
  • “Serve” the food
  • “Come” to the table and eat
  • “Know” how much preparation went into such a big spread
  • “Enter” the living room with praise because the Dallas Cowboys lost the game
  • “Give thanks” for food, family, and football

And at the end of the day, when everyone has finally quieted down with food comas, and crazy Uncle Frank is mercifully asleep in the recliner, that underneath it all, there really is love and gratitude for everything and everyone – even Uncle Frank and his now crazy snoring.

Today’s psalm is filled with verbs, actions for both believers and unbelievers, for the animate and inanimate, for the entire earth. When the psalmist, David, and other Hebrew writers penned their poetry, they centered what they most wanted to draw attention to in the middle, so that what came before it, and after it, pointed to that central message.

The center of Psalm 100 is this: Know that the Lord is God. There are three verb imperatives (commands) that come before this central encouragement; and then, three imperatives come after it. All six verbs help us to know God better. 

The three verbs that lead up to knowing the Lord:

  • Shout or “make a joyful noise” to the Lord
  • Worship or “serve” the Lord with gladness
  • Come into God’s presence with joyful songs 

The three verbs which follow the exhortation to know God and point back to it:

  • Enter the Lord’s gates and court with thanksgiving and praise
  • Give thanks to God
  • Praise or “bless” God’s name

To “know” God is more than to have some information or some understanding of theology; it is to take that knowledge and fully internalize the Lord, to have an experiential knowledge through relational intimacy. 

We know God by God’s historical work in Holy Scripture, God’s work in other people’s lives, and God’s work in our own lives. 

It’s important to have public opportunities of praising the Lord because it strengthens everyone’s faith. And gratitude to God centers us personally and corporately so that complaints and bitterness don’t take center stage.

Our stories of God’s work helps each other to know the Lord. And knowing God is what brings about life, purpose, hope, and love.

The Lord is worthy of all the praise, adoration, and worship we can offer. So, let us do it with heartfelt thanksgiving and some emotional flavor!

I am thankful for a great many things and a great many people. I am thankful for God’s Holy Word.  It literally is my food and drink. I cannot imagine being without it. I eat it every day and have a steady diet of the Spirit teaching me. 

One of my favorite places in the Bible has to do with knowing God:

I want to [experientially] know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. (Philippians 3:10, NIV)

Everything in the Christian’s life, whether good or bad, is designed to help us know Jesus better. Sharing our experiences with each other encourages us to keep living for Jesus.

So, in between all the turkey and stuffing, the family drama, and the football games, let us intentionally give thanks today, out loud, for all the ways God has worked and revealed grace to us.

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks that demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments that satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he conquered death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

A Parable about Faithfulness (Luke 19:11-27)

Parable of the Ten Minas, by Dutch painter Willem de Poorter (1608-1668)

The crowd was listening to everything Jesus said. And because he was nearing Jerusalem, he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away. 

He said, “A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return. Before he left, he called together ten of his servants and divided among them ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone.’ But his people hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king.’

“After he was crowned king, he returned and called in the servants to whom he had given the money. He wanted to find out what their profits were. The first servant reported, ‘Master, I invested your money and made ten times the original amount!’

“‘Well done!’ the king exclaimed. ‘You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.’

“The next servant reported, ‘Master, I invested your money and made five times the original amount.’

“‘Well done!’ the king said. ‘You will be governor over five cities.’

“But the third servant brought back only the original amount of money and said, ‘Master, I hid your money and kept it safe. I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.’

“‘You wicked servant!’ the king roared. ‘Your own words condemn you. If you knew that I’m a hard man who takes what isn’t mine and harvests crops I didn’t plant, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

“Then, turning to the others standing nearby, the king ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’

“‘But, master,’ they said, ‘he already has ten pounds!’

“‘Yes,’ the king replied, ‘and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.’” (New Living Translation)

The great humanitarian issues of this world are not only individual concerns but are also systemic problems.

And the majority of those troubles are us climbing the wrong ladder. It’s a booger to get to the top and find out all that energy was expended for a worthless chamber pot full of $%&!.

So, whenever we examine Holy Scripture, especially the words of Jesus, it’s necessary to pay attention and hear both the responsibility of individuals and the accountability which human culture has to ensure a just society and equitable structural systems.

In other words, evil resides in both the individual human heart and in the world’s operating system. Corporations, communities, and churches not only have sinful persons within them; sin also resides in the very ways we about business, interactions, even worship.

Westerners tend to read a story, like today’s Gospel parable from Jesus, with individualist eyes. Yes, it is about individual servants; and it’s also about community and culture – and ultimately about the kingdom of God.

The cost of Christian discipleship is high, demanding both personal and communal faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Christianity is concerned for all of life – not just the religious parts but all the parts – both body and soul, personal and communal, church and workplace, individual minds and institutional education, healthy emotional selves and healthy public discourse. It all matters to God.

Whoever’s in charge makes a big difference as to whether right and just systems are followed, or whether corrupt and oppressive operations are the chief mode of ruling.

To illustrate the contrast, Jesus told a parable about systemic evil and whether one will be faithful to that or some other way of operating.

In the parable, the nobleman becoming the king is a reference to an earthly ruler, not Jesus. Before this worldly prince takes off to obtain more authority, he summons ten of his servants and gives them each ten pounds, or coins.

As the sort of person who rules in standard worldly ways, the nobleman fully expects the servants to operate just as he himself would: collect unfair taxes, squeeze the poor of what little they have, and generally do whatever it takes to make a profit. This, of course, is why the story tells us that the general populace hate the guy in charge.

Parable of the Ten Minas, by Unknown 16th century artist

This is not a parable about rejecting the Messiah or God; it is about authority and government, economics and politics, systemic oppression and structural evil. It’s about where our faith and commitment is truly placed.

The ruler is quite pleased when the first and second servants faithfully invest in the politics and economics of his worldly kingdom. So, the servants are rewarded for abiding by the system.

However, if you buck the system, like the third servant did, you’ll get condemned. That servant knew the sort of ruler he was dealing with and the kind of cutthroat system which was in place. And he wanted nothing to do with it.

The third servant in the parable is unfaithful to the unjust ruler and oppressive system because he is faithful to another lord with a different kind of system. This servant was prepared to accept the consequences of his convictions and his inaction. In a way, he was practicing civil disobedience.

As servants under God’s rule and reign, we are not to play along with worldly systems of injustice and oppression. If we want to be faithful Christian disciples, then we must live into the words and ways of Jesus; we must be prepared to pay the price for our commitment to an alternative kingdom.

Everyone has faith. It’s just a matter of whom and what we place that faith in.

Perhaps Jesus had the words of his mother, Mary, in his mind when he told the story. She was willing to accept whatever happens in a complete commitment and faith in God:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, NRSV)

Jesus was unlike any earthly ruler. Christ operated very differently than any worldly government. He and his teaching were in stark contrast to others:

God will bless you people
who are poor.
    His kingdom belongs to you!

God will bless
    you hungry people.
You will have plenty
    to eat!
God will bless you people
who are now crying.
    You will laugh!

God will bless you when others hate you and won’t have anything to do with you. God will bless you when people insult you and say cruel things about you, all because you are a follower of the Son of Man…. So when this happens to you, be happy and jump for joy! You will have a great reward in heaven.

But you rich people
    are in for trouble.
You have already had
    an easy life!

You well-fed people
are in for trouble.
    You will go hungry!
You people
who are laughing now
    are in for trouble.
You are going to cry
    and weep!

You are in for trouble when everyone says good things about you. (Luke 6:20-26, CEV)

In order to embrace Christian ethics, worldly practices have got to be jettisoned. To make room for the good, the just, and the right, we must let go of any and all ways contrary to our Christian commitment of following Jesus.

Are you willing to be the third servant?

Gracious and sovereign Lord God of all, in your mercy, hear our prayers:

Help us to be understanding and forgiving of all those we encounter.

Show us how to serve one another, to offer love, care and support.

Guide all those who are called to lead and advocate in the world.

Inspire our leaders, teachers, doctors, social workers and counsellors to be bringers of hope in all situations.

Protect all those who carry peace to other nations. Bless the food, care and shelter they provide.

Comfort those who live with grief. Help them see the light of heaven.

Heal all the broken-hearted and those with broken bodies and spirits.

Embrace those in pain and physical suffering. May they feel your abiding and close presence.

Watch over all who feel isolated and alone. Calm their fears and lead them into peace and freedom.

Strengthen and encourage all those who seek to serve and protect the vulnerable.

Lead us to be generous with our time, possessions and money.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers, and answer them according to your good grace and in your good time. Amen.

Hebrews 13:7-21 – Keep On Doing Good

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so, Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (New International Version)

I once rode a horse named “Old Glue.” The tired old horse got his name because he stuck to the ground like glue. I can testify firsthand that it took a furious amount of kicking to get that the old guy to move at all. 

I think about Old Glue every time I look at the final chapter of Hebrews. It feels like the author is firing off exhortation after exhortation trying to kick some life into a group of people who have lost their enthusiasm for Jesus:

  • Don’t forget about your spiritual leaders who faithfully keep watch over you and model how to live the Christian life
  • Don’t be fooled by a bunch of unfamiliar and strange gobbledygook teachings
  • Share in the disgrace of Christ by sharing in his sufferings
  • Keep offering praise to God in the name of Jesus
  • Don’t forget to help others through benevolence and generosity
  • Live a sacrificial life
  • Pray for your spiritual fathers and mothers
  • Be generous
  • Do good!

All these exhortations come kicking one after the other in a short amount of space. The reason why we ought to pay attention to them is that we were bought at the price of Christ’s blood. God has redeemed us with the ultimate price.

Let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up or quit.

Galatians 6:9, MSG

We need to work at becoming holy and to serving with genuine Christian love as if this was the last day of our lives. 

We are to run like wild stallions for Jesus, instead of being stuck to the ground like Old Glue. 

Don’t be hateful to people, just because they are hateful to you. Rather, be good to each other and to everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:15, CEV)

There is no advantage to only moving when there is something in it for “me.” There is no benefit in griping and complaining. Yet there is eternal advantage in trotting along for the Savior. There’s life in following the trail outside the camp and meeting Jesus at the place of humility, disgrace, and suffering. 

After all, if it is God’s will, it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong. (1 Peter 3:17, GW)

There is no advantage to being stubborn and having to constantly be prodded into moving. However, there is joy awaiting the believer who learns to move with the unforced rhythms of grace.

Don’t be like Old Glue.

Keeping going. Keep doing good.

May Jesus help you do what pleases God. To Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever! Amen.