Sermon for I Advent Yr C, 30/11/2003
Based on Lk 21:25-36
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, AB
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“Fear Not, Be Prepared”
In the history of the Church, far too much time has been wasted on trying to know when Christ is coming again; and the unfolding of events leading up to his coming again. It is not up to us to know when Christ is coming again. But ever since the beginning of the Christian Church, there have been people who misunderstand Christ’s teaching about the end time, and, by doing so; out of their own insecurity and fear, they see their great task in life as being able to know the future. Even if we were to take a survey of this congregation, I venture a guess that some; perhaps many of you fear the future or worry about the future.
Our fears, worries, and insecurities about the future are the result of our sinful nature at work in us. The sinful nature wants to be in control at all times, so that we can be masters of our own destiny. Instead of trusting in God and leaving the future unknown, unpredictable and hopeful; we often trust in ourselves to attempt to manipulate, know, and predict the future. Moreover, our worries and fears about the future have the potential to take such control of us that we end up expecting the worst possible scenario.
I know this has certainly been the case for myself from time-to-time. Many years ago, one such example I can remember was when I had to meet with the colloquy committee at the end of my studies at seminary. It is one of those necessary requirements for all pastoral candidates to meet with the colloquy committee prior to graduation and ordination. In case some of you don’t know what a colloquy committee is; it’s a committee of the larger church, which may include a bishop, a pastor, a layperson, and usually at least one seminary professor. The committee asks the pastoral candidates questions about theology, ministry, and personal life. After one or two hours of oral examination, the committee then decides whether or not the person is a suitable candidate for pastoral ministry. Well, I was feeling rather fearful, worried and intimidated by colloquy, and dreaded the day since I was expecting the worst possible scenario. However, when the day arrived to be colloquized, I was surprised and grateful to find out that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected! In fact, it was a good experience. After it was all over, I realised that all of my fears and worries were really unnecessary.
In January 1960, an astounding event occurred in a tiny peasant village of Tsirkuny in the Ukraine. A smelly, sunken-jawed wretch named Grisha Sikalenko appeared one morning before his shocked neighbours. Everyone thought that Grisha had died a hero’s death while fighting the Germans in World War II. Actually, the night Grisha marched away to war, he had deserted and sneaked home. His mother made a hiding place for him under the manure pile at the back of the goat shed, and for eighteen years Grisha had existed in a living grave. Twice a day his mother sneaked food to him. In winters, he nearly froze; in summers, he nearly suffocated. Year after year, he lived out his miserable existence in the reeking pit, throwing away his life, afraid to face up to the punishment for desertion. Finally, Grisha came out of hiding, expecting to be prosecuted and horribly punished. His fears were groundless. The statute of limitations had long since made him immune from prosecution. 1
Quite often our lives lack health and wholeness because our fears and worries control us. For example, how many of us do acceptable-status-quo things because we fear being labelled a radical? Or how many of us don’t honestly tell people what they are thinking or feeling because we fear and are worried about being treated as social outcasts? Or, how many of us hoard things because we are afraid of hunger or poverty? Or how many of us are fearful of trying something new? Or, how many of us fear, dread, and are worried about the end time and second coming of Christ?
When our fears and worries control us, cripple us and prevent us from being the people our God wants us to be; then we need to remember the faith which God gives us. Faith that calls upon us to trust in Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Faith that is content to let God be God. Even though we might think that the future looks grim, as Christians we live in the shadow of eternity. We don’t need to know the exact details of the future, or when Christ will come. The most important thing is that Christ is coming and that he finds us faithful to him when he does come.
That does not mean we don’t care about the future. Quite the contrary, it means we care so much about the future that we look forward to it with faith, hope, and joyful expectation. And how is this possible? By taking seriously Luke’s words: “…take heed…” “…watch at all times and pray…”
This Sunday we begin our Advent watch. This Sunday we celebrate the church’s new year. By taking heed, by watching, by praying, we will hopefully be prepared to meet our Lord as he comes to us. These are the means by which God helps us to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ. Advent is a time of preparation for God’s great and wonderful future. When we invite important and special people into our homes for a special meal, we don’t prepare everything at the last minute—rather, we plan and prepare ahead of time so everything is ready. So too in Advent, we take heed, keep watch, and pray so we are prepared for the Lord when he comes.
Several years ago, there was news coverage on the tragic eruption of a volcano in Colombia. Apparently, many of the people who lived near the volcano for years didn’t believe that it was going to erupt, while other people warned it might erupt very soon. Many of the people were not prepared when the volcano erupted and this resulted in the deaths of a number of people. Christ can come to us at a time when we least expect him, when he does may we be prepared for him.
This Advent season, may each of us prepare for our Lord’s coming so that we can live in faith, hope, and joyful expectation—instead of fear and worry. Our future is in God’s hands. As we journey into Advent, Jesus invites us to open our lives up to God’s unexpected, new and wonderful future. So, take heed, watch, pray, and get ready to celebrate the coming of our Lord with faith, hope and joy. Amen.
1 Cited from: A. Dudley Dennison, Jr., Contemporary Illustrations for Speakers & Teachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), pp. 77-78.