Sermon for I Advent, Year B

Based on Mk. 13:33-37

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

"Preparing for Christ"

Ever since the beginning of the Christian Church, people have been concerned about Jesus Christ's Second Coming. Today, this continues to be a popular concern for many people. A number of people seem to have a deep fascination with the future. A lot of folks are getting onto the Year 2,000 bandwagon ~ some having a field day, speculating about the possible scenarios that might take shape at the birth of a new millennium. Along with this fascination concerning the future and Christ's Second Coming; people have fallen into Two Dangerous Temptations.

The first temptation is to predict the exact time and circumstances of Christ's Second Coming. In almost every century since Christ ascended into heaven, people have attempted to predict his coming again. Such people have come up with all sorts of outlandish, bizarre and horrible scenarios.

Over the years, there have been several claims that Christ has already come again. The world abounds with false messiahs. There have also been many efforts to associate earthquakes, comets, solar eclipses and other natural events as signs that the world is soon coming to an end. In addition to this, some people claim to predict the future events of history in such a clear-cut way that they give others the impression that they know more about the Second Coming than Jesus himself!

For instance, the Jehovah Witnesses have predicted the world would come to an end a number of times. Some fundamentalist Christians have made claims that Russia and/or China (and other nations) are the anti-Christ and will put an end to the world by starting a nuclear war. By predicting the exact time and circumstances of Christ's Second Coming, people are misinterpreting the Bible. They are twisting the Bible to say what They Want It To Say. On the other hand, quite contrary to this method of interpreting the Bible, Jesus himself says: Not Even He Knows The Day Or The Hour Of His Coming Again!

He makes this point in our gospel today when he fails to give The Time Or Circumstances Of The Master's Return. The master in this parable is Jesus. The parable tells us his return is unpredictable and sudden. Thus, to predict the exact time and circumstances of Christ's Second Coming is to rely on a misleading, false, black and white sense of security. For Jesus, such matters of the end are best left alone. Jesus is teaching us all to trust this matter to God alone. Only God knows the time and circumstances of the end; in faith, we are able to Let God Be God and trust that God Knows Best What God Is Doing. Therefore, we are called to trust more in God than in human beings falsely claiming that they have "the inside track" as to time and circumstances of the Second Coming. This is one mystery of our faith that Jesus instructs us to accept.

The second temptation, which our parable clearly warns us against, is the temptation to fall asleep. The more delayed our Master's return is, the harder it becomes for many people to do the work he has given us ~ and it's more difficult to keep awake.

This temptation to fall asleep until the right time is illustrated quite well in a Blondie cartoon. Dagwood says to his wife: "I'm all ready to go. See… I laid my clothes out and my suitcase is all packed and ready to go." As Dagwood gets ready to go to bed, he tells his wife: "I even shaved already." Once in bed, he kisses his wife goodnight and boasts: "I'll bet I even get to the airport before the boss does." Soon they both fall asleep.

Eventually, the alarm goes off. Dagwood, still in his sleep, gets up, puts on his suit, takes his suitcase and goes downstairs. In the next frame, Dagwood, still with eyes closed, comes back upstairs into the bedroom.

Meanwhile, Dagwood's boss, waiting at the airport says: "Where could he be? Our plane is leaving." A voice over the sound-system announces: "Last call for flight 429." The plane is in flight and Dagwood's boss asks: "I wonder what happened to Dagwood?" In the last frame, Dagwood is back in bed, sleeping away under the covers with his suit on and one hand holding onto his suitcase at the side of the bed.

We, like Dagwood, can do all sorts of things, thinking that we are ready when the time comes. We can put off the urgency of Christ's claims on our lives Right Now. We can be so busy doing the less-pressing "gnat straining" things of life that when Jesus comes for us we will not be ready. We, like Dagwood, will be asleep.

Or, we can fall asleep by becoming apathetic and by losing all hope for the future. This temptation may cause people to say: "Nothing matters. There's nothing we can do to change things. Who cares. It's no use." This apathy and despair paralyses people ~ causing them to give up on themselves, others and life in general.

Over against these two temptations, our gospel shows us another, healthier way to live. As Christians, our lives accept the paradox of God's time. We live in an "in-between" time. Ours is a "now-and-not-yet" time. Now, because Jesus has already come and continues to come into our lives through the Word and Sacraments; prayer, life experiences and "the communion of saints." Not-yet, because we wait, we watch, we work; we have not known or experienced the fullness of God's realm; we expect Jesus to come again.

We are instructed to keep alert, to watch, to be ready, to keep working until he comes. If we live in this way, we shall have a hope-filled future. We shall view our whole life as a preparation for meeting Christ face-to-face when he comes again. In this way, we can live with trust and confidence in our God.

Someone tells of the time when an old gentleman was asked what he'd do if he knew Jesus was coming today or tomorrow. The chap was planting an apple tree when he was asked the question. His answer was: "I would still plant the apple tree."

We don't have to live worrying about our regrets; our adequacy or inadequacy. God's grace frees us to live in peace, in trust, hope and confidence that God is in control of the universe and governs with our best interests in consideration.

May this Advent season help us to watch, to keep awake, to do the Master's work while we still have time and opportunity. May our watching and working for the Master give us hope and expectation that we might be ready when he comes.

This page has been visited times.