Of Being Prepared
(A sermon by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Matt. 24:36-44. Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Calgary, Alberta Canada) ______________________________________________________________________
I begin by wishing all of you a happy new year, because today marks the beginning of a new church year. We are now in the Advent season, therefore, we celebrate the theme that JESUS IS COMING. In Advent, we celebrate Jesus' coming in three ways.
First, we celebrate his human birth and coming into the world almost 2,000 years ago. This happened in the past and is called the INCARNATION by theologians. Second, we celebrate Jesus' coming into our hearts and our life experiences, this happens in the present. Third, we celebrate Jesus' coming again, which will happen at some time no one really knows in the future. Theologians call this the PAROUSIA or Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Today I am going to focus on numbers two and three, since it is most appropriate to focus on number one during the season of Christmas.
In today's gospel, Matthew gives everyone of us a warning. The warning is this: THAT WE ARE TO BE PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED COMING OF JESUS CHRIST. You might ask the question: "Well how can we possibly be prepared when we don't know the hour, day, month or year of Christ's coming?" Matthew answers that question for us by telling us two things. First, to put it quite bluntly, DON'T GET CAUGHT OFF-GUARD OR ASLEEP. Matthew is telling us that, in other words: WE ARE TO LIVE EACH DAY AS IF IT WERE OUR LAST. We are to live each day with integrity by being prepared for the unexpected coming of our LORD.
A good clergyperson friend of mine told me the following story. There once was a woman who lived in New York City with her son who was very sick. The woman wanted nothing more than to find someone to help and heal her son. She had heard people talking about a great doctor from Vienna, who was coming to New York, and she was hoping to take her son to the famous doctor. One evening it was miserable, cold and raining outside, when a knock came at the woman's door. She opened it up carefully, only to find a man with long hair and a beard soaked right to the bone.
"Can I come in out of the wet and cold night?" the man asked. "Sorry," said the woman, slamming the door in his face and locking it quickly behind her.
The next day the woman happened to pick up the newspaper. On the front page the woman read the headline in large bold print: "Famous Doctor From Vienna Visits New York." Under the headline was a picture of the doctor. Much to the woman's suprize and dismay, it was the same man she had closed the door on the previous evening.
Matthew warns us that every day of our life here on earth, we are to be alert, to watch, to pray, to be prepared for Jesus' coming again. He tells us it will be an unexpected surprize: just as everyone except Noah and his family were not prepared for the flood; just as only one of the two men in the field was prepared; just as only one of the two women grinding at the mill was prepared; just as a thief comes in the night when the householder is sleeping; in a similar way, Jesus will come again.
WE CANNOT POSSIBLY KNOW WHEN JESUS IS COMING AGAIN-CONTRARY TO WHAT MANY WOULD HAVE YOU BELIEVE. And it's probably a good thing we don't know, because then we'd spend most of our time worrying ourseleves sick about it. OUR BEST PREPARATION FOR JESUS' COMING AGAIN IS TO BE FAITHFUL TO GOD IN OUR DAY-TO-DAY LIVING. WE HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT OR BE AFRAID ABOUT IF WE ARE, DAY IN, DAY OUT, FAITHFUL TO GOD.
For example, being ready and alert for Jesus coming again can be very similar to defensive driving. The defensive driver is a person who is always watching out for the next person. The defensive driver avoids accidents by obeying all of the traffic signs and lights. In the winter-time, a defensive driver will slow down and allow for more time to stop at intersections, and stay further behind the vehicle ahead of them.
In our day-to-day living, God wants us to live each day in all of its fullness. There may not be a tomorrow. BE ALERT! BE AWAKE! Realize the life God has given you. Don't be worried or preoccupied about trivial things. Don't lose sight of what is really important. Don't be like the householder who was not ready for the thief in the night. If you are travelling the road of destruction. If your life is leading you away from Jesus Christ. If you are hurting yourself and others confess your sin, repent and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and a new, fresh beginning. NOW is the time to tell someone you are sorry. NOW is the time to tell someone how much you love them. You may never have the opportunity to do this tomorrow. DO IT TODAY, AND LIVE EACH DAY AS IF IT WERE YOUR LAST-SO THAT YOU WILL BE READY WHEN JESUS COMES.
The second thing Matthew tells us in answer to our question: "How can we possibly be prepared for Jesus' coming if we don't know when he is coming?" is: THAT WE ARE TO LIVE IN PATIENT HOPE AND EXPECTATION. Today we began our worship by lighting the Advent candle of hope. It is a living and symbolical reminder to us that GOD IS IN CONTROL OF THE FUTURE-YOURS, MINE, AND THE WHOLE WORLD'S. That's awesome, isn't it? In a world of meaninglessness, confusion, powerlessness, despair, injustice and a host of other evils and ills-WE AS CHRISTIANS STILL DARE TO HAVE HOPE! In hope, we expect wonderful things from our God. In hope, we see how God works wonders even in the everyday, ordinary "stuff" of life; like, for example, a seed growing into a tree which produces lots of fruit. The following story, from James Hewett's book, "Illustrations Unlimited," underscores how powerful our hope is in shaping our lives each day, as well as into the future.
At the university there was a piano teacher that was simply and affectionately known as "Herman." One night at a university concert, a distinguished piano player suddenly became ill while performing an extremely difficult piece. No sooner had the artist retired from the stage when Herman rose from his seat in the audience, walked on stage, sat down at the piano and with great mastery completed the performance. Later that evening, at a party, one of the students asked Herman how he was able to perform such a demanding piece so beautifully without notice and with no rehearsal. He replied, "In 1939, when I was a budding young concert pianist, I was arrested and placed in a Nazi concentration camp. Putting it mildly, the future looked bleak. But I knew that in order to keep the flicker of hope alive that I might someday play again, I needed to practice every day. I began by fingering a piece from my repertoire on my bare board bed late one night. The next night I added a second piece and soon I was running through my entire repertoire. I did this every night for five years. It so happens that the piece I played tonight at the concert hall was part of that repertoire. That constant practice is what kept my hope alive. Everyday I renewed my hope that I would one day be able to play my music again on a real piano, and in freedom."
We, too, are not exempt from facing unexpected trials and difficulties in our lives. The loss of loved ones, a terminal illness, unemployment, a falling-out with a close friend, whatever the case may be, our hope is tested and may be pushed to the limits. However, it is often under such circumstances as these that Jesus Christ speaks to us and shines his light of hope in the midst of our darkness. He gives us a patient hope, in order that we realize no matter how long it takes; or how much suffering and testing we have to go through; in the end, he will come and we will live with him forever. He also give us an expectant hope in order that we realize our Lord's coming again will far surpass even our highest and greatest thoughts and dreams.
May we live in this Advent hope now and always. Amen.