“Season Meets Reason”
November 27, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
The other day, Patti and I were traveling along the freeway when traffic suddenly came to a complete stop. We immediately wondered what had happened because normally, even in the worst of construction zones, traffic keeps moving at least a little. But this time we stopped dead and we were there long enough that I put the car in park. As we sat there, we guessed that it might have been an accident and, sure enough, once we started moving again we saw two cars, a tractor trailer, and a police car all blocking the right lane. Thankfully, even though there was a baby seat in one of the cars, everyone seemed to be okay.
As simple as it was, this common experience reminds us of the ripple effects of human events. Traffic backs up because there was an accident. Railroad gates drop because there is, somewhere down the line, an oncoming train. One event causes another, and sometimes those ripples cascade far into the future. We live here in North America because men like Amerigo Vespucci, Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Jacques Cartier, Hernando de Soto, John Cabot, and many others dared to cross the Atlantic and explore the New World. What they did changed the world, and the ripples caused by their actions continue to impact our lives today.
And so, as we celebrate Advent, and begin the season of Christmas, we often talk about Jesus being the “reason for the season.” We recognize that a huge part of our entire world has set aside time, religious or not, to celebrate this particular season of the year and we know that a ripple that enduring has to have had a cause. But what we often miss, is that the reason for Christmas started long before the birth of Jesus, and the ripples caused by those events continue into the future, and impact our lives, far more than we appreciate.
We begin this morning by reading the words of the prophet Isaiah who lived nearly eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus. (Isaiah 2:1-5)
2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Generations before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah proclaims that a day will come when God himself will live in Jerusalem, rule over the earth, and judge disputes between nations. In those days, weapons of war will be reshaped into instruments of agriculture, and the world will finally know peace.
Isaiah not only saw the coming of the Messiah that we celebrate at Christmas, but also the messiah’s ultimate rule and reign to which we still look forward. The ripple in time that we celebrate at Christmas did not begin with Jesus, and in fact did not begin with Isaiah. What we remember when we read Isaiah is that the birth of the Messiah was God’s plan from the beginning of time itself. All of creation was leading up to that moment, and continues to look forward to the ultimate conclusion of God’s story.
We all know the Christmas story. We will spend plenty of time in the coming weeks remembering the stories about angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and wise men from the East. But while remembering the characters is important, we must also take time to remember that such a pivotal event in human history didn’t happen by accident. The birth of Jesus, God’s Messiah, Savior, and rescuer of all humanity, happened for a reason.
In Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus tells the disciples about the day of his return.
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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; 39 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. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 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. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Jesus reminds his followers, that his birth, life, death and resurrection were just the beginning. Just as God’s people had looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah for thousands of years, we now look forward to his ultimate return. And as we look forward, Jesus warns us to be prepared, to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Jesus’ warning is two-fold. First, we must keep watch for his coming and second, that we must be prepared for his arrival at all times because he will come when we do not expect him. But what does it mean to “be prepared” for his arrival? Honestly, it’s the same message that God has been telling his people since the very beginning. In Romans 13:11-14, Paul puts it this way:
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Paul reminds us that “being ready” is all about the way that we live our lives every day. If we believe that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem, and we believe that his purpose for coming to earth was to live, die, and rise from the grave to pay the debt for our forgiveness, then our belief must not just be an abstract idea that we carry around in our heads, but a belief that is lived out every minute of every day.
The coming of Jesus was an event that sent ripples through time and that event was a part of God’s plan that began with creation itself. While we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, we love to decorate our houses, our churches, shopping centers, and office cubicles, but if we fail to decorate our lives by living the way that Jesus taught, then all the trees, all the presents, all the worship services, and all the other trappings of Christmas are no better than wrapping tinsel around a cow pie.
At Christmas, it is vital for us to remember the reason for our celebration.
Jesus did not come to earth so that we could buy presents and decorate trees.
Jesus came to earth to transform lives.
Jesus came to transform my life.
Jesus came to transform your life.
And so, the best way that we can “decorate” for Christmas is to live every day of the year as if Jesus was real, as if we knew for certain that he was coming back tomorrow.
The best gift of Christmas is for each of us to actually do the things that Jesus taught us to do.
God’s gift to the world at Christmas wasn’t just a baby in a manger.
God’s gift to the world is a world full of followers who live like Jesus everyday.
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