December 01, 2019*
(First Sunday of Advent)
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 2:1-5 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
Everyone knows that the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”
As a scout, and as a scout leader, that phrase was often drilled into us not only as a motto, or as a cute saying that you would repeat from time to time, it was instilled in us as a lifestyle. We were constantly encouraged to think about what was needed, what unexpected thing might happen, and to be prepared, in advance, so that we would be able to cope, adjust, and overcome no matter what happened. As winter, or other foul weather approached, one of our scout leaders often said, “There is no bad weather in scouting, only scouts that are unprepared for the weather.” But it went farther than that, our troops constantly emphasized the need, and the importance, of knowing things like knot tying, first aid, and CPR because you never knew when you might need them. Knowing such things have often proven to make the difference between life and death for someone. Many former scouts and scouters, decades after their time in scouting, still carry a pocketknife, or a can opener on their key ring, or a Leatherman. You can almost bet that these are the people who carry jumper cables in their cars and have a first aid kit under the front seat.
But as wise as the advice to “Be Prepared” is to a scout or even to the general public, did you know that this is also the command of God as it relates to our spiritual lives?
As we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, which is known as the celebration of prophecy, we are reminded that there is a consistent message throughout scripture, that warns God’s people to be ready for the end of time and the day of Judgement. We begin in Isaiah 2:1-5 where God’s prophet tells of the coming Messiah and a time when he will judge the nations.
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.
Isaiah says that “in the last days” God’s temple would be built (or rebuilt) and all the nations of the earth will come to worship him. And, in addition to declaring that all nations would come, Isaiah also says that many peoples, not many people, but many peoples would come. Written in this way, the word “peoples” is understood to be an amplification of what was described as “all nations.” “Many peoples,” can therefore be understood to not only mean the people representing many nations, but also the people from many races, tribes, ethnicities, and other groups who have been absorbed by larger nation states.
Isaiah warns the people that there is a day coming when God will judge the nations and the people of the earth, and he concludes by saying, “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Which is, I think, the same as saying…
But with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, his followers, who were familiar with the judgement described by Isaiah, wanted to know when that would happen. But rather than tell them when, Jesus said that no one knows except God. (Matthew 24:36-44)
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 explains that the coming of the last days and the final judgement would be a surprise to everyone just as the destruction of Noah’s flood caught everyone (except Noah) unprepared. Jesus said that it would be like two people working side by side and one was suddenly taken away without warning.
Jesus explains the point of his own story by saying that because the judgement will be so unexpected, we should all keep watch just as the soldiers who guard the city stand watch all through the night. Soldiers never knew when the enemy might come, and their job was to always be prepared for the day that an attack might happen. Likewise, we must keep watch for the return of Jesus, for the end of days, and for the judgement of all humanity. In other words…
And then, a few dozen years later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and after the Spirit of God entered into his people at Pentecost, rumors would occasionally circulate that the end times had already begun. Some people attempted to draw people away from the church to some “new” religion by preaching heresies that Christ had already returned. And so, in that environment, Paul writes to the church in Rome about the end times, but as is often the case, Paul’s emphasis is to answer the “so what” question. Paul wants the people of the church to know how our anticipation of God’s judgment should change the way that we live. (Romans 13:11-14)
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’s message is that “the hour has already come.” Meaning, it already time to quit coasting. There is no time for us to procrastinate. There is already less time now before the return of Jesus Christ than there was yesterday. The return of Jesus Christ could happen at any minute. The time for us to stop living in darkness is now. The time for us to start living like children of the light and as the followers of Jesus Christ, is now. The time for us to change the way that we live, is now. Instead of living lives that are indecent, or are spent in wild parties, or illicit sex, or in arguing, or jealousy, now is the time for us to live the way that Jesus lived and do the things that Jesus taught. Instead of living lives that revolve around satisfying our selfishness, excesses, passions, and lusts, we are called to live lives of restraint, decency, so that the world can see Jesus in all that we are, and in all that we do.
Paul wants the church to understand that people who are genuinely convinced that Jesus Christ might appear at any time, should live so that in the moment of Jesus’ return, he might find us busy doing Kingdom work.
In other words…
The call of the ancient prophets, and of Jesus, and of Paul is emphatic and consistent. The end of time, and the Day of Judgement is coming. That moment is nearer now than it was at the time of Jesus, or Paul, or at the day we chose to follow Jesus. Jesus could return at any moment. And so, as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent and we hear the voices of the prophets, of Jesus, of Paul, and all of scripture, we must also hear the question that is implied by every one of those voices.
Are you prepared?
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