Listen to the sermon here:
Scriptures: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Here we are at the first Sunday of the new Church Year. Most of us want to be focused on the Baby Jesus instead of the second coming of Jesus. However, the designated scriptures don’t let go of this move of God in releasing Jesus to come to us again in person. This time, not to walk the earth, but to bring salvation in all its fullness; to gather all of us into the kingdom of God in all its grand and glorious fullness and richness.
It’s a cycle. The yearning toward the fullness of salvation is eclipsed by the birth story. So while we are still waiting for this second coming of our Savior, we are surprised to once again be reading and acting upon the wonderful story of the birth. We may be waiting for hundreds or thousands more years for the second coming, but every year we can depend on the birth story to affect even the people who do not believe the story with their hearts and minds. We would need to be a hermit not to be touched by Christmas in some way even if the feeling is annoyance. Even some of us who believe and respect this birth story are very annoyed at the all-embracing celebration of the day.
You may have noticed that one day has become several months of preparation and excitement. The day itself sort of gets lost. It is called commercialization. It is called overkill. Even in our churches, we tend to do “too much.” “Where is the baby,” we say. The baby seems to be lost in one of the many Christmas trees with twinkling lights. Maybe the birth is lost in the unfinished story; the story of the coming of Christ to take us home.
So let us not rush past the second coming. It is the preparation annually for the birth. The birth has already happened. Despite the doubt and questioning of some persons, it is a sure thing. We frown and sometimes dispute persons who doubt that the birth is real and is divine to no avail. There is enough proof that Christ was once a baby, grew, taught, healed, preached, loved firmly, died, was buried, descended, rose, ascended. Wow, what a story! A story by which to live!
But this second coming is a problem for us. First, we are tired of waiting. My goodness, the disciples thought it was going to happen while they were still living. Several thousand years later, we are still waiting and wondering; sometimes with fear, sometimes with awe. “When?” we say. When will this happen and how will it happen? Some verses of scripture tell us that when we die we will be on hold; we will be waiting – surely our favorite occupation. But, last Sunday, on Christ the King Sunday, we read that Jesus told the criminal beside him, “Today, today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
Here is the good news! We don’t have to wait in a vacuum of fear. We don’t need to wait in a vacuum of awfulness. We don’t need to wait in a vacuum of joylessness. The kingdom is partly here and now. We are living in God’s kingdom but the final sweep of violence and war; the final sweep of bitterness and revenge have not yet been vacuumed from our environment.
When the awesome kingdom arrives in all its fullness, with all joy, there will be no more war. This scripture passage from Isaiah 2:2-5 is a great promise from the Old Testament designed for our hearts this very day. There is a symbolism of a mountain – the mountain of the Lord.
“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
When, oh when, will this happen? Swords beat into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not fight nation, no war, no inclination to war. Did you catch that part about the light? “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Try this: light and darkness depends on the glasses we are wearing. I have been surprised at times when I think something did not go well only to learn that someone else, who experienced the same happening, thought the event or service or activity went very well. I was wearing dark glasses. The other person was wearing clear glasses; glasses that readily let light shine through them.
Before the second coming there is still some darkness; some of us see only the darkness while some people see the light that is mingled with the darkness. After the second coming there will be no darkness. Truly worth the waiting, do you not agree?
Paul in his letter to the Romans uses this image of light and darkness but instead of vague, glob- like light and darkness, Paul is saying, “works of peace and armor of light.” Living righteously, the way we think God wants us to live, is a big topic. Paul says, “… put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” So, we can hasten this second coming. Someone once said in my hearing or perhaps it is actually in the Holy Scriptures, “God is waiting for the second coming until every last person on earth has surrendered to God as Lord of all life.
If that is true, we have work to do unless we want to continue in a world of war, a world of pain, a world of loss. How do we charm each unbeliever or anti-believer to come to his or her senses for the sake of a world without war, sickness, poverty?
While we are suggesting conversion to un-believers, we had better check ourselves. Jesus urges watchfulness, wakefulness. First, Jesus tells us that no one knows when Jesus will come again – not even Jesus knows. Only the Father knows! Then Jesus tells that two women working in a field side by side will find that one has been taken and one is not taken. Evidently, one was ready and one was not.
One by one, we will be selected or not selected! Sounds like doomsday. Never fear! Do not tremble! Just activate your faith. Show it by participating in the homeless ministry, show your faith by being a hostess at the Cluster assisting people in their grocery shopping and dry goods shopping, make your faith stronger by daily reading the scripture, by regular attendance in worship, by studying the scripture with a guide who is trained or simply with a friend. Show your faith by being quiet and welcoming the word of the Lord and the intimacy of the Lord into your bones and brain. Me too. “Be still and know that the Lord he is God.”
Less decorating and more devotion. Less baking and more beholding – seeing with new eyes how God’s presence is with us and is moving us. Less rushing and more reverence. Can we do this? Is it going to happen this year? What about the children and grandchildren expecting the usual fuss? The usual gifts? The usual feast? Well, try less fuss, try less feast, try fewer gifts. Instead, try adventures in nature. Try adventures in conversation. Yes, even bring the Bible into the gathering. Let there be focused silence. Wow! This experience could bring peace where there was hecticness. This experience could be life-changing to one of our family members.
“For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…” from Romans 13:11-14.
The armor of light! Think about this. Current-day movie theaters are dark. Churches are light. Prisons and caves are dark. The light is outside. Come out, Elijah. Welcome to the light, ye prisoners. Let us be transparent, not secretive! Let us seek truth and not deception!
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Stir up you power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Let us walk in your light, our powerful, but kind holy Lord, now!
How will this change our world, our society? First, there will be no more war. People will be kind to each other, wanting the best for each other. Enjoying each other’s company. Animosity will be a lost art. Peace will reign supreme in a quiet way. No more frowns. No more uncertainty. No more illness. No more death, even.
When Jesus appears to all of us again, it will be greater than the TV and other media coverage that we have today or can imagine. Everyone will see; everyone will know the Lord’s goodness. Everyone will feel the smooth inner feeling and will show it as a glowing of the face. How great can this get?
We can practice for this day. We can try; we can imagine. We can implement it is small ways. After all, how will it happen if we are not instigators, inviters of God with us? Is your heart open? Are you willing to let go of earthly concerns? Are we willing to think of our neighbor first. Are we willing to think of our neighbor second and of our God first?