December 3, 2000

"Be Alert-Be Ready"
Sermon by Rev. Sherry Parker
Dundee United Methodist Church
First Sunday of Advent

Please note: Because I do not use notes when I preach, the text in the written sermon may vary slightly from the spoken sermon. My prayer is that in both my writing and my speaking the Holy Spirit works to make this message worthy of God's purpose.

Scripture: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

God will make a Branch to spring up for King David; and he will execute justice and righteousness in the land (Jeremiah 33:15). The verses you will hear this morning from the Gospel of Luke underscore Jeremiah's prediction. But it may surprise you that the verses do not predict Jesus' birth. They are his own words concerning the final judgment. And while today we mark the first Sunday in Advent and begin the "count down" toward Christmas Day, the reality is that Jesus has already been born and what the faithful watch and hope for is his return. We remember backward with our crèches and stories of Bethlehem. We remember forward to Jesus' final reign over all the earth. In Luke 21, Jesus and his disciples are in the midst of Jesus' final week of life on earth. Jesus has predicted the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. He goes on to teach and encourage his followers. Read Luke 21:25-36.

This description of Christ's coming reflects the experiences of disappointment and loss in the early church. Some people said, "The time is near," when it was not. The mission of early believers to spread the gospel encountered persecution rather than joyful acceptance, and the worship center of the covenant people, the temple in Jerusalem, was destroyed. And yet, we should not hear Jesus' predictions with hesitation or fear. These words of Jesus reflect the resilience of the early church's hope in spite of experiences of disappointment and loss. Their hopes and desires were focused on the coming of Jesus as Son of Man in power and glory to fully establish the kingdom of God. This hope separated them for the surrounding culture and helped them to live a different style of life. (Tannehill, p. 309) Isn't this the real truth of our Christmas observation. Some may buy the best gifts, others may win the village home decorating contest or have the best Christmas CD collection in town, but if Jesus doesn't live for them, where's the hope?

Jesus tells his hearers in verse 28 that when the bad things start to take place, those who believe shall stand up and raise their heads for their redemption is drawing near. He warns against giving up the watch. "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life." (Luke 21:34)

Dissipation, drunkenness and the worries of life? That sounds to me a lot like our culture's idea of holiday celebration. The grocery and department stores are brimming with items to buy. The parties are planned. Annually, during this month, police announce tougher vigilance for drunk drivers. Everyone is celebrating. The next few weeks will fly by and before we know it, perhaps before we even have time to reflect, it will be January 1, 2001.

We are warned against a life in which short term pleasures hold control, dulling our awareness of the call to the kingdom (Tannehill, p. 309). Jesus says, "Be on your guard that your heart is not weighed down." Be on your guard in the holiday distractions that the kingdom does not pass you by.

While the Advent season is the result of God's gift of Jesus born an innocent child and king in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, it also rises out of Jesus' teachings that we must be alert and we must be ready. We cannot let the secular triteness or duties of holiday observance dull our senses to the point of spiritual indifference or inactivity. Jesus told his disciples to pray, to avoid those things that will anchor us to this life and not to the kingdom, to be ready to stand before the Son of Man.

"The gospel teaches that beyond the end of time stands the Lord, who has come among us in the person of Jesus. Those whose lives are lived under Jesus' Lordship can live expectantly, filling each day with activity that is meaningful because of its divine mandate and its contribution to the fulfillment of God's purposes for human life."
(Culpepper, p. 411) Those whose lives are lived under Jesus' lordship prepare themselves for Christmas, confident that the King has come and confidently watchful with heads raised high, knowing redemption is near.

Culpepper, Alan R. "Luke." The New Interpreter's Bible: Vol. IX. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995. Tannehill, Robert. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996.