Summary: As the season of Advent begins, many people are preparing for Christmas. That’s good, but ...we are primarily being called in this sermon to be alert, to watch, to be awake, preparing for the return of Jesus. So, are YOU awake ?

I came across a suggested prayer for all preachers this week, and it goes like this:

“Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff and nudge me when I’ve said enough.” Well, here we go!

Are you ready? Are you prepared? Put your hands up if you are ready and prepared ... did you get done yesterday what you needed to get done? Will you get done today what you need to get done?

Is anyone feeling tired and weary ... wondering just what to spend your money on ... and perhaps wondering who to spend it on? Perhaps you’ve got decisions to make … because it’s ‘crunch’ time.

I wonder if you think I am referring to Christmas.

Well, I’m not, even though it is only 3 weeks away.

Are you awake? You should at least be awake, because I’m less than 60 seconds into this sermon!

Today’s Bible reading (NIV) ended with these words (13:36 and 37): “If He comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ’Watch!’” A slightly different Bible translation (NRSV) puts it like this: “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” So, my beloved congregation of Christ Church, Billericay, on this Sunday in the church calendar that for hundreds of years has been known as ’Advent Sunday’, are you watching? Are you awake? Are you awake to Jesus?

And just in case you are in any doubt, Jesus was not referring to levels of drowsiness or levels of boredom during a church service, and Jesus is not telling you to stay awake whilst the vicar is speaking. Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel is primarily a private conversation between Jesus and three of his disciples; Peter, James and John (see verse three).

Jesus had said that the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem would one day be destroyed (13:2) and the disciples wanted to know when that would be. We would too! If Jesus stood here and told us that a major disaster was going to hit our town we would ask the same question. When?

But Jesus did not tell his disciples when it would happen. He was more concerned with making sure that they and their families and their descendants would know what to do at the time; and so it is with us. God remains as concerned for you and your families and the people of this town and this nation as ever. He wants us to be ready for the return of Jesus.

In particular, Jesus wanted to ensure that his disciples would not be led astray in their faith (13:5), and he also needed them to know that members of the church might face terrible persecution and even betrayal by members of their own family (13:9-13).

They are words and instructions which remain relevant today. The suffering and persecuted church in China, Iraq, Indonesia, the Sudan and many other places know the reality of Jesus’ teaching; and some of us know what it means to be ridiculed and shunned by friends family or others because we are Christians.

21 years ago outside Glasgow train station I was attacked by a Harry Krishna once he realised I was a Christian. He kicked me and whacked me over the head repeatedly with a clipboard, shouting, “If you’re a Christian, let’s see you turn the other cheek!” It hurt.

Today’s Bible reading refers to the time when all people ’will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory’ (13:26). Jesus is coming back! He has not gone for ever! The events of history are leading somewhere. There will be a consummation of the world as we currently know it. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Almost at the end of the Bible (Revelation 21: 4) Jesus says this about our Father God: ’He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or morning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

To his closest friends Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (13:31), and as was often the case Jesus told a story to illustrate his point; an art that the church seems to constantly struggle with. That is, using stories in order to illustrate truth. Jesus was brilliant at it; and J John, Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti are good today.

Jesus told a story to illustrate his point, and on this occasion also made his point clear. He said (13:32), “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Do I know when Jesus will return? No, I do not. In 1988 a book was published in America.

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