Summary: 'keeping watch' for the arrival of the Christ Child

Following those hard times, the sun will fade out, moon cloud over, Stars fall out of the sky, cosmic powers tremble. And then they'll see the Son of Man enter in grand style, his Arrival filling the sky - no one will miss it! He'll dispatch the angels; they will pull in the chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don't take this lightly. I'm not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too - these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won't wear out. But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven's angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don't know the timetable. It's like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don't want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I'm saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch." (Mark 13:24-27)

Today, Christians begin a new liturgical year and celebrate the ancient Season of Advent. For most American Christians, Advent passes virtually unnoticed, because the secular and intensely commercial celebration of "Christmas" begins earlier and earlier each year; this year Black Friday shopping started on Thanksgiving Day.

But in the hustle and bustle of the various holiday celebrations, the time of Advent offers us a time of quiet reflection, hopeful and patient waiting, and thinking about what the birth of Jesus means in our world today.

Advent is an ancient celebration, a four-week celebration ending with the birth of Jesus on Christmas. Advent is the time of waiting with anticipation for the fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel and Isaiah: that a Messiah will come and gather the people to Him. The Messiah, the great and all-powerful one who brings us life everlasting, is being celebrated in this season as a tiny, helpless baby.

Most people think of Advent as a time to prepare us for Christmas, but Advent is about preparing for the arrival of Christ with new ears and open hearts. However, the story has become so familiar to us that we often take it for granted. We become like people that live next to the train tracks and no longer hear the train when it goes by. We tend to sleep walk our way through the story.

But if we wake up, we can see that the Christmas story is like a soap opera. Jesus is born to an unwed teenage mother. Jesus’ princely throne was a food trough, his princely court consists of some smelly animals and a few wise men. His ambassadors and evangelists are a handful of dirty shepherds just in from the fields.

That is what Advent is all about. We are waiting with hope for our Messiah. We will celebrate his birth by remembering what it felt like to wait for him the first time he came.

In this way, the crèche or manger (where Jesus was born) is very much like the cross(where Jesus died for us). They are both symbols of times when God’s love came into the world.

For the last four years we have lit an Advent wreath each of the four Sundays of Advent. This year we are going to do something a little different. You see a picture of the manger on the wall; notice it is empty, except for the star. Each Sunday, as we move toward the birth of Jesus, we will see more things appear, until we finally see the Baby Jesus in his crib.

Each week we will wait to see what appears. We are in the season of waiting. Waiting for the coming of Jesus, not only to celebrate his birth, but also awaiting his Second Coming.

But we don’t know when Jesus is coming again. There has been a lot of forecasting about when the Second Coming will happen, but those dates have all come and gone. We have no insight into the time.

Jesus even warns us:

No one knows when, not even heaven's angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don't know the timetable. (Mark 13:32)

Jesus’ coming will be sudden; there will be no time to prepare for him. Jesus says his return will be sudden! If we could see Jesus coming and his coming would take place in a year or so, or even a month from now, we might have time to get ready. But, that is not the case. You are ready now before he comes, or you will never be ready at his coming. So, it's time to wake up and start watching and waiting.

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