Summary: A Surprise God, A Surprise Blessing, A Surprise Interruption Surprise on the Run
Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent, a time of preparation, a time of the Messiah’s coming, going and coming, a time of great expectation and great anticipation. But exactly what is advent and what are we anticipating? What are we getting ready for? What do we expect to happen? Are we preparing our hearts and spirits to receive the Christ child into the world? Or are we preparing for yet another month-long shopping spree that some have called "economic first-degree murder" for willfully and with malice aforethought murdering our bank accounts? Or maybe we’re getting ready for the seven to ten pounds the average American will gain during the season (Lord, please let me be an underachiever this year!)? Or are we preparing for the holy nightmare of
traffic jams at the Mall and Walmart?
Are we getting ready for the depression, the anxiety, and even the rage that for some accompanies the secular holiday season? For those who get caught up in the consumerism of Christmas, Advent is the inevitable prelude to disappointment. Christmas somehow hardly ever measures up to their fantasies. Even for those who manage to have some of their Christmas wishes fulfilled, the Advent season is over so quickly that the need to make New Year’s resolutions to lose those added pounds, bears down on them even before the decorations come down.
But the Advent we celebrate in the church - the one that has nothing at all to do with the number of shopping days left until Christmas - is altogether different. The hanging of the greens, the placement of the poinsettias, the lighting of the first Advent candle - all these invite us to dream dreams of a better world, to allow expectant visions that have nothing to do with sugar-plum fairies that dance in our heads. Advent invites us to fill the cup
of today with a full measure of tomorrow. (from eSermon Brett Blair)
The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival." The focus of the season is on the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in the first Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his second Advent. In this double focus on past and future, Advent symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a church congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power and majesty. The time of Advent is one of expectation and anticipation for God’s actions to restore all things and vindicate the righteous. This is why during Advent we as Christians also anticipate the Second Coming as a twin theme with the celebration of the birth of Christ.
The Lectionary Text for today is Matthew 24:36-44 and it comes in the middle of a somewhat apoplectic teaching of Jesus. Jesus had just finished teaching the disciples about the coming kingdom and given seven woes as warnings and then he points to the temple and tells of its coming destruction. He tells them "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. The disciples are bothered by Jesus’ words and ask him when will this happen and what will be the signs of its coming?
There will be signs Jesus tells them, signs of false teachings and signs of false prophets, there will be an increase in natural disasters, wars, and evil will seem to be rampant in the world. The signs are everywhere today, no one seems to question that. In fact, according to a survey in U.S. News and World Report, 61% of all Americans believe in the Second Coming. That’s great! I mean if we can celebrate Christmas and believe in Jesus coming as a baby in a manger then surely we must believe in the second coming for if God can do it one time he can certainly do it again. There are over 2000 references in the Bible predicting Jesus’ second coming. For every prophecy on the first coming of Christ there are eight on Christ’s second coming. (Dr. George Sweeting in Today in the Word, Dec 1989)
A Newsweek poll reports that 45% of Americans believe that Christ will return in their lifetime. (Sermon Central) There is a huge industry out there focused on the end of times. Look at the Left Behind series. Look in a bookstore at all the prophetic books detailing and predicting the final days and time. And yet, Jesus himself said he did not know the time that no one on earth knows when that time will come. That it will be like when the floods of Noah came, vs. 39, for “they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away.”