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For many years my parents would spend most of the year on the coast at their home in Cherry Grove, SC. They would always leave the beach and head back to their home in Charlotte just after the Thanksgiving holiday. When I was serving Covenant Moravian Church in Wilmington my parents would invite me to drive over to help them pack up and winterize their home. We would have dinner and they would also give me my Christmas gifts knowing that travel to Charlotte from Wilmington was very difficult for a Moravian pastor during the Advent and Christmas season. Thinking back to that time in my life I used to realize how underprepared I was and still am in some respects when it comes to Christmas shopping. I use to marvel at how my parents usually completed their shopping as the month of December was starting while I was only beginning to think of what gifts to purchase! Of course it is one thing to be underprepared for the coming of Christmas, but what if we are not prepared for the second coming of Christ?
My suspicion is that most of us in the early weeks of December have calendars that reflect the preparations of the underprepared. All of us have plenty to do. We have shopping, baking, decorating, and making travel plans. Beyond all these activities outside of church we can see by glancing in our church bulletin how busy things become in the church during the Advent season. We have our Advent lunch event this Sunday following worship, a Lovefeast at Heritage Woods Monday, Candle Trim Dinner Tuesday, three other Lovefeast services to prepare for in the weeks ahead, Christmas parties for Sunday school classes, Women’s Fellowship events, Youth caroling, choir practice, luminaries to order and the list can go on and on and on. Perhaps we will come to the conclusion that I have reached, we have so many things happening this month, that if Jesus were to come again, he might be wise to pick another month besides December!
Joking aside, too often in our busyness we forget about the reason for this season of celebration. As we think of Christ’s Second Coming, we are often left to ask how and more importantly when this will take place. For centuries Biblical scholars have been unable to agree on how Christ’s Second Coming will happen. Some scholars believe that certain signs will precede the return of Christ, and then following would be a period of peace and righteousness in which Christ will reign on earth in person as King. Others believe that there will be a two stage coming of Christ. Christ will come for his Church and then return with his Church with the two events being separated by a seven-year tribulation. We do know one thing for certain as shared in our gospel lesson from Mark where it is written:
But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
The Church season of Advent is not so much a countdown to the coming of Christmas Day when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, as it is a time for us to ponder and prepare for the visible coming of Jesus in His glory. Once again the heavens will be torn open, and the Christ will return and be seen in glory. When? We don’t know. And for us as Christians on December 3, 2017 many of us prefer to pursue our Christmas preparations hoping that Jesus is not coming again in all his glory anytime in the near future. We are quite willing to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th. Indeed we are committed to being very busy in keeping the organized festivities going. But if we can confine the Savior’s work to what has occurred in the past and to the traditions we have created for observing them then we think we can keep control of Christ and Christmas.
Yet the apostle Paul writes for us in Philippians this morning:
I am confident of this, which the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
Here Paul is telling us that the birth of Jesus, the entry of Christ into our world, was simply the start of God’s work. God will at some unnamed point in the future, bring that work to a conclusion with the return of Christ to the world. This might even take place before our decorations for this Christmas are done!
- Maybe before our shopping or travel plans are finished.
- Maybe before all the activities scheduled at Church are completed.
- Maybe before we have confessed our sins repented of our ways and turned to him who is coming again to earth.
God’s work upon earth is still unfinished because not everyone has heard the message of God’s salvation. All who hear the word of God are called to declare what God is doing in our midst and to look ahead to the fulfillment of God’s reign as King. The command of God is clear. In order to receive the Lord and his salvation, one must actively change his or her life by preparing accordingly for the future coming of our Lord in all his glory. Paul’s reflections to the Christians in Philippi were written at a time when he was in a Roman prison for the crime of having believed in and witnessed to the saving work of Jesus in the world. It certainly would have been possible for anyone who had sacrificed so much like Paul did to become a preacher of the gospel, simply to collapse into despair over what happened when imprisoned. Paul could have looked at those events in his life and decided that the message he preached was not worth the sacrifice. But his faith never wavered. When faced with the reality that opportunities to preach might be coming to an end, Paul saw it as an occasion for love within the church to grow and spread even more. When Paul pondered from prison the good work that had been accomplished by the believers in Philippi, he saw that it was just the beginning of what God was going to complete in the world through Jesus Christ.
In our world, twenty-two days from now we all will be celebrating Christmas day. We will have finished all of the necessary preparations for our celebrations. Our dinners will be ready. Our gifts will be wrapped. The busy activities in our church calendar will have been completed. Hopefully all plans will have proceeded without any interruptions. My hope in the weeks ahead amidst all those things that we need to accomplish that we also can also spend time and energy acknowledging that we are underprepared for Christ to come again and begin making better preparations. When we acknowledge this and begin to make plans to prepare ourselves, I believe our lives might become more fruitful.
Speaking of fruit, in a portion of our gospel lesson from Mark this morning we see that Jesus told a story about a fig tree. We are perhaps not as familiar with this account of the fig tree which simply makes reference that as summer arrives the leaves of the fig tree are tender and bear fruit. We might be more familiar with the story of the fig tree that is fruitless and the owner of the vineyard tells the gardener to cut it down. In that story of the fig tree the gardener begs for another chance. He asks that he be able to till the soil and fertilize and if that did not produce any results that the tree could be cut down. In thinking of this account, I wonder whether we should interpret that account as a threat and a warning or perhaps as a holy invitation? Are we invited to feast upon a fuller life in relationship with our Creator God? Like the motto of the Boy Scouts we can BE PREPARED. To prepare for the return of Christ, we will have to let go of our need to be in control. For us to receive the benefits of his coming as a wonderful counselor, we will have to allow ourselves to be healed from feelings of bitterness we might have towards others. In order for us to recognize Christ as the Prince of Peace, we will need to let him lead us to reconciliation with those from whom we are estranged. Jesus is coming again because the work that he pronounced finished on the cross has not yet come to completion.
Jesus will return and complete this task.
We as the underprepared have to get ready.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
December 3, 2017