24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
There’s never enough time to get the house ready. Boxes from Amazon need to be broken down, cooking, vacuuming up Duke’s treat crumbs that he gets all over the floor, filling up all the diffusers, washing and folding clothes, getting the dog hair and dust…there’s not enough time to do everything. You eeeeek out every last second to get ready. But you never know when the guests will actually arrive. You may have an hour’s worth of work to quickly squish in 5 minutes, but the guests WILL eventually arrive.
We are to be ready, at any moment, at any time and that’s what this text is about. Whether it’s 3 am or 4 pm we are to be ready for the Master to come. Jesus says to each of us, “Pay attention!” “Stay focused!” “Heed the signs!” “Don’t get distracted!” “Stay true to Me.” “Stay rooted in who you know God to be!”
“Don’t let your faith falter!”
The word in Greek is blepete. Its equivalent in Hebrew is “sim lev!” In Hebrew, it means, “pay attention.” But its etymology means, “put your heart into it!”
“Sim lev!” “Put your heart into it!”
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.” said God through the prophet Ezekiel. “I am with you to the end of the age,” Jesus promised.
Little Jimmy learned one day as he was laying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day. Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape. Soon, he began to think about God.
“God? Are you really there?” Jimmy said out loud.
To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. “Yes, Jimmy? What can I do for you?”
Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked, “God? What is a million years like to you?”
Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. “A million years to me, Jimmy, is like a minute.”
“Oh,” said Jimmy. “Well, then, what’s a million dollars like to you?” “A million dollars to me, Jimmy, is like a penny.”
“Wow!” remarked Jimmy, getting an idea. “You’re so generous… can I have one of your pennies?”
God replied, “Sure thing, Jimmy! Just a minute.”
Little Jimmy wasn’t ready for that response was he? “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” Isaiah cries on our behalf. We know you are present; our faith tells us that you are here, but we sometimes don’t understand Jesus’ delay in coming. On the other hand maybe God knows, we need a few more minutes to get ready. To get our inner lives prepared and our outer ones as well. God is not looking down on us from a distance, Jesus is with us til the end of the age and he is our Emmanuel – God come to dwell with us.
The story is told of John Henry Newman, who, in the 1800’s, was an Anglican minister in England. His religious pilgrimage ultimately took him to Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. He ultimately would become a cardinal in the Catholic Church and the most preeminent leader of that church in Europe. If you go into almost any Catholic church today you will find a Sunday school class called the Newman class as well as Newman campus ministries.
While serving as Cardinal, he received a message from an English priest from the tiny village of Brennan, a dirty little mill town north of Birmingham. It seems that an epidemic of cholera had decimated the village and the priest was asking for the help, for another priest to assist him in the giving of the sacrament, administering the Last Rites, and to do funerals; so many people were dying.
Newman read the letter and he spent the next hour in prayer. Finally a secretary came in and said: Cardinal Newman. We must give an immediate reply to Brennan. Your eminence, what shall we do? Newman answered: The people are suffering and dying. How can I send a priest to do this work? I must go myself.
I must go myself. At Advent God looked upon his dying people dying from sin and distraction, pride and preoccupation. How, under the circumstance could he send a substitute? God came himself—in the person of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” He who promises is faithful.
Jesus IS coming and Jesus IS coming back. We don’t just have to be ready for Jesus, we have to be ready to show our world who this Jesus is. This Word made flesh who dwells among us. We have to welcome an unbelieving world to this too good to be true idea of a savior who walks right beside us, one that we can put our faith and hope in. We have to welcome them with a great hospitality that really shows Jesus’ love.
Let me tell you a story of my Papa Mac. Cinda Baldwin was interviewing him for her book Great & Noble Jar: Traditional Stoneware of South Carolina and she had been at it all day. You see Edgefield is known as the birthplace of the alkaline-glazed stoneware and it’s accentuated in a slave potter named Dave. Papa Mac owned more of Dave’s pottery than anyone at that time. I remember walking through the kitchen where they originally made the Pottersville pottery as a child and it being a museum with roped off portions and everything. We were never, ever allowed to cross those ropes and my grandfather after a while wanted Ms. Baldwin to leave. In the South, we don’t say anything directly. We say, “Bless her heart,” when we actually mean something quite a bit different. So he invited her to dinner. You know when a Southerner invites you to supper, you’re supposed to get the hint and make the polite exit, but she, a Yankee, didn’t realize that it was not Southern hospitality, after the 6th time he offered, she accepted. Dad was a witness to this and he doesn’t remember what he fixed; he just remembers him grumbling the whole time and after she left, he was complaining about it. And Dad told him, “Well, Daddy, you asked her for supper!” He replied, “I never thought she would have accepted, I just wanted her to leave.” I will never forget that story. Oh, bless his heart! And I do really mean that.
In the 1950s, Charles Swindoll served a stint in the Marine Corps. He had the opportunity to tour the Pacific and to visit Japan.
Before the men on his ship were allowed to disembark in Japan, the company commander lined them up and gave them a sober lecture. He wanted to remind them that they were walking into a totally different culture, that their customs and habits may not be welcome in Japan. Their behavior would be closely scrutinized by the Japanese citizens. It would be imperative to maintain good behavior because, as the commander said, “They know nothing of your homeland except what they see in you.”
As Christians it is our responsibility to represent our true homeland, the kingdom of God, here on earth. We are to be like a walking and talking Jesus. We may not always get it right, and certainly not perfect, but Christians are not perfect, but forgiven. We have to put our hearts into it! Put our hearts into welcoming one another in Christian love – in Christ-like love.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette writes a hymn “Christ You Offer Us Your Welcome” that gets at the heart of this.
You have given us a mission — to invite our neighbors in —
and your call to love and listen is a place we can begin.
We need more than open houses; we need, first, to give our hearts.
By your Spirit, make us servants; that’s the way your welcome starts.
May we set a welcome table, may we find a common ground
where no one will feel they’re labeled, where acceptance can be found.
We don’t need to entertain there, or to do things that impress —
just to hear folks’ joy and pain there, and to love so all are blest.
To love so all are blest.
The world needs that. We hope beacons. We light beacons. We Jesus beacons. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” Oh, but God did. Jesus, our Emmanuel, came, lived and walked among us. Jesus shows where his heart is and his great love for us – through his dying on the cross. And he gives us the greatest hope of all, eternal life with him. Because I live, you will live also.
So we will tidy up and get ready for Christmas. We will put our hearts into it – sim lev! Company’s coming and we need to be ready to welcome Jesus and welcome guests into our midst! Hope came down at Christmas. Amen.