Westminster by the Sea (PCUSA)
Radford Rader, D.Min.
December 1, 2019
Our 5-year-old granddaughter had a sleep over with us on Wednesday night. She was really excited as she anticipated the arrival of her elf on the shelf. For those who haven’t had a little one around the last decade, the elf of the shelf appears at the beginning of advent somewhere in the house. It observes and reports back to Santa every evening and the next morning is in a totally different location. The next morning, Thanksgiving Day, Hannah went looking for the elf on the shelf in our house. I explained that we didn’t have one because we didn’t have any children at home now. She wanted to know if it had come to her house and I said, “I don’t know”. I guess you’ll find out when you get home. If it didn’t come today, I am sure it will tomorrow.” First thing on Friday, she facetimed me to say the elf had indeed appeared and to show me where it was. If this year is like last year, every morning she will jump up and eagerly look for where the elf might be. It is such excitement, anticipation, and looking for Jesus that is to be in us during the advent days. It should be that way all our days. We are to be people watching so that we can see Jesus wherever he is revealed.
There was a man who understood watching. His name was Simeon. According to Luke he was righteous and devout, looking for the coming of the promised Messiah. Everyday he would journey to the temple, anticipating and hoping that this would be the day that the Messiah would appear. The scriptures said that the Lord would come to his temple unexpectedly. Simeon spent each day, watching people, scanning faces, hoping this would be the day. Every day he went home disappointed but still he kept up his watch even as he grew old. Then it happened, not as he or anyone expected. Mary and Joseph brought their newborn son Jesus to be dedicated. And Simeon knew the Christ had come and the God’s promise was fulfilled. He is the model for all who wait for the Lord.
In advent we look back, remembering Israel’s long wait for the Messiah. Many were longing for his coming; but many had given up the watch and devoted themselves to daily life, like the people of Noah’s day, who were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the flood came. We remember Jesus’ unexpected birth and those who had eyes open and hearts ready to receive him. Some were awake and looking just like Simeon. There were shepherds in their fields and magi scanning the heavens for a sign. There were common folk who heard him speak and recognized the new teaching and authority in him. There were disciples who, though slow to come to complete faith, met Jesus, left all behind and followed him. Not all were still watching; not all were ready; not all welcomed him. Blessed were those who had ears to hear and eyes to see and were ready to receive and believe.
In advent, we look forward. Jesus has promised to come again, to claim his kingdom and gather up all believers to enjoy forever the glory of God’s presence. The world may come to an end but at that end stands the one who was and is and is to come. We just don’t know when, even Jesus couldn’t reveal the day or the hour. But he told us to “Watch therefore for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” In verses 12 and 13 of this chapter in Matthew, Jesus warns that “the love of many will grow cold; but, the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Those who are wise refuse to lose hope or fall asleep spiritually. There is an old story about three apprentice devils who are taking their final exam before Satan. They are to declare their deceitful message that will destroy people. The first says, “I will tell them there is no heaven, and the second said “I will tell them there is no hell.” Both were rebuked. The third said, “I will tell them they have plenty of time.” Satan congratulated him and sent him on his way, knowing he would destroy many.
Those who celebrate advent are always awake and anticipating the coming of the Lord. Advent is not a season that ends at the birthday of Jesus. It is all the days until he comes again. Faithful disciples do not worry about when, rather they live in each day expectantly. Their eyes are opened. They are always looking. They are ready to see and believe. If we will live this way, we will find evidence of the Spirit and the work of Christ all around us. We will be continually be reminded that the Lord is near We will be comforted because the Spirit will show us that we are not abandoned until the day of his coming. We will see God’s kingdom continually encroaching into our world and lives. Last Sunday I met a man, who was in town for his daughter’s wedding; but he felt he had to get up and come to this church for worship on Sunday morning. He told me his story, of divorce and lost hope, of failed faith and how this church “saved him.” In that moment, I was rewarded with a glimpse of The Spirit’s work and his kingdom growing.
Every time someone is healed, our faith should be encouraged and our hope soar. When people run to help a person escape a burning car—when ordinary people risk their lives to stop a terrorist from killing others—when a teacher welcomes one of her special needs students into her family after his mother dies—when a teacher saves the day by hugging a confused and hurting student who has threatened to shoot his classmates–when people do kindness and show mercy, if we have eyes to see and hearts ready to believe we know that the Lord is near and the kingdom of Christ is present among us. We are then able to wait patiently and keep watching.
There is one other component of watching for the Lord. It is busy hands. We are not to stand after the Lord’s ascension, gazing forever into the heavens, waiting for his return. Rather we are commissioned to go into all nations making disciples, teaching what Jesus has taught us, and continuing his ministry. We are not to be busy calculating the when of his coming but busy in doing all that the Lord has commanded us to do in his absence. Jesus follows his commandment to be watchful with three parables.
A master goes on a journey and leaves one servant in charge of the others. If the master returns unexpectedly and finds the servant doing what he charged him to do, he rewards him.
He tells of ten maiden, five of them were wise and carried extra oil for their lamps as they waited to welcome the bridegroom home. When he came late only these five who were ready were invited to enter with him.
There were three servants each given part of the master’s money. They were to care for it while he was gone. When he returned unexpectedly, he asked for an accounting. Blessed were those who did well and the one who had no faith was banished. When the Lord comes, how will he find us? If he came today, would he say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master!” Oh, I pray that that is true for all of us!