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mark 13_24-37 Advent 1

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TITLE:  Are You Ready?                               SCRIPTURE:    Mark 13:24-37

SERMON:    

Last year someone found a suspicious device in a Philadelphia train station.  Only two months earlier, terrorist bombs had killed hundreds in Madrid train stations, so railroads were on the alert.  When someone spotted the device in Philly, police and FBI agents descended on the train station.  The device appeared to be a transmitter, but they couldn't figure out its purpose.  Finally a train mechanic confessed.  The device was a motion detector.  He had configured it to warn him when anyone entered his area so that he could nap without being discovered.

Get ready!  Get ready for a visit by the boss!  That is the message of Advent.  The word advent comes from the Latin, adventus, which means "coming."  In the four Sundays of Advent, we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas -- and for the coming of Christ at the end of time.

It is easy to get enthused for the coming of Christ at Christmas, because there are so many reminders -- Christmas music -- Christmas decorations -- Christmas wish lists. 

Of course, it isn't really easy to get ready for Christmas.  How do you find the right presents?  How do you find time to trim the tree -- to decorate the house -- to cook a big Christmas dinner?  It makes me tired just to think about it.

It is easy to get so caught up in the busyness of the season that we find that we have no time left for Jesus.  Millions of people celebrate Christmas without Christ.  We have to be careful lest we find ourselves among them. 

But, if getting ready for the coming of Christ at Christmas is difficult, it is even harder to get ready for the coming of Christ at the end of time.  Christmas is a happy time, and we enjoy preparing for it.  But how many of us are looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ?  Not many.

I remember being surprised by a friend who said that he was looking forward to the Second Coming.  That isn't what I usually hear.  I hear people warning others to get ready lest they find themselves in trouble -- eternal trouble -- at the end.  I hear people wondering -- worrying -- whether they are ready for Christ's coming.  But mostly I hear the sounds of silence -- people trying not to think about the subject at all.

But my friend said that he hoped that Jesus would come that very day.  He talked about Jesus' coming as a time of celebration.  That surprised me -- and it made me stop to ask why my friend was different.  Why did he look forward to Jesus' coming? 

In part, it was because my friend was ready.  He was a Christian.  He believed that Jesus had come to save him. He tried to live as a Christian -- sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing -- but always believing.  So he was ready.

That's what Jesus calls us to be -- ready.  He says, "Keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come" (v. 33). 

But I think that there was another reason, too, why my friend was looking forward to the day when Jesus would come again.  My friend believed that Jesus' coming would usher in a wonderful new world.

That made me think about the kind of world that we will enjoy when Christ comes again.  It will be so different from the world in which we now live.  It will be a world without crime.  There will be no need for locks on the doors.  We won't need police to protect us from criminals -- or armies to protect us from terrorists.  It will be a world where people love and share -- where nobody will starve -- where nobody will be lonely.  We will bask in the glow of God's presence.

In the book of Revelation, John saw a vision of that world.  He pictured heaven as a great city with streets paved with gold -- walls made of precious jewels -- gates carved from huge pearls. I think that John saw something so beyond his experience that he just did his best to describe it.  He used the beautiful things that we know -- gold and jewels and pearls -- to try to describe something so beautiful that we have no way even to imagine it. 
So when my friend said that he was looking forward to Jesus' coming, I think that he was looking forward to life in that great and wonderful kingdom.  I think that he was looking forward to experiencing things wonderfully beyond our imagination.

I visited Mount Vernon -- George Washington's home -- some time ago.  I wondered what he would think if he could see it now -- if he could ride through his old plantation.  Where there used to be endless fields, there are now expensive homes -- fine automobiles -- computers -- refrigerators -- air conditioning. 

George Washington had dental problems -- had to use wooden teeth as dentures.  I wonder what he would think if he could have a modern set of dentures.  Wouldn't he think that was wonderful!

Wouldn't George Washington be surprised to learn that there is a state of Washington in the great Pacific Northwest -- and that there is a little town of George in Washington state.  People actually live in George, Washington!  Wouldn't he be surprised to learn that you can go to Google and search on the words "George Washington" and locate a street map of the little town of George, Washington!  I think that he would be amused.

George Washington died of an infection at age 67.  His doctors tried all sorts of primitive cures, but none of them worked.  Today doctors would give him a few pills and the fever would go away.  Wouldn't he think that was wonderful!  I am sure that he would!

There is a great difference between the world in which George Washington lived and the world in which we live.  Not all of the differences are wonderful, but many are.  I am sure that Washington would be astonished at the wonderful things that we take for granted.

But if there is an astonishing difference between George Washington's world and the world in which we live today, there will be an even more astonishing difference between our world and the world that Christ will usher in when he comes again.  That is why my friend was looking forward to Jesus coming again.

But Jesus warns us that we need to be ready.  We need to live in faith.  We need to have Christ at the center of our lives.  We need to serve him day by day.  We need to obey his commandments to love God and neighbor.  We need to be ready.

I read a nice story about John Grisham.  Grisham is a lawyer and writes novels couched in a legal context.  They are great fun to read.  You may have read one of his books.

But what I read about Grisham surprised me.  It said that he takes his faith seriously -- and that he tries to focus on the things that really count. 

Grisham attributes that attitude to something that happened while he was still a law-school student.  A friend -- a young man -- called and invited Grisham to lunch.  At lunch, he told Grisham that he had cancer.  He didn't have long to live.

Grisham was stunned.  He asked, "What do you do when you realize that you are about to die?"

His friend replied:

         "It's real simple. 
         You get things right with God,
         and you spend as much time with those you love as you can. 
         Then you settle up with everybody else."

And then he added:

         "You know, really,
         you ought to live every day
         like you have only a few more days to live."

Grisham never forgot his friend's words.

         "You know, really,
         you ought to live every day
         like you have only a few more days to live."

Good advice!  If you live every day like that, you will get the best out of each day.  If you live another fifty years, each year will be better because you lived each day well.  And if a bus runs over you on the way home, you will be ready.

Jesus says, "Keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come."


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