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Year A Advent 1

Isaiah 2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: :2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.  2:3 Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 5 Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

 

Romans 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

 

Matthew 24:36 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

 

Last Saturday evening Gordon Brown was surprised to discover that illegal donations of 663,000 had been given to the Labour party by David Abrahams though other people.  David Cameron has questioned Brown's honesty and competence.

Was Brown really surprised? Was Cameron surprised? Were we surprised?

I wondered what Brown might have changed if he had known about things earlier?

I wonder how surprised we would be if Jesus returned this afternoon. I wonder what we might have changed if we had known this.

All our readings today have a common theme. You could say it is "Rise and shine".

Rise, to be awake and alert, not to be distracted.

Shine, to be light in the world, doing God's will.

Rise, to be awake and alert, not to be distracted.

Paul, writing to the Romans, warns them not to be distracted by sexual immorality, drunkenness or conflict.

Jesus mentions how people were busy, eating, drinking, and marrying whilst the flood happened. He says that people will be busy with their jobs and some will be taken to be with God, others remain to face eternity without God.

Some of these things distract people today. We think of the increase in sexual activity and the sexually transmitted infections this produces. A new rapid test for chlamydia, the world's most common sexually transmitted infection, has proved successful in trials and could help rein in a worrying rise in the disease, British scientists said on Friday.

Drunkenness, binge drinking is a concern today, with young people showing signs of drink related diseases in their 20's & 30's.

Busyness. Who isn't busy today? Don't become distracted and forget about me, Jesus says.

This season of Advent means coming. We think of the first coming of Jesus at that first Christmas. We also, and especially today, remember that Jesus promised he would return. Not as a small, helpless baby, born in a stable, seen by a few people, soon to be a refugee. Next time Jesus will come in great power and glory.

 

Shine, to be light in the world, doing God's will.

We are to be ready for Jesus return by living for him.

Isaiah 2 5 Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Romans 13 12 So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Matthew 24 44 So you also must be ready

What are we called to do? How should we show we are ready?

Loving one another. Caring for the sick. Feeding the hungry. Helping the poor and lonely. Thinking about what we can give, not what we can get. This is the best way to celebrate Christmas.

As we think of the first coming and the second coming of Jesus let us draw close to him right now. Not let ourselves be distracted by things that are not of God.

Would we be surprised if Jesus returned this afternoon? Yes.

Are we living each day as if Jesus might come immediately?

 

Dear Jesus, we look forward to the day when you return. Help us to live in such a way that we will be ready when you come. Amen.

 

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Year A : Advent 1 Matthew 24:36-44 ( Romans 13:11-14 )

24:42 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.45 "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, `My master is staying away a long time,' 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

Three apprentice devils were asked by Satan for ideas to tempt and ruin people. The first said, 'Tell them there is no God.' Satan said, 'That won't fool many as it is obvious that there is a God.'

Scratching his head the second said, 'Tell them there is no hell.' 'You'll deceive no-one that way as they know that there is punishment for sin', retorted Satan.

The third suggested, ' I will tell them there is no hurry.'

'Brilliant,' said Satan, 'Go. You will ruin millions !'

Today we wait for Christ's return with great expectancy. We do not know the day nor the hour of His return, but we are confident that He is coming back. As we wait for Christ's return, we prepare ourselves each day to meet Him. But we are surrounded by many people who are unaware of the truth of Jesus' first coming, never mind his return.

We ought to...

Be Aware

The motivation for every Christian rests on the certain hope of his return.

Of the 260 chapters in the entire New Testament, there are 318 references to Christ's second coming. That averages one out of every 30 verses. Furthermore, 23 of the 27 New Testament books refer to this great event. Only four books do not refer directly to the Second Coming and three of these four books are single-chapter letters which were written to specific persons on another particular subject. There is only one, major prophecy in the Bible that has yet to be fulfilled, the return of Jesus.

The belief that Jesus will come again should give hope to every Christian. The 19th Century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, " To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante's hell is the inscription: `Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.' "

( Be Aware ) Be Ready;

The evangelist Tony Campolo said, 'I've no idea when Jesus is coming back. I'm on the welcoming committee, not the planning committee.'

Jesus tells his followers that they are to be watchful, to be on their guard. Why should this be ? Because, although his return is certain to happen and will be seen by everybody ( 25:30 ), it will be unexpected.

Soon after moving to Stoke-on-Trent we were burgled. We did not know that it was going to happen otherwise we would not have gone shopping that morning. We would have stayed behind and kept watch. We are not alone. One in seven people have experienced a break-in. Burglaries increase by a third in December and January.

Jesus return will be unexpected like a burglar. If we knew exactly when Jesus is going to return this would not be helpful. It could lead to complacency and for some to live an immoral life before, supposedly turning to Jesus at the last minute.

Salvador Sanchez was a boxing champion who died, aged 23 in a car crash. It was reported in his obituary that, a month before his death, he said, 'I'm only 23 and have all the time in the world.'

The recent bombings in London and Egypt and air crashes remind us that we could die anytime. We should be alert, ready to prepare ourselves for Jesus and to warn people to repent before it is too late. After all, none of us can assume that we will be alive tomorrow, so we should live every day as if it were our last.

( Be Aware; Be Ready; and ) Be A Slave;

This relates to verses 45 to 51.

God calls each of us to be a 'faithful and wise servant', verses 45. This means that we are to put Jesus first, obeying God's will, rather than being like the wicked servant and doing what we want, verse 48f.

Why should we obey God ?

Because we do not know when Jesus will return and, when he does, he will judge people. In the parable the wicked servant represents someone who would describe themselves as a Christian, maybe go to church, but live without it affecting their lives. Such people will go to hell, verse 51, so there is no place for complacency or resting on laurels.

Our service of God should arise from who he is and what he has done for us. He is the Almighty God and, therefore, should be served and obeyed. Just like the master in the parable who should have had respect and obedience because of his position.

He owned the slaves, 'servants' is not an accurate translation, probably buying them from a slave auction. He was free to do what he liked with them. They had the same status as a piece of property. We have been bought by God with Jesus' blood, shed to pay the price for our sins. We should, therefore, serve him because we belong to him, and out of gratitude for what he has done for us. .

As Christians we are called to invest our time, talents, energies and possessions in God. This investment will never disappoint, perish, fade, break down, or fail. It will be glorious and last forever. We should be aware, alert and serving.

C.H. Spurgeon said, 'The fact that Jesus is to come again is not a reason for star-gazing, but for working in the power of the Holy Ghost.'

 

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Year A : Advent 1 Matthew 24:36-44 ( Romans 13:11-14 )

A farmer had an old dog that he cherished. One day the dog disappeared, and several weeks passed without his return. In spite of this, the farmer continued to put out fresh food for the dog every day.

Finally, in curiosity, one of the farmer's neighbours asked why he continued to set out food for the dog when he obviously was not returning. "He will be back," replied the farmer. "Because he knows I am here waiting for him. And when he gets here I want him to know he is welcome back."

Today we wait for Christ's return with great expectancy. We do not know the day nor the hour of His return, but we are confident that He is coming back. As we wait for Christ's return, we prepare ourselves each day to meet Him. This is what today's New Testament readings are about. We will be looking at them using three B's :

Believe; Beware; and Behave.

Believe;

There are two aspects of belief that are important here. Belief in Jesus and belief in his words. The word belief implies a trust, and not just an intellectual understanding. For example, there are some people, including Denis Bergkamp the Arsenal footballer, who have an intellectual belief that aeroplanes fly, but who will never trust one enough to travel in it.

Some people would say that they believe in Jesus, but this does not affect the way that they live their life. Belief in him means relying solely upon his life, death and resurrection to put us right with God the Father. Belief in him means relying on God the Holy Spirit to give us the power, the gifts and the fruit we need to live for Jesus. Only those who have a radical trust in Jesus shown in thought, action and words will be able to spend eternity with God.

C. S. Lewis : "Once a man is united to God how could he not live for ever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?"

This passage is about judgment. It looks back to a time when God judged people by sending the flood. Noah and his family were warned, they were prepared and they were saved. The others were not warned, they were not prepared and they perished. This is not to say that they were punished unjustly, because Genesis 6:5 says that they were ' evil all the time'. God will judge people fairly based on their response to the revelation they have received. In Romans 1:18ff it says that we can know enough about the nature and power of God through creation, but that many people have rejected and ignored God which leads to the His wrath against them.

This is not politically correct and parts of the church are embarrassed about proclaiming a God of judgment. We see this in the set lectionary readings that we follow each Sunday, because they sometimes miss out verses that refer to judgment. This encourages the erroneous picture of God being like a white bearded, weak, doddering old man, who pats people on the head saying, 'There, there...'. This ignores the holiness and justice of God and the need to respond to him in penitence and faith. Jesus needed to go to the cross because God is just and the price for sin had to be paid for by somebody. For those who have laid their sin upon Jesus, he is that somebody. Others will have to bear God's righteous wrath for their own sin.

This Chapter tells us that Jesus will return one day and take his followers with him to be with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit forever. This is what Jesus was referring to when he paints the shocking picture of pairs of people working together until, suddenly one disappears to join his or her Lord, cf verse 31. The resurrection of the righteous will be the beginning of a new phase in every believer's relationship with Christ. Their resurrection bodies will be incorruptible, glorious, and spiritual (1 Cor 15:35ff.) and like Christ's glorious body (Phil 3:21).

I mentioned that this passage is about belief in Jesus' words, and especially his statements about his return. The belief of every Christian rests on the certain hope of his return.

Of the 260 chapters in the entire New Testament, there are 318 references to Christ's second coming. That averages one out of every 30 verses. Furthermore, 23 of the 27 New Testament books refer to this great event. Only four books do not refer directly to the Second Coming and three of these four books are single-chapter letters which were written to specific persons on another particular subject.

As we go through this Advent and Christmas time we will, once again, see how the birth of Jesus was foretold by prophets hundreds of years before his birth. There is only one, major prophecy in the Bible that has yet to be fulfilled, the return of Jesus.

The belief that Jesus will come again should give hope to every Christian. The 19th Century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, " To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante's hell is the inscription: `Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.' "

The belief that Jesus will come again should lead every Christian to my second B...

Beware;

The word beware has its origins in the word ware, from which we get wary and aware. My dictionary tells me beware means ' to be on one's guard; to take heed; to take care.'

In October 1971 the Roman Fort Museum in South Shields exhibited a Roman 'sestertius' coin minted between 135 and 138 A.D. However, a visitor to the museum, Fiona Gordon, aged 9, pointed out that it was a plastic token given away free by a soft drinks firm in exchange for bottle labels. When asked to prove this she pointed to the firm's trademark that was printed on the back. A spokesman for the museum said: 'The token was designed as a Roman replica. The trouble was that we construed the letter 'R' on the coin to mean 'Roma'. In fact, it stood for 'Robinsons' the soft drinks manufacturers. ( from 'The Book of Heroic Failures' ; Stephen Pile 1980 Futura Publications )

Jesus tells his followers that they are to be watchful, to be on their guard. Why should this be ? Because, although his return is certain to happen and will be seen by everybody ( 25:30 ), it will be unexpected. However, there will be some clues that will precede Jesus' return. Like a detective in a murder mystery Christians are to look for the clues. Earlier in this Chapter Jesus warned that the clues will be false Christs and political, natural and cosmic unrest. This does not mean that people are called to predict when Christ is coming, because Jesus said that not even he or the angels knew this, verse 36. You may remember that two weeks ago ( Luke 2:5-19 ) we saw how the Jehovah's Witnesses have consistently failed to succeed at this throughout their history.

We are called to be alert, ready for his return anytime.

Even though there will be great unrest before Jesus returns many people will continue with life regardless, unaware until it is too late. Some people do this in life. Bereaved people busy themselves so they will not have to face up to their emotions and their loss. Unemployed people, like the man in 'The Full Monty', pretend that they still have a job. People who are seriously ill will not face up to their condition for fear of rejection or appearing weak or vulnerable. There are many ways in which people refuse to face up to things that are obvious.

Most of us will know of the story of the 'Kings new clothes'. It wasn't until the boy pointed out what was obvious, that the King was naked, that people had the courage to face up to what they could see.

We are called to be like that boy. To be observant, knowing Jesus' words and looking out for the clues that will usher in his return. Many people will continue to live an apparently normal life, ignoring the signs.

Over seven years ago soon after moving here we were burgled. We did not know that it was going to happen otherwise we would not have gone to Hanley that morning. We would have stayed behind and kept watch. We are not alone. One in seven people have experienced a break-in. Burglaries increase by a third in December and January.

Jesus return will be unexpected like a burglar. If we knew exactly when Jesus is going to return this would not be helpful. It could lead to complacency and for some to live an immoral life before, supposedly turning to Jesus at the last minute.

We should be alert, ready to prepare ourselves for Jesus and to warn people to repent before it is too late. After all, none of us can assume that we will be alive tomorrow, so we should live every day as if it were our last.

John Wesley was asked at one time, "What would you do if you knew that tonight you would die?" He said, "I would do exactly what I have scheduled to do."

I wonder if we are so ready and disciplined that we could say that?

This leads onto our final B...

Behave;

Romans 13:11-14. 11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Until Jesus does return we are called to behave according to God's will. Of course few people who would call themselves Christian would be involved in orgies, sexual immorality and debauchery. But one or two might occasionally drink too much. Many more may have a quarrel with a fellow Christian that might even be motivated by jealousy. We are to be sober, sexually pure, and have a right relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Christian are to 'put on the armour of light', verse 12. This reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle and we need to consciously put on Jesus Christ, verse 14, and follow God's ways, and not our selfish desires. Why should we do this ?

Because to follow our old, sinful nature is a denial of what we should be. We are to live a new life in the power of the Spirit, freed from the power of sin. We are citizens of heaven. We have not moved there completely, but we can still live in a way that shows this. Paul refers to this in his letter to the Colossian Christians ( 3: 1 ) Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

In 1631 the King's printers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas printed a version of the Bible. It contained a number of errors, the most famous being the omission of the word 'not' from the seventh commandment, thereby encouraging its readers with divine authority to commit adultery. Fearing the literal way in which this Bible might be interpreted King Charles 1 recalled all 1,000 copies and fined the printers 3,000.

( also from 'The Book of Heroic Failures' ; Stephen Pile 1980 Futura Publications )

There is a popular theory that God is a spoil sport and wants to stop us having fun.

This is wrong. We should follow God's ways because they are best for us and for other people. We should also follow them because it pleases God and shows that we are his people. This is the litmus paper of our faith. Not just what we say, but what we say AND do. Faith without works is dead, wrote James.

We should also obey God because it brings him glory. It is only through God's grace that we come to trust in Jesus and we keep on living for Jesus. Living the Christian life is not about living life in one's own strength according to a set of moral principals. It is about a realization that we cannot be good enough for God and turning to him for forgiveness and the strength to live a new life. Therefore, people should be able to see the transformation in Christians and praise God who has brought this about. Obedience glorifies God, disobedience exposes his name to ridicule.

A burglar was being chased by police officers alongside a river. In his haste he tripped, hit his head, fell unconscious into the water and was drowning. One of the police dived in, pulled him out and gave him the kiss of life, saving the man's life. As well as being embarrassed the man was grateful, vowing that his life now belonged to the policeman, and he would do whatever he wanted. The policeman said, 'Go, live an honest life and commit no more crime.'

We should also obey God because we are so grateful for what he has done for us. He has saved us, he has purchased us with the blood of his only son. He has freed us from the condemnation that sin brings and he has freed us from the enslavement that sin brings. Our lives no longer belong to us but to God, and we should live in the light of this. To summarize, we are to trust in Jesus and trust in his words. We are to beware, being ready for his return. We are to behave in accordance with his will. To show that we are truly citizens of heaven and are entitled to go there.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. For weeks the adverts on television have been plugging gifts aimed for the Christmas market. Shops have been full of Christmas trees and decorations to get customers to buy their goods. People have been taking care in buying the right presents, cooking cakes, buying food and drink. Then, after a day of presents and over indulgence, it will all be over. Some people willl wonder if it was really worth it when they receive their credit card bills in January.

As Christians we are called to invest our time, talents, energies and possessions in God. This investment will never disappoint, perish, fade, break down, or run out of batteries. It will be glorious and last forever. We should be alert and prepared.

Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, a preacher many years ago, said, "To me the second coming is the perpetual light on the path which makes the present bearable. I never lay my head on my pillow without thinking that maybe before morning breaks, the final morning may have dawned! I never begin my work without thinking that perhaps He may interrupt my work and begin His own. This is now His word to all believing souls, till He comes." ( this, and a number of the other illustrations from the free, brilliant e-sword Bible sofware at www.e-sword.net )