December 2, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart
On Guard! Ready for His Return
In almost all times, since Jesus spoke these words, the generations of Christians have had an expectation of His soon returning. We have combed the Word for the signs of His coming and try to get a “prophetic edge”, so as to know what we cannot know: The day and the hour!
Jesus was crystal clear on these things – the time of His returning was set by the Father and not subject to review! “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth distress among nations…” – “the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
So often in our desire to know as God knows, we get ahead of Him and say or do things that are without warrant in Holy Scripture, especially when it comes to the consideration of the end of day and Jesus soon return.
Do I believe we are in the days Jesus spoke about? Days of signs – days of distress among nations – confusing days. I do. As Paul said it one generation after Jesus, “We are closer now than ever before!” Every generation can say that. And every generation has had signs and distress to which they can point.
Are our days unique? Maybe. Could be.
Again we are left with the critical uncertainty that is the essential character of the Kingdom of God - Here now and not yet!
Jesus last day on earth, He was faced with the question from the disciples: “Will you now restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) His answer then was and it remains:
“It isn’t for you to know the times and the seasons that the Father has set by His own authority… RATHER (BUT YOU) You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, and all Judea and in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
So what does readiness for the return of Jesus look like?
The last paragraph of our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus gives us a few hints:
Be On Guard!
“On guard!” – The cry of the swordsman just entering into battle.
Be in a state of readiness. Have your sword in hand – at the ready! All of this isn’t for the battle itself though.
SO THAT… kind of like ‘Therefore’ – these are words we pay attention to in Holy Writ:
“So that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.
Over and over Jesus tells His disciples to “be ready.” The parables He told in this same vein – the 10 virgins, five who were prepared with oil and five who were not; The wedding banquet, and in our reading today, the parable of the fig tree. In Matt 24-25, Mark 13,and in Luke 12, 17 and in 21 (our reading), Jesus spends time making clear to the disciples that a time is appointed and that it will have definite signs – but the point of it all is that we BE READY.
What does READY look like?
Are we ready physically and mentally? That was Jesus’ warning – “that your hearts are not weighed down.” The writer to Hebrews urges us to “lay aside every weight and run the race with perseverance, looking unto Jesus, that author and the finisher of our faith.”
Several times this week, the subject of discipline, and shaking, that are written in that 12th chapter of Hebrews came up in conversations. Friends, yes, I believe that we are nearer the end than ever before – that almost goes without saying! It’s interesting to me that the writer to Hebrews refers to these days, all of these days since Jesus coming, as “in these last days (1:2).”
Jesus uses three words in our reading to warn us:
Dissipation: Let me use a modern word: hangover!
It’s what’s left over after the party!
The diminishment of faculties that accompanies drinking to excess.
Drunkenness: Jesus repeats himself.
Let yourself not be taken up with either the cause or the effect!
The worries of life;
the cares of this world; anxiety about things pertaining to this earthly life;
Jesus chooses a word for life here that indicates the physical affairs of our daily existence – Biotikos
I’m reminded of his parable of the sower or of the soils: one of the soils was so thorn-laden, so weed-ridden that it could not support the life of the Word of God. This is what Jesus is warning us against. Over and over and over throughout His teaching we come to the conclusion:
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
BE ON GUARD. Being a disciple of Jesus means having the priorities in the right order when it comes to our earthly life and our spiritual life.
The season of Advent is a time of penitence in that we are doing the work of that re-ordering of our priorities – taking note of the places where the cares of this world have crept in and become our main focus.
Secondly, Jesus said, “Be Alert at all times, praying…”
Jesus wants us in a state of alert readiness. Ready for His return in every aspect of our lives – our spiritual lives, our physical lives, our financial lives, our moral lives. In every way, ready and living with the right priorities in the right places.
Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonian community is most fitting this morning as we close:
“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another
and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen
your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God andFather at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Increasing in love for Jesus and one another.
Friends, we are going to need each other in the days to come – “as we see the day approaching, we must be encouraging one another, not drawing apart but drawing together.” Paul says that the purpose of his hoped for visit is to “see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.”
The point of our togetherness isn’t just good food or great fellowship, it is to encourage one another, to worship together and to restore in each other what is lacking in our faith. God speaks to His people, through His people!!
And finally, all of this is set in the golden setting of prayer together!
Friends, our worship here is a setting of prayer. Our days of prayer are to be done together. Some are afraid to pray with another person – for fear of not sounding spiritual enough, or not knowing what or how to say something. How we sound and what we say are not the right focus!! When we come together to pray, we are to focus on God. Focus on or relationship with Him and on hearing His voice, as much or more that Him hearing our voice!!
The readying power of prayer is something that is almost entirely neglected in our culture. Sure we pray, but its sometimes a perfunctory function of our spiritual lives. Something we have to do, to get to an end – to feel better about our day or to check off the box of prayer.
What we are talking about is relationship – prayer is the stuff of relationship with God!
Jesus spent hours and hours and hours in prayer, as the Son of God! He got his instructions for the day – his direction in ministry – his walking orders, from the Father and he said, “I do nothing, unless I see my Father doing it.” Likewise He told us, “Apart from Me, you can do … Nothing.” Prayer is the way into the heart of the Father and the mind of Christ, that we seek so desperately. Not prayer that has many words and lists, not praying for, but prayer that is being with.
When the disciples stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem after Pentecost, during the great time of miracles and amazing expansion of the church, it was said that “They (the leaders of the Jews) took note that these men had been with Jesus!”
May that be said of us, my friends! Let us so prepare our hearts and minds by spending time wisely in these last days, spending time in His Word and being in prayer together, soaking in His presence, that those who meet us will say, ‘These people have been with Jesus!”
That is my prayer for you in these Advent days, that you will feel and be drawn into the very presence of Jesus, for it there and only there that we find the strength needed for these days and the place to stand before Him on that Day.
A Prayer of Self-dedication (BCP, 832)
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to You; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to Your glory and the welfare of Your people, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.