Pastor Peter Walther / Advent 1 / November 29, 2015
Luke 21:25-36 / A time to watch and pray
Although we are just about to enter December, we have come into yet another year of God’s grace. We have officially entered a new year in the Church calendar as we celebrate the season of Advent, which is right before Christmas. Do you know the background of Advent?
The season of Advent and the reason why we include this in the church year actually came from the time in the church year, usually right at the beginning of the colder months when churches’ heaters would start breaking down. This happened every year. So, the church repairman would have to go down to the furnace and check it out. When problems don’t present themselves immediately, the repairman would do what any good repairman would do, he would start banging on the furnace, tapping the knobs and levers, and taking a hammer to the duct work. Maybe there was some animal in the vents. He would hit that vent so hard to shake anything loose that he would dent it and it became all uneven. It was the uneven vent. In math, something that isn’t even, is…odd. It was the odd vent. And so this time every year became known as the odd vent time. I’m just kidding. That isn’t the history of Advent.
Advent is actually Latin for “coming.” It does not mean an uneven vent! The history of Advent is rather interesting because it wasn’t necessarily an official holiday or season in the church year. In fact, the development of a season that would prepare the people for Christmas is more western European in it’s origins and celebration. The first accounts of Advent are from Spain and Gaul, in other words, modern day France. In fifth century Gaul, certain days were set aside for fasting in preparation for Christmas as early as November 11th. Can you imagine trying to fast though Thanksgiving? The people would remain solemn and use this as a time for repentance.
In Rome, there is also evidence of a pre-Christmas fast but of shorter duration. The Roman days before Christmas had a more festive atmosphere in anticipation of Christmas. Right around 600 AD, the church made Advent an official season in the church year, setting it as the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Later in Europe, the custom of having an Advent wreath in churches and homes became popular. On each of the four Sundays of Advent, a new candle was lit, dispelling the darkness as the church moves forward to welcoming Christ who is the true light of the world. Advent has come to have a threefold meaning: 1, the Advent of our Lord taking on flesh at Christmas, 2, the Advent of the Lord in his Word, and 3, the Advent of our Lord in glory at the end of time.
We just came out of the church season called End times. We would be ignorant if we said we weren’t living in the end times of this world. We live in a sad state of affairs with the wars and atrocities that are happening and the different religions who fight but don’t know the truth of the gospel. We look at the Middle East and it seems like all of that is happening at one time in a concentrated location. The other day, I was trying to catch up on the war in Syria. It is a political and religious mess over there. But I came across this interesting article that was explaining how other religions and even other Muslims are criticizing ISIS. As this article was doing its best to explain this mystery, it said this, “Religions are big and diverse, and people get out of them what they bring into them.”
How unfortunate that this writer and most religions fail to grasp the real problem. They seem to think that we have something to bring to the table! Do you not see it in your lives as I have seen it in mine? The sin that grows and festers in our lives is poisonous and deadly. The way I have cheated my friends, my family, the system, and my God is nothing but ugly. How can God love me after I have forgotten about him so often in my daily life? How can God show me any grace when I have let the sin I am so fond of run my life? Why wouldn’t God turn me away on that last day?
If I fear God and his judgment how much more those who don’t believe in God and in his saving work? I can't imagine the fear which will grip the hearts of people, especially of those who have denied a God who made all things and who have laughed at prophecies concerning the end of the world. Our God is a God of promise and he has promised to destroy this earth. God fulfills his threats. Therefore we know that he will also fulfill his promises, for God is holy and he is love.
To a believer in Christ, the Advent season brings hope. Even the thought of a final judgment means final deliverance to those who are found in Christ. No longer will I be left here on this earth as a disappointment to my God, as I constantly fail in this difficult life. Rather, we Christians can look at Judgment Day as the second greatest day of our lives, second to the day we actually step into heaven. Every sign which points to the end of the world and which fills the hearts of unbelievers with terror should bring hope and joy to the hearts of believers. We lift up our heads in expectation because we know that our redemption is drawing near.
These signs are all around us. They have been for thousands of years. Even the disciples could see these same signs happening around them. So the disciples asked Jesus for more of the details. How will we know when the exact time is for the end of the world? How will it all go down? How can everyone in the whole world see Jesus at the same time if the world is round? The disciples were asking for all these little details so that they would know when to start preparing.
Jesus, knowing us better than we know ourselves gave us more than just information. Jesus knows that often a person’s inner drives, their emotions, or even perhaps their friends or associates, may bring them to a fall or to dismiss Christianity in general. Yet, even believers in Christ, we know, still have their sinful nature with them. They too are often tempted by the cares and the pleasures of this world to forget God’s eternal purpose for them. When we give in to the desires of our sinful flesh, we are “weighed down.” We may worry too much about the things of this life rather than set our hope on the life which is coming. If we let these things happen, we will be like birds caught in a trap. The last day will come and we shall not be prepared for it. We need Christ’s word of admonition, that is why Jesus encourages us to always watch and pray. However, we aren’t scared or timid as we watch and pray. But we are so excited to know that we are so close to that gift God has promised. How powerful it is to simply pray to God for that strength.
How long must we wait? The thought of Christ's second coming seems far away, doesn’t it? We say that Judgment Day could come any time, but we carry on in our lives as if it won’t. If it hasn’t happened for a period of two thousand years, it probably won’t happen for a while. While this could and may be true, his coming and judgment is really not so far away from each individual person. Our own time of judgment takes place when we die. And not to sound like Edgar Allen Poe, but death really is all around us. That’s why Jesus speaks to us today.
As a loving Shepherd, Jesus speaks to his disciples and gives some of these details that we heard today to calm their minds. But even more importantly, he gave them something for the heart. He says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Wow isn’t that true! With every war that could have destroyed books, with every anti Christian governmental ruler who burned Bibles, with every natural disaster that tears cities apart, God’s word has never left us. You can still find bibles anywhere.
But it’s more than just the Bible. Yes, the Bible has stood the test of time being copied more than any other book out there. God’s Word includes everything about him, like his promises to his people. God’s Word reminds us that no matter how badly we have screwed up, no matter how badly I failed to prepare for that Last Day, we can always approach God in humility and repentance and he will forgive us. His word includes Himself as he is in every word that is read and heard. The Holy Spirit works in your hearts as you grow to trust in him more and more simply with His Word.
A person asked me for a poll how much I check my phone in a given day. I sadly said maybe a hundred. I check to see if I've had any messages. I check weather. I check all these things. The thing I check most, though, is the time. I think it’s kind of funny that we’ve sorta digressed to pocket watches again like were popular years ago. When I need the time I take my phone out of my pocket, even though I might have a watch on my wrist! Now this is a play on words, but I give you this challenge this week: when you see your phone, your “pocket watch,” pray! Think Pocket watch and pray. Pray anything that comes to your mind. Pray for the shut-ins we have. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ who aren’t watching for the coming Savior. Pray for those who are fixed on this life rather than the life to come. Pray that we stay out of temptation. Pray that we stand up for God’s truth, even if we look foolish. Pray that God’s will be done and that his kingdom come soon. When we think of Advent, that is what we are preparing for. When we think of Advent, we remember to watch and pray. Amen.