“How Do We Get Ready?”
A sermon from Ginnie Glassman
Collect of the Day: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving shared with family and friends … whether in person, by phone or by zoom. We have so many things to be thankful for: the world around us that we often take for granted, the beauty of the leaves turning colors, the family and friends who love and support us, the joy and freedom to gather and celebrate. It is a great time to relax, socialize and feast together.
I have been thinking of my parents this weekend with mixed feelings. It was my family’s first Thanksgiving without them. I was missing them and wishing they could be with us … but then it occurred to me: if not here, what better place could they be than in heaven with God and with each other? My dad no longer needs a wheelchair and can fly with the angels. My mom no longer has dementia but has a clear mind and can sing in the angel choir. And I am sure their care is out of this world! I do look forward to seeing my parents again when I die, although I am in no rush! There is a lot I hope to do here on earth first.
In our Epistle reading for today, Paul writes to the Thessalonians about waiting to be with them again. “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face…” Later in the letter, Paul addresses their concerns about Jesus’ statement that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Jesus was referring to his coming back to gather those who believe in him and bring them to heaven with him. The Thessalonians are concerned because people are dying and Jesus has not returned. Paul encourages them to be ready because “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” He wants them to be patient in waiting, to continue to “encourage one another and build up each other”, and to be attentive to how they are living their lives.
How will we know when Jesus is about to return? In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes to his disciples the dire signs that his coming will bring … whole countries in despair, roaring seas and raging tides, people fainting from fear, the planets driven from their courses. He warns his disciples to “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with … the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly.” Jesus has told us only the Father knows the day and time. We need to “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Now, wait a minute! Why are we reading about the Second Coming when we will be celebrating Jesus’ first coming in four weeks? Why can’t we focus on the story of Jesus’ birth and celebrate that? That story is more joyful and easier to understand. Well, like a good book, it is only the beginning of the story. Our Gospel today is giving us a chance to take a peek at how the story will end … and our part in it.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent which means “Coming.” The church has come to the end of the liturgical year. We begin again to tell the story of Jesus’ life on earth. We anticipate again the coming of the Christ Child to begin the telling once more. These four weeks of Advent are an important time of waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus into our world. Advent allows us time to prepare spiritually for Christmas.
For many years, Advent was a time of prayer, fasting and reflection, sometimes referred to as Little Lent. That meaning often gets lost with the push to prepare for Christmas as a consumer holiday. We need to honor the purpose of this time. Jesus came as a child to experience life with us, to teach us the ways of his Father, to show us the path to eternal life and to suffer for our salvation. He is telling us that he will come again for us but we need to be ready. His Second Coming will be very different from the first and we are responsible for our preparation for it.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to notice the fig tree. He says that “when its leaves appear, you know that summer is near.” They recognize the signs of change in nature. We too recognize the change of seasons by the signs in nature. Even though we had some wonderfully warm weather in November, we know that the end of our summer and fall seasons has come. We are spending less time outdoors, temperatures are dropping, trees are losing their leaves, birds are flying south (and maybe some of our neighbors), animals are hibernating, baked food and stew recipes abound. And thanks to daylight savings time we have more darkness in the evenings. We know that winter is coming. Can we read the signs as easily for the end times? Do we know what to look for? How can we be alert and watchful?
In these next four weeks, how can we escape the consumerism and create a time of faith and reflection, hope and waiting? How can we be ready when we “see these things happening…and know that the Kingdom of God is about to come.” Jesus is telling us the signs to watch for not to frighten us but so that we can be prepared and anticipate his coming.
When I was in college, my roommate and I were on our school’s fencing team. One term we learned quickly was “en garde” meaning to be on your guard. It wasn’t a fight directive but rather a call to attention, to be ready. How did we get ready? We had to learn how to move in a prescribed way, how to hold our epees (swords), how to build up our leg muscles to be able to move back and forth. We began the lessons enthusiastically. The morning after our first session, however, our legs could barely hold us up. On our way to class, we almost fell down the stairs in our dorm. Over time, it got easier as we practiced and strengthened. Our legs got stronger. Our arms were able to handle the equipment. We moved more smoothly. We began to parry/spar with others and see the outcome of our efforts.
Jesus is telling us to be “en garde”. How can we prepare ourselves? The most important thing is to build our spiritual muscles by getting to know Jesus through reading Scripture, prayer, meditation, and to model our lives on his. We need to live our lives as if he were coming tomorrow. If he did, what would he find us doing? Would we even recognize him? Would we be embarrassed by what he finds us doing?
There are many opportunities to prepare ourselves and get to know Jesus and his ways better.
– We can be reading and pondering the Scripture passages for the day that are listed in Forward Day by Day. There is also a reflection included. Maybe keep an Advent journal and try writing your own reflections too?
– We can spend time in prayer, alone or with a group. Our prayer group will meet at noon tomorrow and on December 13. Praying for others and hearing of answered prayer encourages our faith. Praying for our needs strengthens our reliance on God.
– We can spend time in meditation, alone or with a group. Peter will lead us in meditation at noon on December 6 and 20. The quiet reflection refreshes our bodies and souls at a time of year when it is definitely needed. Maybe God has something he wants to tell us and we can only hear it in the quiet moments.
– We can take time out for a short retreat. Rev. Kate Heichler will be leading one on December 11 from 9 am to noon on Zoom. I recommend spending time with her. She is a thoughtful and insightful leader and our time with her will be well spent. Details will be in our newsletter or you can ask me for more information.
– There are many outreach opportunities identified by Betsy and Susan in our newsletter. God is love and has asked us to love others. This is not always a joyful time for people and many are in need of physical or emotional support. Show someone a bit of God’s love.
– I would suggest looking for one kind or thoughtful thing you can do each day. Maybe two if the opportunity arises! It can be as simple as putting a dollar in the Salvation Army pots, calling someone who is alone, letting someone ahead of you in traffic or in line at a store. If you have more energy, clean out a closet and donate the coats or clothing you no longer use, get groceries to donate to a food drive, or send a check or volunteer with a charity that needs your support. Draw a red star on your calendar for each one, then on Christmas morning, look at it and see how your stars have brightened our world.
One preacher asks “What does it mean to believe in Advent?” His answer is “To believe in Advent is to believe in waiting. And may our waiting be full of dreams for a better world, full of God’s justice and love made present to all.”
Let us pray once more on the words from today’s psalm: “Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.” (Psalm 25: 3-4)
Christ has died
Christ is risen
CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; * let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; * let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O LORD, * and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, * for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, * for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; * remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.
7 Gracious and upright is the LORD; * therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right * and teaches his way to the lowly.
9 All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness * to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And 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 and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”Be on guard 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. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”