Good morning and welcome to the Advent. Advent is an ancient Christian tradition in which we set aside the 4 weeks prior to Christmas to prepare for Jesus’ coming. Advent involves decorating in anticipation of his birth - getting the nursery ready so to speak.
We read again the ancient prophesies meticulously fulfilled by God in the birth of Jesus. Prophesies that make it impossible to mistake the identity of this baby born in Bethlehem as anyone other than God Incarnate!
On Sunday morning and Wednesday evenings, we will see how God prepared Mary and Joseph for this baby who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Today, we begin the Advent season by looking at Jesus promise to return, because this, too, is Advent. Are you ready? The NT refers to Jesus’ return more than 40 times. Jesus himself told us to be ready for his return more than 20 times.
I can’t wait for Jesus to come back – but I haven’t always felt that way. There was a time when I thought his return might get in the way of something I wanted to do, or I was ashamed of what I’d been doing. I’ve since learned that the real reason I wasn’t ready for Jesus’ return was that I didn’t really know who he is.
So our first question is this: If Jesus came back today, would that be good news or bad news for you? Let me share with you some reasons I can’t wait for his return. Are you with me here? The first one may surprise you. “We’re going to fly! We won’t need an airplane and we won’t get airsick, and we won’t be afraid of heights! It will be sheer exhilaration!”
Here’s what the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thess 4:16-18 “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
These words took on a new meaning for me when my father-in-law Martin Larsen died. Let me tell you about him. Martin’s parents homesteaded in the woods of Northern Minnesota. They tried to carve a farm out of the wilderness on land that wasn’t created for farming. It was impossibly hard. And then on top of it all, when Martin was 10 years old, his father died.
To survive, 10 year old Martin went to work at a local dairy – board and room and little extra to send home to his mom and brother to buy groceries. Martin never had a childhood. When other kids were playing, Martin was working. When he wasn’t working he was doing his lessons alone apart from his mother and brother. It’s the way it was during the depression.
Martin grew up became a pastor, married, had six kids, was wonderful man, but he rarely played. When Martin died at 82 years of age, Grace and I went back to Minnesota for his funeral. The morning of his service, I had a vision of Martin in heaven. I saw him as a 10 year old boy on a hill surrounded by friends. Suddenly he started running down the hill as fast as he could go, he jumped into the air was flying like superman down the slope of the hill shouting at the top of his lungs, “Look at me, look at me, I can fly, I can fly!”
In Joel 2, the Lord promises his people that he will come and restore the years the locusts have eaten. That prophecy will find complete fulfillment when Jesus returns for us - either in our death or in his second coming. What will that mean for you?
It means arthritis, cancer, colitis will evaporate the moment Jesus appears! Missing limbs, emotional illnesses, genetic disorders will be gone. Resentment, guilt, shame, fear, grief will be cast out forever. Joy and laughter will erupt and flow from our hearts like a rushing river.
Nature will be restored to its original perfection. Drought, thorns, thistles, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes will be forgotten. Isaiah says the lion will lie down with the lamb and little children will play on the cobra den. It will be the Garden of Eden all over again, only this time, no tempter will be present, and Jesus will live in our midst.
The bigotry, injustice, racism of this world will be gone. The scars of sin, greed, exploitation will be healed and cleansed away as if they had never been. The perfect love of Jesus will drive out all fear and bind us together in an intimacy and fellowship we only get glimpses of right now. When Jesus returns heaven and earth will be joined together. I can’t wait.
But Jesus warns us, not everyone is looking forward to that day. Some people would rather be buried under a pile of rocks than enter into this new kingdom. Some will be repulsed by what is happening when Jesus returns. They will reject his sovereignty. They will hate him and fear his holiness. They will flee from his light and truth and love.
They will refuse to live in a world where the last are first and the first are last. They will obstinately refuse to humble themselves or confess their sin or ask God’s forgiveness. They will cling to their own pride rather than worship Jesus as Lord of lords and King of kings.
How about us? The truth is – until the Lord calls us to himself and transforms our hearts and minds, this describes us all. We have all set ourselves up against God will and the coming of his kingdom. Let’s read these words from 1 John.
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7
How do we make sure we are ready when Jesus returns? Jesus warns us with some strong imperatives - “Be alert!” “Pay attention!” “Keep watch!” “Be ready!”
The first step in being ready for Jesus’ return is conversion. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” We call it living worship. You can call yourself a Christian, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died on the cross and rose again and still not be converted.
The test is in our worship! What do you worship above all else? What has first place in your heart, mind, life? Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” That means to love Jesus above all else.
That doesn’t automatically happen when you walk in the door of a church. It’s a miracle only possible through power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit in our lives. It requires the death of our own ego. Until that happens in your life, you won’t be ready when Jesus comes.
Paul puts it this way. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20
The second step in getting ready for Jesus’ return is what we call growing faith. Faith is not the performance of religious duty; it’s a relationship of love, trust, and obedience. To be alive, our faith must grow and the only way it grows is if we feed it. If we want our faith to grow, we must get into God’s word and let God’s word get into us. We need to be in fellowship with God’s people and in regular worship and Bible study. Without these things the cares of the world will be like weeds that choke out the fruit of faith in our lives.
The third step in getting ready for Jesus’ return is what we call serving fellowship. If you are a Christian, then God has gifted you with the Holy Spirit to serve him. But those gifts must be exercised and developed. The way you do that is by serving someone beyond yourself.
Jesus said if you want to be great in the kingdom of God, you must learn to be servant of all. When we serve together we experience the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Remember God exists as Trinity, the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you don’t have fellowship, you don’t have a church. If you aren’t investing yourself in serving others as Jesus did for us, as the Father did for us, then you won’t be ready when Jesus comes.
The final part of being ready for Jesus return is called sending saints. In the same way the Father sent the Son, so the Son sent the disciples, so we are sent into the world. This involves using our time, talent, and treasure to build God’s kingdom, before our own.
If we are going to be ready for Jesus return, then we must love Jesus above all else and serve him, not because we have to, but because we want to, we love to. We’ve fallen in love with Jesus. And when that happens, serving him and his people becomes our greatest joy. When the love of Jesus begins to flow through us, we find that our deepest desires and needs are met. And we are anxious and ready for the Lord to return!
Are you looking forward to Jesus return? I am. I can’t wait! How about you? The early Christians had a prayer. It was one word. Maranatha – it means, Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus, come soon! And help us keep our eyes to the skies and our hands to the work before us so when you come, we will be ready!