A sermon based on Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
by Rev. Rick Thompson
“Now is the time,”
wrote. “Now is the time to wake out of sleep,” we heard him urge us today.
Alice Lawhead writes, “I sit in
church and I hear these words. And I think: now is the time to make a
purposeful trip to the supermarket and do the shopping for all the baking that
needs to be done. Now is the time to make sure all the church programs and
neighborhood parties and school activities are penciled in on the calendar so we
don’t overbook like we did last year. And if we really are going to get a goose
for Christmas dinner, then now is the time to order it from the butcher.
“Now is the time to pick up last
year’s party dress from the cleaners! Now is the time to get up in the attic
and dig out the Christmas decorations! Now is the time to get the children to
the barber, and see if we can’t get the carpets shampooed before the open house
on the 14th, and call to see if there are any decent tickets left for
this year’s performance of A Christmas Carol.
Lawhead concludes, “Mrs. Williams
has stepped to the lectern for the New Testament reading. I hear her
proclaiming something about dates and times, my friends, and how we know
perfectly well that the Day of the Lord comes like a thief in t he night, and I
wonder why it is that Christmas so often comes like a thief in the night for
Do you know that feeling?
Frantically anticipating Christmas, the “to-do” list getting longer as the days
grow shorter, and you grow weary, and you want to lie down and sleep for days,
and then you hear Jesus urging, “Keep awake!”
“Because the Day of the Lord is
coming,” Jesus says. “I’m about to leave you, but I’ll be coming back. I’ll be
coming suddenly. You cannot know when I’ll return. I’ll be coming like a thief
in the night. I want to take you with me to be with the Father for eternity,
but you need to be ready! So keep awake! Be ready!”
Ready for what? Sounds like it’s
more than ready for Christmas!
It sounds as if Jesus is trying to
get us ready for the coming of Christ!
Because Advent, this short season
of the church year, is not just a time to prepare for Christmas. It is
that—time to prepare to celebrate the joy of his first coming, 2,000 years ago.
But it’s also a time to prepare for this coming again. And we might be
surprised to discover that, even as we await his coming, Jesus comes to us
that’s why Jesus urges us, “Keep awake! Get ready!”
It’s because he has come—and
his first coming brought so many good things and promised so many more!
It’s because Jesus comes to us,
even now, while we wait!
And it’s because Jesus will come
coming cannot be predicted. His coming will be at an unexpected time. His
coming is a surprise—a good surprise for believers but, nevertheless, a
“It will be like a thief breaking
into a house,” Jesus says.
says, elsewhere in the New Testament, that it will be “like a thief in the
Now that’s an odd comparison, isn’t
it? Jesus—coming like a thief?
It will also be a tragedy for
those who are not ready when Jesus comes.
It’s not that Jesus comes
intending to do harm like a thief! But it is that his coming is
sudden, unexpected, surprising. And how sad and tragic it would be to miss out
on what he promises when he comes—forgiveness, life, salvation, joy, peace,
wholeness, an eternity with God!
Because that’s where Jesus is a
different kind of “thief”. He comes not to take, but to give!
At his first coming, they took his
life. Brutally, unjustly, in a most humiliating way, they took his life. They
hung him on a cross, like the worst of criminals, and taunted him as he suffered
in pain. They laid him in a tomb, gloating that they’d gotten rid of that
troublemaker, and thinking, “Good riddance!”
They took Jesus’ life. It was
stolen from him.
But they hadn’t reckoned with the
power of Jesus. Because he took his life back again! And he empowered his
followers to keep on living with hope and faith, proclaiming the incredible news
that God is a God of
returned to the Father in heaven, and will come again to claim his followers as
his for all eternity.
come suddenly—like a thief—but he will not come with the intention to do
harm. He will come with the intention of giving—giving new life, new joy,
and eternal peace with God!
comes—suddenly, unexpectedly, surprisingly—to give those gifts to us!
that reason to keep awake? Isn’t that reason to get ready—ready, not so much
for Christmas, but ready for the coming of Christ?!
ready for the One who came once, who promises to come again—and who
comes, even now, with the abundant gifts of God? Comes to God’s assembled
people, gathered around God’s Word and the Lord’s table. Comes to those who
prepare ourselves by staying open and attentive to God, eager to meet Christ,
anticipating his presence like a child anticipates opening those gifts under the
tree when Christmas finally arrives!
Are you awake? Are you ready for
Not sure about that? Well, then,
use the practices God gives us to help us stay awake! Pray. Read your
Bible. Serve your neighbor. Give generously—of your substance and yourself—to
support God’s work in the world. Worship. Tell others about him. And stay
connected to God’s people—maybe join a small group—where God’s love is shared
and we are strengthened for our daily lives. Those are the time-tested
disciplines for staying awake, for getting ready to meet our Lord.
And the amazing thing is that,
while we prepare for his sudden and unexpected coming, he comes to us even
now! He comes in the Word proclaimed. He comes in the Holy Communion, as
the church gathers around the table. Jesus comes to us now—to assure us
of his gracious presence and of the trustworthy and marvelous promises God
Some years ago, I participated in
a retreat designed to deepen and renew the spirits of pastors and church
leaders. And it made a huge difference in my life! I came away from the
experience having received fresh assurances of God’s presence in my life and
God’s choice of me as one of God’s children. At times on the retreat, I
sensed God’s presence. And I think I know what helped make that possible: I
had opened myself up to God’s coming by seeking God, praying and meditating on
God’s word, gathering with God’s people, receiving the Lord’s Supper, and
getting in closer touch with my own inner self. Is it any surprise that, in the
midst of all of that, Christ came?
Christ wants to keep on coming—to
you, to me, to his church, to the world he loves—even while we wait for his
final coming. And he will! He does! Again and again, God’s people have
been delightfully surprised to discover Christ in the midst of their lives!
And we are challenged to keep
awake, to get ready, so we won’t miss Christ when he comes! “Put on the armor
of light,” Paul urges in our second reading. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Keep awake! Get ready—not for
Christmas, but for Christ!
like a thief—suddenly, unexpectedly.
But, unlike a thief, he
comes to give, not take—to give abundant life, forgiveness, peace,
and eternal joy.
How would you like to receive
those gifts this Christmas?
day—when we stay awake and get ready for the coming of Christ!
Alice Slaikeu Lawhead,
Epiphanies: Stories for the Christian Year, “Advent,” Baker Books,
2003, pp. 11-12.