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A sermon based on Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
by Rev. Rick Thompson

     “Now is the time,” St. Paul 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 me.”[i]

     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!”

     Well, why? 

     “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 even now!

     So 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 again!

     But his 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 surprise!

     “It will be like a thief breaking into a house,” Jesus says.  St. Paul says, elsewhere in the New Testament, that it will be “like a thief in the night.”

    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!

     Thank about that.

     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 LIFE!  He returned to the Father in heaven, and will come again to claim his followers as his for all eternity.

     He will 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!

     Jesus comes—suddenly, unexpectedly, surprisingly—to give those gifts to us!

     And isn’t 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?!

     Awake and 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 his coming?

     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 makes!

     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!”

     Every day!

     Keep awake!  Get ready—not for Christmas, but for Christ!

     He comes 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?

     They’re available—every day—when we stay awake and get ready for the coming of Christ!



[i] Alice Slaikeu Lawhead, Epiphanies: Stories for the Christian Year, “Advent,” Baker Books, 2003, pp. 11-12.