Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent

Text: Mark 13:33-37
Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come. It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves his servants in charge, after giving to each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch.  Watch, then, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming—it might be in the evening or at midnight or before dawn or at sunrise. If he comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep. What I say to you, then, I say to all: Watch!"

Actively waiting

Waiting is not a popular past time in our culture today. We have our photos developed at a One Hour Photo Shop, take our clothes to Same Day Dry Cleaners, and buy food at a drive thru.
We pay our bills over the phone and do our banking on the internet where there are no long lines of waiting people.
When an elevator takes a long to time to arrive, we give the button another series of rapid jabs.
Children get impatient waiting for their parents to stop talking after church.

Parents teach their children how to wait patiently. They say things like -
"No, not now, you can have that when you're older."
"Just wait a while and I'll get it for you."
"Wait until your birthday."
"Wait a bit, and just be patient."
But somewhere along the line, those lessons about waiting are forgotten or not passed on to the next generation, and so
impatient drivers tailgate those they think are going too slow,
people with very loud whispers complain about the person up front who has an article that needs a price check,
and our blood boils after pressing buttons on the phone as requested by the computerised voice on the other end only to be told that we have put on hold and that we are 26th in the queue.

And today in our text we hear Jesus talking about waiting. He tells a parable about a man who goes on a journey. He doesn’t tell his servants where he is going or when he will come home again. He leaves his servants in charge of his home and property and gives them work to do while he is away. He then leaves and his last word to his servants as he closes the front door is to be diligent and ready for his return, whenever that might be.

This is not unlike parents who leave their teenage children at home to look after the house, giving them instructions on what to do and telling them what they expected their children to do while they are away. When mum and dad have finally gone, there is that wonderful feeling of freedom. The whole house is yours. You can eat what you want, drink what you want, leave your clothes lying all over the place, you can stay up as late as you like and sleep in till lunchtime.

However, if the parents are away for a long time and the unwatered plants are looking very wilted and sad, all the food has been cleaned out of the cupboards, no more dishes will fit in the sink, and you have run out of clean underwear, the time has come to make a decision. If the mess doesn’t bother you and you don’t care what mum and dad will say and do then you have no worries.

Conversely if you take seriously the instructions that were given, then you will do your best to carry them out. After all, they could come home at any time. It would be too late to get into a flurry - make beds, wash dishes, sweep floors and put on a load of washing - when the car pulls into the driveway. It would even be worse if you woke up in the middle of the night to find your parents standing at the end of your bed catching you totally unprepared with the house in a mess.

Jesus’ parable tells us to watch and be ready, while at the same time reminding us that we have jobs to do while he is away. We are in the time between Jesus’ first and second comings and Jesus has told us to watch and wait, doing the jobs he has given us to do. As we do unto others as he did unto us; when we give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, give clothes to the poor and visit those who are sick or in jail; as we make disciples of all nations, we are working and waiting for Christ’s return.

You see there are two kinds of waiting - passive waiting and active waiting. Let me illustrate what I mean in this way. You are at the railway station. People are waiting for the arrival of a train. You notice that in one corner of the waiting room there is a man who has dozed off. He is waiting for the train but while he is waiting he is bored and so has decided to catch up on a little sleep. He thinks that there will still be plenty of time before the train arrives, and so for now he is sleeping. He is passively waiting.

Also waiting for the train is a little boy. He is excited about the arrival of the train and then riding on it. He can’t sit still and constantly goes to the station door and looks up and down the tracks, he chatters to the other people waiting about the arrival of the train, he even asks the sleepy man if he is getting on the train too. The little boy’s waiting is full expectation, excitement, waiting on tiptoe. He is anticipating that the train will arrive at any moment. He is actively waiting.

We can choose to wait passively. Like sitting in a waiting room at the doctor’s, flicking through magazines, day dreaming a bit, just filling in time until we are called into the doctor’s surgery. This kind of passive waiting doesn’t require much energy or attention. It requires no commitment on our part. If God wants us, he is all-knowing and he knows where to find us. In the meantime we deal with our own concerns, and look after our own need for leisure. There is no need to bother about prayer, worship, mission, the Bible, or with deliberately living the Christian life.

Or like the little boy at the train station we can wait with eager expectation. This waiting involves prayer, worship, mission, the Bible, and deliberately living the Christian life, going out of your way to serve others and not just looking after your own needs. You know that Jesus will return, and like the servant in the parable, his absence doesn’t mean forgetting about the master and what he wants you to do, but to actively wait and be prepared for whenever that moment of his arrival might be.

If you don’t believe that Jesus will return then it doesn’t matter what you do,
but if you do believe that Jesus will keep his word and come again then we need to examine just how active we have been while we are waiting.

The work of the kingdom of God, the work of the Master has been entrusted to you and me, his servants. And he expects us to be faithful servants. There is little point in worrying and fretting over when the master will return. The most important concern we have is that we faithfully carry out the work he has given us to do so that when he does return he will find us faithfully working on those tasks he has given us. Like the parents who trust their teenagers to look after the house while they are away, Jesus trusts us to carry out his work to do until he returns.

Advent is the season of the church year when we consider how well we are actively waiting for the return of Jesus. This is a good time to ask ourselves questions like:
How seriously have I taken the fact that Jesus died and rose for me?
How well have I been actively waiting or have I become disinterested and aloof from God and his church?
Have I been half-hearted and lukewarm about living the life that God wants for me or have I just done what pleases me or followed the crowd?
Have I been content to say a prayer every now and then when I think of it?
How well and how often have I worshipped God, or has it become a matter of boring routine?
Have I been going about my daily activities without any reference to God or giving any thought to his presence?
Has there been a particular sin that I am letting get the better of me?

There is not one person who can say that all this kind of stuff is irrelevant. One day Jesus will return and he will want to know what kind of a Christian you have been. For those who trust and have faith in him, he will welcome into eternal life, because his death has paid for all your sin. We "will be faultless on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ."(1 Cor 1:8).

We spend a lot of time waiting – someone worked out that we spend 6 months of our life sitting at traffic lights – but there is nothing more important to wait for than the return of the Master. What we do while we are waiting is also important – are we like the man dozing in the railway station unaware of the approaching train, or are we eager and actively waiting like the little boy?

Jesus is coming. Come Lord Jesus.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
1st December, 2002
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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