Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

Text: Matthew 24:44
You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.

Be ready!

The principal of a large school was concerned about the untidiness and disorder he found in so many of the classrooms he visited. Papers were often strewn on the floor and the studentsí desks were surrounded by clutter. He felt strongly that learning could not take place in such an untidy environment (you know, untidy rooms lead to untidy work etc) so he decided to take action.

He chose one classroom for an experiment and with a smile made this proposition to the students in that room,
"Your parents have sent you to this school at great personal sacrifice. You have a well-equipped classroom for you to enjoy but we need your help in keeping your desks and the classroom orderly. Many of you have crumpled papers inside your desks with books left open and the pages bent. There are pencils, rubbers, sharpeners on the floor under your desks along with all sorts of rubbish.

I would like each of you to clean out your desk today. I would like you to start this new school term with a tidy desk and room and decide today to keep it clean for the rest of the year. One day I will return and inspect your desks and those with the neatest desks will be given a prize. This prize will give you free entrance to any 3 theme parks of your choice. I wonít tell you which day Iíll come back to this room. It will be a surprise. Not even your teacher will know the day."

The children were very excited at the prospect of a 3 day pass to any theme park and so with a flurry of enthusiasm began pulling things from their desks, filling the waste paper bins with crumpled papers, stacking their books neatly inside their desks, and carefully lining up their pencils and pens.

Every morning for the first week, every student checked his or her desk to make sure it was in perfect condition, and the room was always tidy. They were sure that today would be the day the principal would return.

The next week, a few boys grew weary of the exercise and returned to their former habits.
By the third week, several students said, "I think it was all a trick to get us to keep things tidy. He wonít come back.
After two months, no one in the classrooms bothered about tidiness any more, things got messy again and in fact, forgot the principalís promise.

Everyone that is, except for one girl. At the end of every day she made sure her desk was tidy and that the area around her wasnít cluttered with any kind of rubbish.

For months, she was teased by the other kids in the class. "Heís not coming back! Itís all a trick. Her friends even said they were embarrassed by her behaviour and said she was stupid for believing the promise of the principal. He was not going to return and there was no prize."
Still she kept her desk in perfect condition and waited.

Near the end of the school year, there was a knock on the door and the principal came into the room. Quickly, the students flung open their desks and began frantically to clean them. The class was ordered to stop what they were doing and proceeded to inspect each desk.

One after another, he rejected them for being untidy. One boy tried giving excuses but the principal stopped him saying that he had told them he was going to return and there was no reason to make excuses. Another blamed the teacher for not reminding them. Still another blamed the principal for making them wait so long.

Finally, the principal arrived at the desk of the little girl who confidently displayed her well-kept desk.
"Boys and girls," he said, "this girl never stopped believing I would return so she kept her desk in perfect order. She didnít need to worry about what day or even what time of day I would arrive because she was always ready. Congratulations. Here is the reward I promised".

ĎReadyí that is the key word for our gospel lesson this morning. Be ready.

This is the first Sunday of Advent and we have entered a new church year again. Advent is a time to look ahead to the coming of Jesus as a baby in the manger. It is also a time for looking ahead for the second coming of Christ.

Jesus talks about the time when he will come again in our gospel reading today. He emphasises that many people will be caught off guard and will not be ready for that moment when the King of kings will break into human history. Jesus refers to the people in Noahís time who went about their daily routines unaware what was about to happen. "Thatís how it will be when I come again," Jesus said. "You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him" Matt 24:44).

A good question to ask then is this - how do we get ready?

We are ready for his second coming by being like that little girl in our story - daily preparation. We are to keep our desks clean, or in other words, we are to repent daily.

Anyone who knows my routine will know that Monday morning is the time I mow the lawns around the manse. I donít mind mowing, pulling weeds, and tidying up the yard, but some days, especially in our humid summers, I end up dripping with perspiration, grass clippings stuck to me and feeling quite grotty.

Itís good to look over the fresh mown grass with a degree of satisfaction but there is nothing more satisfying than getting cleaned up - peeling off sweaty clothes, taking a refreshing shower, and putting on some clean clothes and smelling much nicer than before. It would be crazy to put on the same dirty perspiration soaked clothes again!

Thatís what Jesus is talking about as we enter this Advent season. He urges us to clean up, to take off the dirty clothes and put on the new ones of grace.

Advent is a time of preparation and one thing we can do to be ready for Christís return is to repent. Take off the dirty old self and put on the clean new self. Luther talks about this as he tells us to drown our old self daily in the waters of our Baptism and then to rise up again as a new, forgiven person living in the grace of God.

The children in that messy classroom were told to be ready for the principalís return. They were asked to change the ways they looked after their books in their desks and to get rid of the rubbish. Thatís what repentance is. To those children the change in their classroom came about after the principal promised to come back and to reward those who were ready for his arrival with tidy desks and classroom.

Jesus changes our lives. He brings us into a relationship with him through baptism and God's Word of promise. He assures us that we are God's special and chosen people. We trust and believe that our sins are forgiven and that God's love for us never ends. We are made clean and holy through the blood of Jesus and it follows then that our lives should reflect that newness that Jesus gives as we give God first place in our lives and put the needs of others before our own.

Yes, we know all too well that Jesus changes our lives, but we also know that everyday we allow sin to corrupt us and stain our lives. Some people donít care that sin has taken control. They may even claim that they are Christians and pray for forgiveness but have no intention of changing anything in their lives. They continue to have sex outside of marriage, be involved in substance abuse, delight in gossip, and have little care for the needs and feelings of others. Itís all too hard to change their lifestyle. Faith in Christ, his love for us, the sacrifice he made for us and the fact that we belong to him and are joined with him through faith, makes a difference in our lives.

Paul says in his letters, "You have been raised to life with Christ Ö You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions, and greed Ö you must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. You are the people of God Ö So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Be tolerant with one another and forgive one anotherÖ" (Col 3:5-14). He urges us to get rid of the dirty clothes of sin and putting on the new clothes given to us by the Holy Spirit. This kind of repentance is a daily thing. Itís a daily struggle while we are here on this planet to keep on putting off sinful desires and actions and putting on desires and actions that arise out of our new life in Christ.

Repentance is turning away from our sins to live a new life in Christ. Daily we are made clean through the blood of Jesus. And so when Jesus comes again we will be ready. Like the girl who daily made sure that her desk was clean and tidy because she was certain that the principal would return, likewise Jesus urges us to be ready for day when he will come back.

C.S. Lewis says, "A Christian is not one who never does wrong, but one who is enabled to repent and begin over again after each stumbleóbecause of the inner working of Christ." Because of Christ you and I can repent and begin over and over again.

Remember the Peanuts comic strip. In one set of comic strips, Lucy and Charlie Brown are practicing football. Lucy would hold the ball in position for Charlie and then Charlie would kick the ball. But every time Charlie ran up to the ball to kick it with all his might, at the last moment at the point of no return, Lucy would pick up the ball and Charlie would fall flat on his back.

In one of these episodes Lucy is holding the ball, but Charlie Brown would not kick the ball. Lucy begged him to kick the ball. But Charlie Brown said, "Every time I try to kick the ball you remove it and I fall on my back." They argued over this for a while and finally Lucy broke down in tears and admitted, "Charlie Brown I have been so terrible to you over the years, picking up the football like I have. I have played so many cruel tricks on you, but I have seen the error of my ways! Iíve seen the hurt look in your eyes when Iíve deceived you. Iíve been wrong, so wrong. Wonít you give a poor repentant girl another chance?"

Charlie Brown was moved by her display of grief and responded to her, "Of course, Iíll give you another chance." He ran up to the ball and at the last moment, Lucy picked up the ball and Charlie Brown fell flat on his back. Lucyís last words were, "Recognizing your faults and actually changing your ways are two different things, Charlie Brown!"

Isnít that how it is with us as well? Lucy has expressed what itís like for most of us. We know our faults, we know we should change and we try, but somehow we end doing the same things over and over again.
Thatís not making an excuse for our deliberate failure to follow God's ways.
Thatís not saying we should stop putting off sin and putting on the new clothes that Christ gives. It is, however, an admission that we need Jesus. We need to go back to him again and again and trust in the forgiveness and love that he has for each of us. We need Jesus to make us new and clean so that this newness affects everything we do.

Thatís how Jesus wants us to be ready for the day he will come again!

May the Advent season be for you a joyful time, a hopeful time. A time when you recommit yourself to being a watchful Christian. We rejoice now that Jesus came at Christmas, but we also look forward to rejoicing when Jesus will come again.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd December 2007

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