This weeks Sermon

“Hope is Coming”                                                                            

Chan Willis – F.P.C.-L.C./Welsh

Isaiah 2:4-5; Romans 13:11-12; Matt. 24:36-44                               

Dec. 1, 2019 – 1st Sun. Advent


               Most of you are aware that this past week, Barrie and I had, borrowing from language for this season, a ‘Magi Moment.’  We had ‘visitors from the east.’  No, not wise men.  Well, our son-in-law IS pretty smart.  Visitors from east VIRGINIA.  Not riding on camels… but on a much more convenient mode of transportation.   Our daughter Christine, husband Jon, and their 4 children made a rather surprise trip down to LA for Thanksgiving.  What you might not know is that they left their house in VA late Friday night.  As in 11:30 P.M.  Basically Saturday morning.  Their plan was to drive nonstop, all through the wee hours of the early morn… about a 16 hour trip, if you took minimal meal/potty breaks. 

               As excited as we were to have them coming, and that we would be getting to see them ‘sooner than later,’ there was yet a certain level of uncertainty, indeed anxiety, in our anticipation of their arrival.  For while driving all through the night is certainly beneficial when you have a car full of young passengers, especially as a parent you worry about the drivers and their safety, with the very real fears over them falling asleep at the wheel, or having an accident. (As MANY of you have likewise been anxious for your own loved ones as they traveled the roads…) 

And, because of unknown variables along the way, it was also hard to plan on an exact arrival time.  As the day progressed, their 2:30 pm ETA became 3:30, then 4:00, til finally, at long last, they pulled into the driveway about 4:30.  Another factor in our concern for their safe journey.

But regardless what angst we might have had over their delayed arrival, the most important thing was that they got there, safe and sound.  And there were indeed many ‘sounds’ of joy as they piled out of their cramped quarters to be reunited with those whom they love… joy from both those who had traveled so hard and far, as well as those who gladly welcomed them home.  A joy that came out of the knowledge that no matter when, their anticipated arrival HAD been fulfilled…

As we embark on a different type of ‘road trip’ down the pathway of Advent, it occurred to me that we members of the family of God can have the same types of feelings that Barrie and I did.  As faithful followers of Christ have done for nearly 2000 years, we too are waiting.  Waiting with anticipation for His return… but as the time goes by, we can feel some degree of anxiety.  Perhaps even fear that we won’t be ready for His coming again to rule the world.  For all of those unknown variables that have delayed Christ’s arrival, it is impossible to plan on when He will come. 

So are we to dwell in that fear and uncertainty?  OR, remain confident that Jesus IS ‘on the way?’   The most important thing, of course, is that He WILL get here.  That there will indeed be MUCH joy when we are reunited with God’s beloved Son… on BOTH sides.  That rather than live in fear of uncertainty of when our Lord will return, we should instead rest secure in our trust that … “Hope is Coming.”

               Much of that insecurity we can have, even as believers, comes out of such statements of our Lord Christ as found in this passage from Matthew’s Gospel.

He warns His disciples… those faithful followers who have stood at His side for some 3 years… that when it comes to His coming again in glory, “about that day and hour no one knows”… not them, his closest friends on earth, “neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) 

               He then goes on to illustrate how no one knew until the time was upon them, and it was too late.  Those in Noah’s time “knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away.” (Matthew 24:39)  And in the present time, “two (workers) would be in a field… two women would be grinding meal together… and one will be taken and one will be left (behind)(Matt. 24:40-41)

               Some of such fear or anxiety connected with these latter scenarios likely comes from books and movies based on those last two words I spoke in the previous sentence:  ‘LEFT BEHIND.’  Most of you are likely well-acquainted with the series of books by this name written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the first one published in 1995.  Later movies would come out starring Kirk Cameron (2000), and a later ‘reboot’ starring Nicholas Cage in 2014. 

               These books and movies had widespread reviews among the Christian community, probably reflecting one’s theology ranging from progressive to conservative.  Some felt it took liberties with the Biblical narrative, and were too ‘sensationalist,’ with too much emphasis on violence and destruction… understandably leading to an atmosphere of FEAR for what will transpire in that Second Coming associated with our loving Savior of sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

               That being said, without God’s judgment between the ‘quick and the dead’… that division between good and evil, of faith and disbelief, of acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Savior or turning ones back on Him to live as one pleases… what are we to do with the Lord’s statements about being “swept away by the flood?”  Or when two are standing side-by-side, and “One will be taken, and one will be left.”   When Jesus repeats in the course of just a few sentences that “one one knows the day or hour” when He will come back, shouldn’t we pay attention to His admonition to “Keep awake… you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:42, 44)

               OF COURSE, we should pay attention.  But NOT to live fearfully as we do so!  That fact that no one knows the day or hour is not a reason to be anxious, but to let go of our natural tendencies to want to be in control and KNOW EVERYTHING.  To  not be ‘swept away’ by the flood of our own pride, but to instead depend on the providence and peace of God.  “God is in control, and I am not.”  PRAISE GOD!   The fact that Jesus, in his own words, “is coming at an unexpected hour” is not to be so much about judgement and despair, but rather, that HOPE is coming…

               Let me ask you a question:  How many of you are sick and tired of the division and hatred in countries around the world… as well as our own?  How many of you feel deeply saddened about the lives that are lost each and every day… men, women, and innocent children…  who die in global conflicts?  Not to mention on our own streets?  Then those words of the prophet Isaiah should be pretty significant to you:

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;  they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)  We humans don’t seem to be doing too good a job of ‘judging between nations,’ or ‘arbitrating for many people,’ or ‘beating swords into plowshares’… or ‘American Humvees’ into ‘International Harvesters.’  In the words of that country song, ‘Jesus take the wheel!’  Please come back and bring hope and peace to a world who continues to be much better at swords and war. 

               That ancient spokesman for God exhorted his countrymen, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:5)  He speaks to us, ‘O house of Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, COME, let us walk in the light of the Lord.’  Rather than in the darkness of evil…

               Earlier we used the words of Paul to call ourselves to confession of sin.  A call to change our ways to more follow the God we profess to believe in.  To prepare ourselves to lead a life more in alignment with the perfect will of Christ.  So let us hear them again as we consider how they challenge us not only to ‘leave behind’ our old selves, but to move forward as a new creation:  “…You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”  (Romans 13:11-12)

               Now, I know for those of you who are more ‘seasoned veterans’ of life, you might appreciate that due to your ‘chronological a-g-e,’ indeed your ‘salvation is (MUCH) nearer than when you became a believer.’  That whatever darkness you may have experienced in your life, the day is much more near.  But that must not cause you to ‘fall asleep’ while others labor.  For there are many out there, no matter their age, who are living in darkness.  Who need YOU to help them “put on the armor of light.”   You and I encounter folks every day who need to feel like their salvation is indeed near.  Salvation in the person of Christ who is ‘indeed near’ to them… in YOU!  I challenge you today… right NOW… to ‘wake up’ and think about someone you know who is living in ‘the dark night of the soul.’  And how YOU can invite them to “Come!  Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  To not walk in DESPAIR and UNCERTAINTY… but in JOY and ANTICIPATION… to help them believe that “hope IS coming.”

               One of the many bright ‘points of light’ whose ‘coming’ we were most happy to receive this past week was our 6 year-old grandson Emerson.   Like most 6 year-old boys, he can be pretty ‘active,’ and sometimes not easy to ‘corral.’  But he certainly has a ‘joie-de-vivre’… a ‘joy of life’… and enjoys every minute of that life, not worrying about what the future will bring.  In no small part because he KNOWS he is loved, and that no matter how he may misbehave, or get impatient, his best interests are always held to heart.  And as ‘active’ as he may be, he also quite willingly shows his love to others. 

               May we have that same child-like faith toward our heavenly Father.  While we can sometimes be a little too ‘active’… not easy to ‘corral’ for time with ‘Dad’… may we have a real ‘joy of life.’  Not worrying about what the future will bring, because we know that no matter what, we are loved.  And let us in turn willingly show God’s love to others.  For ‘Hope IS coming’… not just in the ‘face of Christ’… but in YOUR face as it ‘comes to others’…