Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 24:36–24:44
First Sunday in Advent
December 1, 2013
Nearly 100 years ago in 1916, a British explorer named Sir Ernest Shackleton accomplished the impossible. His mission was to lead the first team of explorers to cross the South Pole by land. Their ship, the Endurance, steamed out from South Georgia island in the Antarctic on December 5, 1914 – summer at the South Pole. The plan was to travel 1000 miles to a harbor where they would begin the land portion of their expedition. However, after only forty-five days at sea, the ship became frozen in the icepack, and eventually was crushed from the pressure of the icepacks of the Weddell Sea. The team spent an unbelievable 497 days at sea or on ice floes before landing on Elephant Island, frostbitten and exhausted, but alive. With only four weeks of supplies left, the decision was made by Shackleton to take five men with him in a lifeboat back to South Georgia island to get help and return to Elephant Island to rescue the remaining crew members. You see, no one in the outside world was looking for them, so they had to retrace their journey to seek help. In those days before GPS and satellite navigation systems, they could only rely on a compass, a sextant and fleeting glimpses of the sun to guide their journey. Despite overwhelming odds against them, Ernest Shackleton and his men arrived at a whaling camp on South Georgia island nearly two and half years after they had left this same island to begin their expedition. The 800-mile journey back to South Georgia island by Shackleton and his men is considered one of the most remarkable sea voyages ever. Nearly forty years passed before that same journey was attempted again by the British explorer Duncan Carse, who said, “I do not know how they did it – except that they had to.” And the truly amazing thing in all of this is that not one life of any crew member on that expedition was lost. Those twenty-two men who were left on Elephant Island survived the Arctic winter of 1916 by taking refuge under their overturned lifeboats, eating penguin and seal meat. The men approached each day with the discipline of being ready and prepared for the return of their leader and the rescue team he would bring with them. Because they did not know the day when he would return, they were compelled to be ready every day. And in that hope they survived (taken from Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, by Dennis Rainey, pp. 97-102).
On this First Sunday in Advent, we are called to be ready for the day when our Leader will return – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Based on the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson, the message for this day is entitled, “Be Ready!” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
So how do we prepare for something that is unknown? The Word of the Lord is clear about the day of the Lord. This is not uncertain nor should it be unexpected. The Lord clearly tells us that it is coming – of that we can be sure, but its exact timing is unknown. And that’s the challenge for us all. How do we live in these days before the coming of the Son of Man? The danger for us is that we can be lulled into a false sense of security. Like people in the days of Noah, we eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage, believing that things will be pretty much the way they’ve always been. We become complacent and too much enmeshed in the things of this world. We’re like the homeowner who failed to protect his house from intruders. That person was not prepared, but are we? Jesus tells us: “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). So how do we prepare for what seems impossible? To be ready for Jesus’ coming, something which even he himself as the Son of God does not know, but only the Father knows. The truth is, we prepare for all kinds of things in life that will happen, but we don’t know when: the spare tire in the car trunk for when we get a flat, the flashlights and candles for when the power goes out, the first-aid kit for when someone is injured, the bottled water and non-perishable food supplies in the event of a hurricane or storm, the disaster preparedness plan that kicks in during an emergency or crisis. We don’t know exactly when any of these things will happen, but we know they will happen at some point so it’s best to be prepared. In fact, we may even say we’d be foolish not to be prepared. Knowing that Christ’s promised return will happen, are we ready for it, or are we foolishly unprepared?
In today’s Epistle lesson (Romans 13:11-14), Paul the apostle tells us how we are to live as people of Christ until that day of his returning. He reminds us that “… salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed…” and calls on us to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” And then Paul gets pretty specific and explicit about things – things that convict us because they are things which move us away from being ready and prepared for Christ’s coming: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” Sounds like much of what passes for entertainment these days. We are to avoid all of this and in its place we are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” This echoes the closing words from today’s Old Testament lesson in which the prophet Isaiah cries out: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5). Friends in Christ, until Christ comes again, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
In these days leading up to Christmas, we often ask one another: So are you ready for Christmas? Usually this means, do you have your tree and decorations up at home? Do you have your cards sent out? Do you have all your gifts purchased? When someone asks me this question, my response is always the same: “The good news is that whether we are ready or not, Christmas still comes.” The gift of God’s Son comes to us in all our need, whether we are fully prepared or not. With six fewer days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find this really good news! Jesus’ first advent – his humble birth in Bethlehem, his life of service, his suffering, death and resurrection – are what we rejoice in and celebrate. We trust that Jesus came once to put an end to sin, to die on the cross in our place, to give his life as payment for us all. This is Jesus’ first advent, his first coming. For all who trust in his first advent, that second advent when Christ shall come again holds no fear. Through the cleansing blood of Jesus we have already been declared holy and righteous in his sight through faith in him. When all is said and done, this is how we are ready for Jesus’ coming: not through anything we do, but by holding firmly and steadfastly to Christ. May God help us to do this. Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.