Sunday, November 29, 2015
I want to tell you a story of NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler. At the beginning of his career, Jeff was a back-up quarterback. By his seventh season, he had thrown less than two hundred passes, and none of them had any bearing on the outcome of a game. Then Phil Simms, the starting quarterback, went down with an injury, and the coach looked to his back-up quarterback on the bench and said, “Okay, Jeff, it’s your turn.” He ran out onto the field and led his team to victory not only in that game but in the remaining games of the season including the Super Bowl.
However, there was more to the story than that. During those seven years Jeff was in waiting, he threw thousands of passes through a swinging tire. He worked with his wide receivers and running backs in countless practice sessions, sharpening and honing his skills. He lifted tons of weights, did hundreds of push-ups and sit-ups, jogged many miles, and did numerous wind sprints. He literally spent hundreds of hours studying and memorizing the playbook, studying not only his own offense and defense but the defenses of the opposing teams. When the coach turned to him and said, Okay, Jeff, it’s your turn, he was ready.
We’re beginning that season of the year known in the church as Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. It’s a time of getting ready. During these weeks we focus our attention on the coming of Christ into our world. We study the words of the prophets and their expectations for the coming Messiah. We reflect on the meaning of the texts that speak of Christ’s return at the end of time. So I’ve chosen a theme for this Advent: “Signs of Christ’s Coming.”
We live in a time where we’re surrounded by signs. The song from the sixties said, Sign, sign, everywhere a sign/ Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
Some of you grew up before Interstate highways. Most travel back then was done on two lane roads. Along those roads there’d be a series of five small red signs with white letters containing a humorous poem on four of them, with a 5th sign reserved for their sponsor. Does anybody know what I’m talking about? That’s right, the Burma-Shave signs. For those too young to remember, here are some examples of those signs:
Drove Too Long/ Driver Snoozing/ What Happened Next/ Is Not Amusing. Burma-Shave.
Around The Curve/ Lickety-Split/ Beautiful Car/ Wasn’t It? Burma-Shave.
And My Favorite: The Midnight Ride/ Of Paul for Beer/ Led to a Warmer/ Hemisphere. Burma-Shave. I’ll let you think about that one for a moment. As the song says, Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Let’s talk for a few minutes about signs.
A woman planned to attend a family reunion in Florida at Christmas. It’d been years since her family had all seen each other. Many of them were living in different parts of the world and had started families of their own. Some had never met. This formerly close knit family decided on a reunion to help the younger ones get to know their relatives better through a weekend of fellowship.
Long distance telephone calls and now it was time for the event to take place. Instead of flying to Florida, she decided to drive. It would save her money and also give her a time to explore and discover new things and places along the way. But there was a problem. She liked talking on her cell phone while she drove and listening to music on her iPod. Fortunately, she reached Florida safely, but the distractions of her high tech toys caused her to miss a sign for an important turn. It wasn’t long before she was lost. She began to worry. This was an event she didn’t want to miss. She’d been looking forward to this reunion for a long time. But because she missed that sign, she missed her turn and missed most of the reunion, getting there after some of her relatives had already left. While she was happy that she got to see the remaining relatives, she was heartbroken that she missed others and the joy of the reunion itself. But she missed a sign.
Signs are important. Imagine trying to navigate your way in an area you’ve never been to without signs or a GPS. Signs keep us aware of our surroundings; they help with directions; and they even help us to keep safe by offering warnings to us. To ignore signs is risky.
Two American soldiers saw something unusual on their radar. They report it to their supervisor, a young inexperienced Lieutenant. It was a peaceful Sunday morning, nobody else around except this Lieutenant, thinking what they’d seen was planes on maneuvers from California said, “Don’t worry about it.” But they should’ve worried. What these two soldiers had seen were the first signs of 353 planes on their way to Pearl Harbor. They arrived two hours later on Dec. 7th, 1941. Don’t worry about it, said their superior officer. A very critical sign was missed. And a tragic, devastating air attack took place. Signs are important.
Our lesson for today begins like this: There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
Jesus is telling us that signs will be seen before the coming of the “Son of Man.” Christ said that no one, not even He Himself, knew when that day would be. And yet, He said, there’ll be signs. These signs will cause people to be scared. The signs include the sun, moon, and stars being shaken and the sea roaring and being tossed. The world will experience an unprecedented state of chaos. Things will be out of control. It’s a disturbing passage. Yet notice what He says next.
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Did you hear that? Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Does that sound like He’s trying to frighten us? He doesn’t say, duck! Run for cover! Go crazy with fear! He says, Stand up and lift up your heads, your redemption is drawing near.
When I was growing up preachers used to scare kids by warning them that Jesus could appear at any time, and scare them into thinking that if Jesus came and they were at a movie theater, it wasn’t a good thing! I grew up with a constant fear every time I went to the movies, that Jesus would return during the movie and I’d miss the end of the movie.
There are still preachers who use fear as a motivator, but, fortunately not as many as there used to be. I will say that it’s interesting to me that pastors were trying to scare kids away from movie theaters back when movies were a lot more wholesome than they are today. Maybe I ought to preach sermons to our boys and girls on not letting Jesus catch them at an “R” rated movie. Or maybe not. I’ve never been very good at mixing faith with fear. Especially during Advent. If you love Jesus, the thought of Him coming any time, whether at Christmas or at the end of time ought to be an occasion for rejoicing, not being afraid. Joy to the world, the Lord is come. That’s my kind of religion.
Then Jesus told them about the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you know that summer is near. When we see the world going crazy, we’ll know that the kingdom of God is near. A world, where the nations beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, every family has its own land, and no one is made to live in fear.
To me, that sounds like a great place to live. A place where “no one is made to live in fear.” Does that mean no more cancer? No more foreclosures on homes? Nobody unemployed? No more war? No more sickness? No more pain? Then sign me up!
We’re always worrying. Last year a man died in the United States from Ebola, and you would’ve thought the whole world was collapsing. We live in a time when there’s more hope for people who are sick than there has ever been before, but we’re more afraid of disease than any generation before us.
And we worry about the economy. Certainly, the recession caused us to tighten our belts a bit, but the truth is that we live in homes twice the size of those our parents lived in, yet somehow we’ve got the idea that the whole economy is going to collapse.
And we’re worried about events in the Middle East. Compare the threat from Isis, as terrible as Isis is, with that from Hitler and you’ll see that we have no idea how well we have it. And yet, to watch the news networks, you’d think the whole world is about to collapse. Well, I'm thinking, good if it is! Jesus said: When we see the world going crazy, we’ll know that the kingdom of God is near.
The call for this first Sunday in Advent is not a call for fear, but a call to faith. Of course, there’ll always be bad things happening in the world, but don’t despair. It’s under God’s control. And God will never forsake us. Christ says, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away. Does that mean we can trust every promise that Christ ever made to us? Of course it does, including the promise that, no matter what happens, He’ll give us a peace that passes understanding, if we will trust in Him. We can trust His every promise. Including the promise that He’ll never forget us or forsake us and including the promise that He’s prepared a mansion for us, that where He is, so shall we also be.
Be always on the watch. Like a child waiting for Santa Claus, be on watch. Like a couple awaiting the birth of their first child, be on watch. Like a family waiting for the return of their soldier after receiving word that he’s safe and headed home, be on watch.
That should be our attitude toward Advent. This is a season for waiting on tiptoe. Our redemption is drawing near. The kingdom is drawing near. Christ’s words will never pass away. You can trust His promises forever. Therefore, be always on watch.