November 27, 2011

Sermon for First Sunday in Advent

Getting ready for Christmas
Romans 14:8-14
First Sunday in Advent
November 27, 2011

I have called today's sermon, "Getting Ready for Christmas." Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, but, unlike shopping and decorations, Advent emphasises the spiritual aspect of Christmas. If we are going to celebrate Christmas instead of just a winter holiday, then it is good to consider what we are doing, and why. Advent helps us do this. Even the name of the season, "Advent," tells us we are thinking about the arrival of the Saviour, the Light of the World, who came to save His people from their sins.

Advent does not simply look back to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem more than two-thousand years ago. It also looks ahead to the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, it reminds us that we live in anticipation of the Lord's Return, and to the completion of the Kingdom He began when He came in humility to sacrifice Himself for us. It is the aspect of looking ahead to the Return of Christ that I want to dwell on today, and I want to begin with what watching for His Return does not mean.

Watching for Christ's Return does not mean attempting to make current events fit Matthew 24 as signs that His Return is near. In the first place, that is not what Matthew 24 is about. In the second place, there is vagueness in the Bible about when and how the Lord is coming back. I think that vagueness is intentional. I think the Lord wants to keep us on the alert, and if He were to tell us the year and the hour of His return, His people might become lax and complacent about being His people. My parents used to give my sister and me tasks to do if they were going out. They would not tell us when they were coming back, but they expected the tasks to be done, or to find us busy doing them when they arrived. I think the Lord has the same kind of thing in mind about His Coming; He expects to find us busy about the task of being His people, not sleeping on the job. I think it is clear that watching for Christ's Return does not mean trying to guess when He will return, or who the antichrist is. All of these things are favourite pass times of people waiting for Christ's Return, but I think they are misguided.

So what exactly does it mean to be watching for Christ's Return? It is living in such a way that if the Lord were to return now He would find us living for Him. It means living the kind of life He died to give to us. It means we are busy about the task of being the Church and Kingdom of God. In more Biblical terms, it means we are continuing in the faith once delivered to the saints. This faith has two components; doctrine and practice.

Doctrine of course means the truths taught in the Bible, for it is in the Bible that we learn what we are to believe about God and what duties God requires of us. So, when St. Paul wrote that the Scripture is profitable for doctrine, he did not mean it is one of several profitable sources. He meant the Bible is the source of profitable doctrine. If you use the word, "authoritative" in place of "profitable" you begin to see what Paul is trying to teach us in II Timothy 3.

There is a movement within the "Church" to do away with doctrine. People, believing they are being led by the Holy Spirit, want to replace doctrine with sentiment and religious experiences. They don't seem to realise that if other doctrines can be expelled from the faith, their doctrine of the Holy Spirit can also be expelled. Nor do they seem to realise that expelling their doctrine of the Holy Spirit is inevitable once we start excising doctrines, or doing so also reveals the foundation of their beliefs, which is their own imaginations, not the Holy Spirit's leadership. Watching for Christ's Return necessarily means continuing in the Apostles' doctrine; the doctrine Christ gave to the Apostles, which they committed to writing, and which God preserves for us in the Bible.

The second part of the faith in which we are to continue, if we are truly watching for the Return of Christ, is what we often call, "Christian living." By this I mean the obvious things of worship, fellowship, Christian love, and all the things we generally summarise in the term, "good works." But there is more to Christian living than good works. There is this thing of being transformed in our inner being so we become more like Christ and less like Satan. It is the continuing process of becoming Godly in our essence. I have a hard time putting this into words. I think this is because the concept is bigger than our words can describe; which is why the Bible uses word pictures to communicate it to us, like new creature and following Christ. I am trying to say that being a Christian is not just doing good; it is actually becoming good through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in your inner being. Though I have a hard time expressing this in concrete words, I think the concept is readily understood by any true Christian as an essential part of watching for Christ's Return, and of the Gospel message. I think this is an important part of what Paul meant in Romans 13:14 by the words "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."

But something very important might happen before the Lord Returns to end the world. He might return for you or me. He might come to take us out of this world through death. That might be the way the world ends for us. And we need to be living life in such a way that we are always ready for His appearing, whether it is at the end of the world, or at the end of our lives. Advent reminds us to live in readiness. Thus we pray;

"Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen."

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