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Get Ready / First Sunday in Advent

Mark 13:24-37

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

We have officially begun that wonderful season of waiting and watching known as Advent. Small children, of course, are waiting for Christmas Eve and the coming of jolly old St. Nicholas.

One little boy climbed onto Santa’s lap. Santa asked the usual question: And what would you like for Christmas? The child stared at him with his mouth dropped open, horrified. Then he gasped, didn’t you get my Snapchat? Well, let’s hope Santa consults his Snapchat account while he’s deciding which toys he’ll be bringing us this Christmas.

As adults, hopefully we’ll be awaiting the celebration of God’s greatest gift to humanity, the gift of God’s Son. The next few weeks will be a time of exhausting activity, buying presents, attending parties, mailing holiday cards, etc.

However, if we don’t have the Christ child’s presence, it’ll be simply another hectic holiday. Waiting is always difficult. Waiting for Santa is difficult for boys and girls and going through the busy Advent season is a lesson in patience for adults. There’s so much to do. You can tell a lot about a person by the way he handles three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. Some of you know what I’m talking about. In our lesson for the day Jesus is talking about the latter of these two grand events, that day when Christ will return to judge the earth. Listen carefully to His words:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!

Those are mysterious and somewhat disturbing words, but let’s begin here: “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father . . .”

Every once in a while, someone will come along who claims to know when the day of the Lord’s coming, the end of everything as we know it, will be. Don’t listen to them. No teaching of our Lord is clearer than this one: nobody knows when that day will be. Nobody knows what the future holds.

Don’t listen to any crackpot who tells you they have figured out the time and date when Christ will return. Nobody knows. Of course, wouldn’t it be nice to know when the next stock market correction will be. Those who follow the stock market know that, from time to time, someone says they know when the market will crash, but the truth is the markets often defy all logic. Some things in life are unknowable even by the world’s greatest experts.

Remember when every political expert in this land was convinced that Hillary Clinton would be our next president? The future is, to a certain extent, unknowable.

For that matter, none of us can know for certain what the future holds for us individually. Beware of the fortune cookie that tells you that romance, prosperity and good health will soon be yours. There’s no way to accurately predict what the future holds for any of us. To think otherwise is absolute foolishness.

The best we can do is to be prepared for whatever may come our way. Therefore, keep watch because you don’t know when the owner of the house will come back, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, don’t let him find you sleeping.

Of course, Jesus is speaking about His return. And He’s telling them to be vigilant, be alert, be prepared for His coming. And, of course, that’s good advice.

A book came out a few years ago that would make a perfect gift for someone on your Christmas list, particularly if that person is a perpetual worrier. It’s titled The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. It’s a how-to guide on surviving the most bizarre and dangerous situations imaginable.

What do you do, for example, if you happen to wander into quicksand? This book will tell you. What do you do if you happen to get cornered by a swarm of killer bees, or need to escape from a burning building? This book has the answers. The authors interviewed experts like emergency medics and wildlife specialists to come up with their step-by-step instructions. One grateful book buyer wrote that he bought the book for his girlfriend. He thought she’d get a kick out of it. Boy, was he right! The girlfriend’s house caught on fire. She escaped by kicking down a door, following the instructions step-by-step in The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.

There’s no way to know what worst-case scenario we might confront someday. The best we can do is to be prepared. Which is exactly what Jesus’ saying to us. Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back . . . In terms of our personal lives, that’s about all we can do to protect ourselves or those we love: keep watch and stay prepared.

Unfortunately, even the best preparation can prove inadequate. For example, some of the things that we fear have to do with our physical or mental well-being. We fear cancer, Alzheimer’s or a host of other ailments. And so, we try to eat the right things and to exercise and to get a good night’s sleep, but none of these may matter. We still might contract the very disease we tried hardest to avoid.

Or we worry about our finances and so we work hard and try to make smart financial choices, but few of us have the financial resources to cover all the bases. We still could get laid off from our job. The market still could have a protracted downturn that could wipe out our 401(k)s. We could be involved in a terrible accident that would keep us from working at all. There are very few sure things in life.

The best investment that you can make in this world is to put your trust in God. Only God will never forsake us. Only God will be there for us and give us the strength to endure. Which means that after we’ve done all we can do to prepare ourselves externally, we need to prepare ourselves internally by spending time in God’s presence. By spending time daily in God’s presence and in living as God would have us live, we develop a trust relationship that makes it possible for us to endure even the most horrible worst-case scenario.

An anonymous donor bought a ticket, number 4444, for Eileen in hopes that she’ll win the drawing. The night of the drawing a hat was filled with the raffle tickets, and the mayor is called upon to pick the winning ticket. He shovels his way through to the bottom of the hat, eventually picking a ticket. He reads the number on the winning ticket, it reads “4444.”

Eileen and her sons leap for joy. They won. The crowd cheers loudly, sharing Eileen’s joy. Eileen’s winnings are sizable, enough to prepare a nice meal for her family as well as take care of her sickly son.

Soon after the drawing had ended, someone walks up to the man and asks, how did you do it? He gives an amusing smile and brings out all the stubs from the hat. Every one of the tickets had 4444 printed on it. So, the Mayor didn’t pick the winning ticket by chance, no matter which one he had chosen, it would’ve been a winner. This is the only thing we need to know about the future. Regardless of what may come, a loving God is in control. There may be dark hours, there may be surprises, both positive and negative, but we’ll never be forsaken. God is in control. But about that day or hour no one knows, says the Master. Obviously, that’s true. But we do know how it all turns out. Those who are in Christ win.