Today’s Scripture is two-fold. The first reading is from ISAIAH 64:1-9 and the second reading is from Mark 13:24-32. Today begins the season of Advent and I want to talk about “Getting Ready For Something BIG”. One of the most favorite t-v game shows as a child was The Price Is Right hosted by Bob Barker. When you receive tickets to attend this highly-watched, fast-moving game show, you become automatically eligible to have your name drawn to become a participant. As the show opens, names are drawn, and an announcer exclaims: “Betty Walker, come on down!” Betty excitedly jumps from her seat and runs down to the front of the game show set to compete with the other contestants for an opportunity to go on the platform to guess the price of various show cases. If Betty guesses right, she will beat out the other competitors by coming the closest to the price of a certain item or items. When this happens, she runs onto the platform to compete for various prizes and show cases. Competing on The Price Is Right all begins when the announcer calls a contestant’s name and asks him or her to “Come on down!” Our first read is in Isaiah. Isaiah...chapter 64:1-9. It gives us a picture......on this first Sunday of Advent of Isaiah’s desire for God to reveal Himself once again to His people. For Isaiah, God must appear. The great Advent hymn reveals this desire of Isaiah and of people of all times for God to come down.
O come, O come, Emmanual,
And ransom captured Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
This is Isaiah’s desire......but it is also our desire.
How are we getting ready for Christmas?
Have we gotten out our Christmas tapes or CD’s yet?
Have we started our gift shopping?
Have we decided what Christmas cookies we are going to bake?
Have we written our Christmas cards yet?
Have we put up our Christmas trees?
Christmas preparations are starting earlier and earlier. Some stores start putting up their Christmas displays before Halloween! While that may seem out of place......aren’t they merely following that traditional advice: “One can never start too early to get ready for something big?” Advent is a time of expectation, anticipation, and preparation for celebrating the fact that Jesus came into this world 2,000 years ago......that Jesus has come into the hearts of those who believe and has caused us to become born again...to become new creations...children of God......and that Jesus will come back again and usher in God’s kingdom in all it’s fullness! “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!” The prophet Isaiah is speaking on behalf of a people who are powerless and oppressed. His address is in the form of a prayer which contains the hope of Advent. Isaiah reminds God about how God came and helped in the past......and Isaiah is waiting for God to come again......to rip open heaven so that He can become involved in the affairs of earth! “How then can we be saved?” Isaiah is waiting for Christ...the Messiah.......and he petitions Christ to “come down,” but in order to attract God’s attention, something must be done besides shouting. As the prophet surveys the situation, he lowers his voice and confesses the guilt of the nation......for Israel has sinned and is unclean! You know guys….For the church to really experience Advent, there must be genuine confession and repentance. For all of us to truly prepare for the coming of Christ, there must always be confession and repentance! Before Christ comes into our hearts we must confess our sins and repent......in order to be ready for the second coming of Christ we must confess our sins and repent. Confession is a clearing house in order for us to seek the mercy of God. True confession washes away the arrogance of thinking that we can save ourselves. Advent comes each year to judge us and remind us that we are all sinners. Advent also answers the question: “How can we be saved?” Isaiah reminds Israel and us right here in Randolph County, AL….today in 2014 that our own efforts to save ourselves leave us like filthy rags......contaminated and impure. In our own strength we are like a fall leaves......faded and vulnerable, that will be blown away! How are we getting ready for Christmas? Let’s let our Gospel lesson for this morning set the stage for us: In Mark 13:24-32…Jesus says: So let me ask you….Are we talking about getting ready for Christmas here? Have we made a mistake? The answer is “No!” Because it all depends on what we are preparing for! The secular world measures the time of preparation before Christmas by the number of shopping days until December 25th. The Church measures it’s time of preparation in terms of the number of days remaining until the time when Jesus will return to the earth in glory and power. I don’t know about you, but that completely reverses my personal expectations about celebrating Christmas......let alone getting ready for it. Don’t get me wrong. I like to get caught up in the “Christmas spirit.” I like to put up and decorate the tree. I loved it when my kids would get our the Christmas music. I like it all….I like Christmas cookies and Christmas parties. I like wrapping gifts. But if the theme of the first Sunday in Advent is to focus our attention on the real meaning of Christmas......then we need to realize that celebrating the birth of Jesus was important to our ancestors in the faith because they had experienced the life-changing effects of having “God with them”...God living in them......and they were eagerly waiting for Him to come back in order to establish the new heavens and the new earth. I think we need to see that we need to change our attitudes about what we are preparing for. Let’s recapture the sense of eager anticipation about the second coming of Christ which was present in the early Church. During this Advent season, let’s listen to God calling us to look beyond ‘today and tomorrow’ to the time when Jesus will come back. This morning we are preparing for much more than December 25th.We are celebrating the fact that God has indeed come to us through His birth into this fallen world—in order to destroy sin’s gridlock on us. This is what Isaiah was praying for. A Chinese Confucius scholar who was converted to Christ told this story: “A man fell into a dark, dirty, slimy pit. He tried to climb out of the pit, but he couldn’t. Confucious came along. He saw the man in the pit and he said, ‘Poor fellow, if he’d listened to me, he never would have gotten there,” and he went on. Buddha came along. When Buddha saw the man in the pit, he said, ‘Poor fellow, if he’ll come up here, I’ll help him,’ and he too went on. Then Jesus Christ came and He said, ‘Poor fellow!’ And He jumped into the pit and lifted him out.” We celebrate that Jesus Christ is beside us in the muck of our world. He lives. He has come. He is down here with us! And because He is down here with us, we are also preparing for that grand and wonderful day when there will be no more pain or sorrow or death. We are getting ready for an event that has no equal in human experience and for which we wait with eager anticipation! I remember what it was like for me to wait for Christmas morning when I was a child. The closer it got to Christmas, the more excited I became. On December 24th, my enthusiasm reached its zenith. After the Midnight Christmas Eve candlelight service, I still remember how hard it was for me to fall asleep that night. This Advent season, let’s expand our Christmas preparations to include Christ’s coming back to earth in power and glory. No one knows when that will happen, but we do know that it will happen. Let’s allow our eager anticipation of that event to spill over into our anticipation of this year’s Christmas celebration! Such a vision will definitely change the way we live from day to day...every day! Let’s prepare to celebrate what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do in the future! Remember: “One can never start too early to get ready for something big!”