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2017-2018

 

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December 3, 2017, 1st Sunday of Advent

 

 

LectionAid 1st Quarter 2017-18

December 3, 2017, 1st Sunday of Advent

God’s Greatest Surprise

Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7.17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Theme: Watch for Christ

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

Advent is reminder that God brings sudden surprises. We are called on to watch for sudden future surprises. It is a reminder to be prepared now, while always feeling the excitement of the possibility of Christ coming into our lives and the excitement of seeing Christ at work in our lives.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent. That means that Christmas decorations and holiday music will be all around us for the next month. (Some decorations have been up in stores since Halloween!) But even though Christmas is a favorite time of year for many people, others are not so fond of this season. Last December a fellow in England went into an underground bunker to escape the stresses of the holiday. He locked himself behind blast-proof doors and 10-feet thick concrete walls. His name was Colin Wood, a 30-year-old worker in the financial services field. He spent $430 to spend two weeks inside a decommissioned nuclear bunker in Essex, which is east of London. Wood won the right to stay in the bunker because he was the high bidder at an Internet auction site. He outbid about 50 other would-be bunker dwellers. Commenting on Christmas, Wood said, "It's OK in theory but the running around, the buying presents for people you don't like, the family bickering, the endless turkey, and the terrible films on TV are just too much." After only a few days in the bunker, however, Wood emerged. The problem wasn't claustrophobia. Rather, he said he was thirsty for a beer.
However, the point of Advent is the celebration of God’s Greatest Surprise. Advent is totally different from going to a bunker to escape the Christmas season or wishing away the stress of the commercial holiday season. It is about the excitement and hope given to us each year to celebrate in the Sundays of Advent.

Exegetical Comments

Jesus really means it. Keep an eye out; he will be coming. Within the space of five verses (vv. 33-37) of the 13th chapter of Mark's gospel, our Lord uses five phrases to tell us to watch for his coming: be constantly on the watch; stay awake; watch with a sharp eye; look around; be on guard. Here Jesus speaks mainly of his coming at the end of time in glory to judge the world. Why then is this gospel set at the very start of the Advent season? Because the Church wishes us to watch for our Lord's special coming at Christmas—that time when we commemorate his first coming by being born at Bethlehem. There are three distinct comings of Christ—all part of Advent. Between Jesus' unique past coming in history and his future coming in majesty at the end of time, there are his numerous comings in mystery in the present.
Certainly, our Lord's teachings about his future coming at the end of time are not meant to frighten Certainly our Lord's teachings about his future coming at the end of time are not meant to frighten us, make us anxious, or cause us to worry. However, they are intended to make us watchful and vigilant for his many comings in grace here and now. The Pelican Commentary points out that we should indeed be constantly on the watch for our Lord's return, but not in any excited or impatient but in a way that means we can still continue in our day to day lives.
Moreover, the purpose of apocalyptic literature is to provide people in a crisis or dangerous situation a reason for hoping and persevering in their struggle. Such literature is prophetic, not because it describes precisely what will happen but because it promises that Christ will be with us in those daily battles we experience between the forces of good and evil. Thus, the Advent Season is not just a watching and waiting for the victorious coming of Christ at the end of time, but for his coming to us every day during Advent and in a special way on Christmas Day.
In numerous situations watchfulness is a necessary state of mind. A good mother is watchful over every sign, sound, or movement of her newborn child so she can respond lovingly to the helpless child's needs. Investors and financial advisors earn their reputation by watching and studying the status of different companies on the stock market. World-renowned chefs watch carefully the food they are preparing so that they can add certain ingredients at the best time. Many coaches of sport teams made their way into a Hall of Fame partly because they developed the skill of watchfulness and could sense when to alter their strategy or substitute players. Outstanding directors of symphony orchestras or stage productions must be watchful in order to make changes that will improve a performance. In truth, the list of people who need watchfulness to be successful or good at what they do is endless—air traffic controllers, farmers, firefighters, police officers, forest rangers, teachers, doctors, dentists, etc. Is there any wonder then that watchfulness is essential in our spiritual life? Jesus urged us to be ready, to look around, to be on guard, and to watch constantly? How else can we read the "signs of the times" and recognize the Lord's coming to help us counteract an evil or to advance a good cause?

Preaching Possibilities

Start off the sermon with a reference to the Advent season. Advent is all about watching and preparing for Christ. We have the joyous task of talking about the Final Hope of all of humankind. We have the joyous task to talking about being wonderfully surprised again and again in life by God.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

Do you like to be surprised? I guess it depends on what kind of surprise it is. Jesus once returned to his hometown Nazareth and went to worship in the synagogue. He read the scripture reading for the day and then, when he had everyone’s attention he said, "What you have just heard me read has come true today" – in other words, "I am the messiah the Old Testament prophets talked about". This knocked the locals for a six. Isn’t this Joseph the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this the lad who went to school with us, who was seen around town with his mother, Mary? In fact, they were not only surprised they were shocked. Their surprise almost led them to murder - they dragged Jesus out of town and would have thrown him over a cliff, if Jesus had not miraculously escaped.
We experience unpleasant surprises when we hear of the sudden death of a person who had been so well, the collapse of a business, or suddenly finding oneself out of work.
On the other hand, we all love good surprises. The unexpected arrival of friends whom we haven’t seen for a long time, a surprise birthday party, the announcement of a pregnancy, or a lotto win. (http://www.gerhardy.id.au/epiph5_01.htm)

As I pause and wonder at the hurry We engage in this time of year with a flurry, I sometimes can be totally confused while, other times, I'm just amused. I see the shopping malls busy and bright and am hypnotized by the Christmas light. The strains of the festive music in my ear creates its own mood supposedly good cheer. People rush around at such a fanatical pace, all caught up in an artificially created rat race. They carry around brightly colored laden bags That someday probably will become rags.
So, why all this running and rushing about? Does it really have any merit or clout? Or are people just following an expected routine So that their love joy can be seen? There's got to be a special reason for this once-a-year unique season—We've got to stop and discover the favor of the Christ Child who became the Savior. God gave us the greatest present of all that allowed us another chance to stand tall.
As He provides the opportunity to embrace heaven. There's got to be a special reason for this once-a-year unique season—We've got to stop and discover the favor of the Christ Child who became the Savior. God gave us the greatest present of all that allowed us another chance to stand He invites us to become society's leaven As He provides the opportunity to embrace heaven. Now, I know why everyone, a child doth admire. A fragile newborn baby has the power to inspire. In the end, God knows how to do it best. If we have the courage, up to him, to leave the rest. So, I wonder, why all this silly rushing round Why not stop and embrace the Christ child so profound, cuddled, sleeping in a manger as his fare, providing the ultimate prove of God's love and care. The first Christmas came and went Even angels from God were sent. But alas, people's hearts were elsewhere. Too late to find God present there. In all the din and Christmas noise, May I be open to God's greatest surprise and pause to kneel in humble adoration allowing the Lord to fill my heart with jubilation. (https://books.google.com/books?id=MR9TQF5UrXcC&pg=PT93&lpg=PT93&dq=God%27s+
Greatest+surprise&source=bl&ots=NdksHeLyfu&sig=1tFRHEE6Kd4KdXf23Gf7NKF-cvM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiygJPxhDXAhUV82MKHQr4C5k4ChDoAQhHMAc#v=onepage&q
=God's%20Greatest%20surprise&f=false)

Five years ago, Alice Collins Plebuch made a decision that would alter her future — or really, her past. She sent away for a “just-for-fun DNA test.” When the tube arrived, she spits and spit until she filled it up to the line, and then sent it off in the mail. She wanted to know what she was made of.
Plebuch, now 69, already had a rough idea of what she would find. Her parents, both deceased, were Irish American Catholics who raised her and her six siblings with church Sundays and ethnic pride. But Plebuch, who had a long-standing interest in science and DNA, wanted to know more about her dad’s side of the family. The son of Irish immigrants, Jim Collins had been raised in an orphanage from a young age, and his extended family tree was murky.
After a few weeks during which her saliva was analyzed, she got an email in the summer of 2012 with a link to her results. The report was confounding. About half of Plebuch’s DNA results presented the mixed British Isles bloodline she expected. The other half picked up an unexpected combination of European Jewish, Middle Eastern and Eastern European. Surely someone in the lab had messed up. It was the early days of direct-to-consumer DNA testing, and Ancestry.com’s test was new. She wrote the company a nasty letter informing them they’d made a mistake. The reaction is understandable: DNA surprises often imply extramarital affairs, out-of-wedlock births and decades-old secrets. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/lifestyle/she-thought-she-was-irish-until-a-dna-test-opened-a-100-year-old-mystery/?utm_term=.94447bd0d11c) There can be good surprises and bad surprises. Jesus coming and coming again is a wonderful and joyous good surprises. There should never be any bad surprises at Christmas.

Themistocles led the Greeks in the famous naval battle of Salamis against the Persians in 480 BC. Most of the Athenians had already fled to the island of Salamis not far from the harbor of Athens. The Persians had around seven hundred ships, the Greeks around three hundred. The Persian king Xerxes was confident of victory, and with winter approaching he decided on a naval assault to complete the destruction of Athens. Themistocles, however, devised a strategy. As the Persian ships entered the strait between Salamis and Attica, early in the morning, to attack the Greek ships in the Bay of Athens, Themistocles had his fleet delay their attack to such an extent that some Greeks began to suspect him to be a traitor.
However, Themistocles was waiting and watching for the land breeze that he knew would begin to blow about 9 a.m. His plan was to harness the winds to his war galleys to make them swifter and to save the strength of his rowers. Consequently, as the Persian ships entered the bay in columns through the strait, the Greeks rammed the front of their lighter and swifter ships against those narrow columns, and the freed Greek rowers could become warriors during the attack. Thus the Persians lost their advantage of numbers, and the Greeks were able to sink or capture some 200 Persian ships in the bay. Upon seeing the naval battle from a hill overlooking the sea, King Xerxes ordered the rest of his fleet to retreat and head back to Persia.
We might well imitate Themistocles during Advent and be willing to watch patiently for the Lord's coming at some opportune time—a time not of our own choosing but of his. Are we willing to persevere in prayer during Advent in order to be ready for the Lord's help from on high—a help that will give us the power and energy to do what might seem to us an impossible task for him?

Fr. Edward Hays tells the story of a young man whose ambition was to become a great samurai swordsman. The youth went to a great master named Banzo and asked how long it would take him to become a great swordsman if he would live with Banzo day and night as his servant. The ancient master answered, "Ten years." The youth then inquired how long it would take if he worked twice as hard. "Thirty years," Banzo replied. The youth supposed that Banzo did not understand and asked the master how long it would take if he worked day and night and did whatever chore the master gave him. "Seventy years," Banzo said, "because a student who is in a hurry learns slowly."
Finally, the youth understood what the master required and came to live with him. For three years the youth did nothing but menial household chores and never even saw a sword. One-day Banzo came up behind the youth while he was working in the garden and gave him a hard blow with a wooden sword. The next day, the master struck the youth with another unexpected blow. The master gradually increased the frequency of his attacks. As a result, the youth learned to be ready at every moment and at any place to dodge a blow from Banzo's wooden sword. "The youth became a body with no desires and no thoughts—only eternal readiness and alertness," writes Hays. "What was he waiting for? Was he waiting for the next surprise visit from the master? The story ends by noting that he became the greatest swordsman in all Japan" (National Catholic Reporter, December 19, 1980).
Would that we were equally ready and alert for the surprise and unexpected ways the Lord comes into our lives. We know that Advent waiting, and watchfulness are not only for the Lord's coming at the end of time or at Christmas, but at any moment and in any situation—in the youth who needs our encouragement; in the neighbor who needs a helping hand; in a fellow worker who needs a friend to talk to; in the elderly who needs a visit to know someone cares; in the street person who needs an act of kindness. What good would it do to look for Christ in a church manger, yet fail to recognize him in a person who needs our help?

The Otetiana Council of the Boy Scouts of America serves Rochester, N.Y., and the Monroe County. At the end of 2000, Otetiana Council had more than 24,500 registered youth participants and 5,000 adult leaders. Its mission is to prepare young people to make ethical choices over their lifetimes by instilling the values of the Scout Oath and Law. The Scout Oath reads: "On my honor I will do my best / To do my duty to God and my country / And to obey the Scout Law: / To help other people at all times; / To keep myself physically strong, / mentally awake and morally straight." The Scout Law reads: "A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent."
The name "Otetiana" means "always ready." It was derived from an early Native American Chief of the Seneca Nation. Chief Otetiana was born in the 1750s near Cayuga Lake in New York State. His Colonial contemporaries gave him the nickname of "Red Jacket," since he proudly wore a scarlet coat given to him by President George Washington. Many Americans regard him as a folk hero of the Revolutionary period. He died in 1830 and is buried near Buffalo, New York. Boy Scouts of the Otetiana Council make a pledge to be "always ready" to do their duty to God and country, and to help people always. To keep their pledge, they must be not only watchful and alert regarding what to do or whom to help, but also ready and willing to seize the opportunity when it arises. If Boy Scouts are so watchful and dedicated to living by their Oath and Law, then that is all the more reason for Christians to be watchful and dedicated to live by their baptismal promises. In other words, Christians should be Advent people every day of the year.

On April 5, 1987, the collapse of a 5-span New York Thruway bridge over the flooded Schoharie Creek west of Albany, N.Y., resulted in the deaths of 10 motorists. The victims were either in vehicles on the bridge at the time of the collapse or drove into the open gap before the road could be blockaded. In dry periods, the creek is shallow enough to be waded across. In times of flood, the creek becomes a deep and high velocity torrent flowing between the bridge abutments.
After the floodwaters subsided following the 1987 tragedy, Schoharie Creek was diverted so the piers and collapsed bridge structure could be inspected. Engineers discovered that the piers had been undermined by the floodwaters. The soil beneath the pier had washed away and the concrete foundation had settled and cracked. This movement had caused the bridge structure to slide off its supports and collapse.
Since 1987, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been evaluating data-collection methods and equations for estimating and monitoring flood-induced scour at 77 bridges in New York State. In cooperation with the New York State Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, the USGS is evaluating instrumentation that local agencies can use to provide warnings of excessive stream channel and bank scour beneath bridges in New York.
"Watch and be ready" might be a good motto for the engineers who are responsible for the public's safety as they inspect and monitor the structural strength of bridges, buildings, and highways. For Christians, "Watch and be ready" is not only a good motto during the weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas, but all through the year. Unless we are constantly aware of things that might erode the foundations of our faith and take measures to correct such situations, we run the risk of setting ourselves up for a spiritual collapse. We are reminded of our Lord's words to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:38).

In one of his writings, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin poses the possibility that our collective and operative expectation of an end of the world may be "the supreme Christian function and the most distinctive characteristic of our religion." Since the time Christ left earth, we continue to keep vigil in expectation of the Master's return. This expectant watching "has never ceased to guide the progress of our faith like a torch." Teilhard de Chardin challenges us to admit, if we were sincere, "that we no longer expect anything," because the delayed Second Coming of the Lord has dulled our desire for it. Nonetheless, the flame in our hearts for his return must be revived at all costs. Where are we to look for the source of this revitalization? "From the perception of a more intimate connection," he writes, "between the victory of Christ and the outcome of the work which our human effort here below is seeking to construct." In other words, we must be alive, awake and watchful for his coming in everything we do, for what we do counts in establishing God's kingdom on earth. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu [New York: Harper & Row, 1960], pp. 151-2)

For any large industry, corporation, or business to succeed in today's fast-changing competitive world, awareness and watchfulness are essential traits. Shelly Branch wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal (May 31, 2002) about Kraft Foods Incorporated. She traced the development and introduction of Kraft's new pizza-flavored American-cheese snack (called Rip-Ums) as a step in keeping Kraft ahead in today's packaged-food industry. Kraft spends an estimated $360 million a year on research and development, and millions more in advertising and marketing just to make sure its products are "relevant to a nation of on-the-go consumers who snack more and cook less."
Besides its team of food scientists and nutritionists, Kraft has a think tank of creative people to make sure that every important detail of its products is given the utmost attention—healthy nutrients, correct flavors, mouth feel, moisture, attractive packaging, portability, moveable display modules, and consumer affordability. If making bigger profits can motivate a company to look out and watch with a sharp eye to see what its competitors are doing and how it can improve its own products, how much more should not disciples of Jesus be alert and watch for ways to improve how they proclaim his good news. Advent is an ideal time for Christians to review what they have done, revise what needs changing, and reach out to attract new members to share their faith.

In his classic liturgical work, The Church's Year of Grace, Dr. Pius Parsch reminds us that the root Latin meaning of Advent is "coming or arrival." But which coming do we celebrate during the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas? Parsch explains that there are three comings of Christ: "The first is in the flesh as Man; the second is in majesty and glory on the last day; the third is in grace." Since the very first Gospel of the Advent season deals with the end of the world, we might wonder how Christ's Second Coming is related to his first coming commemorated at Christmas. The Church's liturgy originally placed great emphasis on the parousia, but as our liturgy was embellished over the centuries the Lord's Second Coming received less and less attention. In modern times the celebration of our Savior's birth has become the main theme of the Christmas season. Our contemporary emphasis on Christ's historical coming has relegated his parousia to secondary status.
Parsch comments: "However, because the liturgy is concerned not merely with history but principally with present reality, it continues to make Christ's first coming a symbol of his coming in grace, of his sacramental advent…." Consequently, the content of the Advent-Christmas season is our Lord's threefold advent. On the one hand, by recalling his historical coming, we experience his present coming in grace in our souls. On the other hand, we also anticipate and prepare for his final coming in the future (Pius Parsch, The Church Years of Grace, 5 vols., translated by Daniel Francis Coogan, Jr., and Rudolph Kraus [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1953-59]).
In the light of Parsch's insights, we see how important it is for us to avoid getting caught up in the modern world's holiday hype and crass commercialism during the Advent-Christmas season. Of course, if done with moderation, Christmas shopping and parties where we work can still be appropriate modern customs. Nonetheless, prayer should be our principal priority during December—not only our own personal private prayer, but also liturgical prayer with a community. Both types of prayer put us in a state of awareness and watchfulness for the Lord's various comings into our lives.

Only members of Christian cult and apocalyptic groups today take very seriously Jesus' prediction of a second coming. They treat the subject as seriously and watch for signs as does the Tom Hanks character in the film Castaway, or the South American soccer team in Alive, all of whom scan the skies in the hope of rescue. You might recall that Hanks was the sole survivor of a FedEx cargo plane that crashed in the Pacific, and the members of the hockey team were stranded high up in the Andes Mountains when their plane crash landed. In both cases the survivors watched intently for any sign of searchers who might rescue them. They were as desperate for physical rescue as Christian fanatics are for Christ to return. Still another film in which watchfulness is a theme, more of its ad campaign than of the movie itself, is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The newspapers and posters all urged us to "Watch the Skies." At Advent even so-called liberal Christians cannot escape the scriptural emphasis that the story begun with Christ's Incarnation is not yet finished, that the fanatics, though probably wrong in their time tables, are nonetheless right in their insistence that Christ will come again.

A little girl tells a story about owling with her pa. It is a frosty winter night, and she holds her woolly mitten over her mouth to keep her words inside. You must be very quiet when owling, she says. Her Pa calls to the owl. "Too-whoo, too-whit, too-whoo." There is no answer. They walk on through the forest in silence. Once again, pa calls. This time the owl answers back. They talk, Pa and the owl. Then the owl descends, in silence, to sit on a tree branch above their heads. Pa shines the flashlight, and one minute, three minutes maybe 100 minutes, they stare at each other, the little girl and the owl.
Owling is like that, says the little girl. You don't need words.

Watchtowers can still be seen all long the Amalfi coast of Italy. While now they are primarily tourist curiosities, even in the late 19th century they were still in use. The craggy, cave-strewn, pocketed limestone coastline, just east of the island of Capri, has a watchtower on virtually every promontory for miles, from Nerano all the way to Vietri sul Mare. As late as 1892, there was a sea battle between Sorrento, on the north shore of the peninsula, and the maritime rule of Amalfi on the southern side, Sorrento defending its rights as an independent republic!

Like a doorkeeper or watchman, the virus protection software on your computer protects you from hidden intruders riding on your E-mail. They stand at the ready from Norton to the the Black Defender. You never know when your security may be at risk from a virus or hacker. But the well-equipped computer is loaded with security code and virus protection, to guard against these threats.

An old folk story in Scotland tells of St. Ringan or Ninian who returns each year on Christmas Eve to Galloway to poor shepherds such as those who heard the Christmas Gospel. The story goes that one Christmas Eve a poor boy was left with the sheep on the hillside while the older shepherds went into the village for the feast. The boy was charged with rounding up the ewes for the night, but one escaped him, and he could not find her. In his despair, he remembered St. Ringan's Well nearby, a place people went to ask the saint for help. But he needed a gift to leave, and all he had was his stew for supper. Forgetting his stomach, he took the stew to the well and waited. No saint appeared, and no ewe, either. Just as he was leaving, an old, ragged man appeared and began to eat the stew. Outraged, the boy told him to stop, but the old man kept eating and told him he'd find the ewe in the bramble bushes near a ditch. The boy said he'd looked there already, but the man insisted. Together they went and found her as he said, and the old man helped the boy carry her back to the herd. The thankful boy apologized that all he had to offer in payment was a warm fire, but the man said he had to be off. Wondering where such an old man would go on Christmas Eve, the boy questioned him, and the old man replied that he must, of course, be off to Bethlehem. In an instant, the old man disappeared. It had, of course, been St. Ringan, the helper in disguise for whom the boy had been waiting and watching.

Todd Strandberg's daytime job is repairing aircraft at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska. But his off-hours work is his true passion. He serves as webmaster at raptureready.com. In addition, he is the inventor of the Rapture Index, which he describes as a "Dow Jones Industrial Average of End Time activity." Instead of tracking stocks, however, Strandberg pays attention to earthquakes, floods, plagues, crime, false prophets, and economic upheaval as indicators that the End is approaching. He says his index hit an all-time high of 182 on September 24, 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks, as 8 million people visited his site. He says that if the index goes over 145, it means "fasten your seat belt."

Part of the difficulty that many Christians have with belief about the end times is that it has been so slow in coming. We prefer scenarios that reach resolution much more rapidly. For instance, if we watch a TV show, we expect that whatever the problem is will be solved within 30 or 60 minutes. Or if we go to a movie, we're willing to allow as much as three hours for the evil to do be dealt with and for the good to triumph. Apparently Major League Baseball has been hearing complaints that their sport has become too slow and boring, and as a result, fewer fans are attending games or watching on TV. In response, professional baseball is now in the process of making
"condensed baseball" available to viewers. Viewed in that manner, a typical game can be watched in about 20 minutes. In this condensed version, only pitches that result in a hit, run, or out, along with wild pitches, pick-offs, passed balls, stolen bases, and the like are shown. Baseball traditionalists no doubt are horrified at this new development. But for those who are in a hurry to see how everything turns out, this new offering will certainly be appreciated.

Although today's Gospel reading presents us with unsettling images, we often like to think of Advent as a soothing, peaceful time of year. Last year on Christmas Day, the highest rated morning program in New York City was called Yule Log. The program consisted simply of a yule log burning in a fireplace as Christmas music was played in the background. The show attracted about 611,000 viewers, which was nearly 100,000 more than the next closest program, Good Morning America.

In The Unnecessary Pastor, Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson comment on how we have a tendency to get lulled into a false sense of complacency when we don't have a crisis immediately in front of us. They tell about how the Pentagon was planning to cut the number of military chaplains several years ago. In order to justify their necessity, the chaplains started to get involved in drug counseling, marital counseling, and just about anything else they could think of, so they could keep their jobs. The irony is that during wartime, every unit commander wants a chaplain with his unit. Yet in peacetime, people ask, "Who needs a chaplain?" Realizing that as the dilemma they were in, one chaplain commented, "What we need is a good war."

The passage in Matthew is certainly encouraging us to prepare ourselves for what is to come. In a Peanuts comic strip, the little bird Woodstock walks over to Snoopy at his doghouse. Woodstock, who is wearing a party hat, asks Snoopy a question. Snoopy responds by standing on top of his doghouse and starts dancing around like crazy. When he finishes, Woodstock gets a sad, worried look on his face and walks away. Snoopy remarks, "Ten minutes before you go to a party is no time to be learning how to dance!"

"I never think of the future. It comes soon enough" (Albert Einstein).

"If I had known you were coming, I'd have baked a cake!" The sad words pronounced each time Jesus comes and meets one's lack of preparation. He is coming. Get on with the proverbial "cake-making!"

On display at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, is a copy of his abridged New Testament. Being a Greek scholar, he translated the New Testament into English and left out all the parts he disagreed with. His Gospels take Jesus up to the cross and down into the tomb where the stone is rolled in place and there it ends. If Jefferson is right, there will be no Christ coming with outstretched arms to embrace the world.

One of the reasons that many people hesitate to believe in the Second Coming is because it has been so slow in arriving. An organist in Halberstadt, Germany, has begun to play a musical piece that will take about 639 years to complete. The first note alone will take about six months. Although the original piece was supposed to take 20 minutes to play, with the help of technology and some imagination, the selection is being played as slowly as possible. The organist says that the purpose of the performance is to draw a contrast to the hurried pace of modern society.

Two ministers were standing by the side of the road holding up signs that said, "The end is near! Turn around before it's too late!" A short while later a car whizzed by, but the people in the car sneered at the clergy and yelled, "Leave us alone, you religious nuts!" A few seconds later, the ministers heard the sound of screeching tires and a splash. The one minister turned to the other and said, "Do you think we should change our signs to say `Bridge Out Ahead' instead?"

How long will it take for God to give birth to this new world that is coming? Some animals that endure extremely long waiting periods before giving birth are zebras (365 days), camels (406), white rhinoceroses (480), and African elephants (660). At the other end of the spectrum, some of the animals that experience the shortest waiting periods are kangaroos (36 days), chipmunks (31), white mice (19), and opossums (13).

Sometimes instead of being watchful, we allow ourselves to be distracted. Graham Wright was sentenced to eight years in jail for several bank robberies that he committed in Southport, England. During the trial, he told the court that his girlfriend knew nothing about his crimes. He said that whenever he sensed that a crime report with his picture was about to come on the TV, he would get up and start dancing to distract her.


Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Leader: Be prepared! Jesus is coming!
People: He is coming at a time we don't expect.
Leader: Stay awake! Keep watch!
People: He is coming in glory to judge all the world!

Prayer of Confession

God of justice, as we enter this Advent season, we hear the voices of carolers telling us to "sleep in heavenly peace." The glow of candles and the flickering of lights make it so easy for us to settle down for a long winter's nap. But we pray, O God, that You would rouse us from our slumber. Awaken us to those areas of our lives that are not as they should be. Open our eyes to recognize those aspects of our lives where sin holds sway. By the power of the Holy Spirit, forgive us. Enable us even now, in this holy season, to change our ways that we might be fully prepared for that great and glorious day when Jesus will return. In His powerful name we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Gracious Lord, we often think about the good we could do for others. But for one reason or another, we delay. We often think about the gifts we could offer to those in need. But instead of acting, we hesitate, and those acts of kindness go undone. Receive our gifts this day as a sign of our commitment to change. Empower us to offer all that we can toward the upbuilding of Your kingdom, so that when Your blessed Son returns, we may rejoice in our faithful stewardship of the treasures that You have entrusted to us. In His holy name we pray. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Lord of the ages, as we turn the calendar to December, we find ourselves during so many preparations. Thanksgiving was only a few days ago, and the aroma of turkey still lingers in the house. Yet already we find ourselves looking forward to the next great holiday, the celebration of Jesus' birth. So, we furiously pack away the cornucopias, the colored ears of corn, and the Pilgrim decorations, and we bring out of the boxes our plastic snowmen, our holly-covered wreaths, and the glittering ornaments to adorn our trees.
During all our frantic preparations, as we rush to shop and bake and decorate, make sure we don't fail to make the most important preparations. As we enter this season of Advent, show us how to prepare ourselves for the day that is drawing near. Teach us how to make our souls ready to receive the joy that is coming to the world. With the falling of darkness each evening, allow our spirits to behold the stillness and the holiness of the night. As each day passes, keep us ever mindful that not only is Christmas day drawing nigh, but the day of Jesus' triumphant return is approaching as well. Throughout this sacred season, prepare us and make us ready. Amen.