What do you think of when I say the word, “Advent”? Think of all that you experience during the four weeks preceding Christmas - and grab a word or a phrase out of that period of time. What do you think of when I say the word, “Advent”?
What did you think of?
Did anyone think about, “fasting”? What about “prayer”. No? Maybe some of these words came to mind instead: Shopping. Decorating. Snow. Rain. Hurry. Stress. Credit card. Debt.
During Advent we’re getting ready for company. Getting ready for meals. Getting read to give gifts. Getting ready to send gifts. Worship leaders are getting ready for extra services (especially this year, with Christmas falling the day before Sunday, pastors are getting ready for three service days in a row!)
But what I wonder is, how much are we doing to get ready on the inside? Just what exactly, are we doing to get our hearts and minds ready for Christmas?
Back in the day (around the fourth century) Christians had a somewhat different idea of what Advent meant than we do today. Advent was considered a time of fasting and prayer. It was a time to refrain from eating during the daylight hours as a sign to God that you were sorry about your sins. A sign that you didn’t want sin in your life.
When ancient Christians thought about God’s Son coming into the world for the first time, they couldn’t help but think about the second time He would come into the world – on Judgment Day. And this led them to ask, Am I ready?
Tonight we’re going to ask a similar question: What does it take to be ready to meet our Creator and Judge?
INTRO TO LUKE 3:1-6
Our first Scripture reading tonight tells us how John the Baptist got people ready for Jesus’ ministry. It wasn’t enough that the Jewish people were the physical descendants of Abraham. They thought that was a big deal. But John told them that would mean NOTHING on the Last Day. Instead, John directed the people to understand that they were sinners. God didn’t owe them anything. In fact, because of their sins against God, all they really deserved was Hell.
In the same way, being a member of a church, or being here tonight is not enough. The first step in preparing to meet our Maker is to recognize our complete inadequacy to stand before a Holy and All-powerful God. The first step in Advent preparation is to see how serious our sins really are.
INTRO TO MATTHEW 25:1-13
In our second Scripture reading, Jesus uses a parable to teach the people about the importance of being ready to meet the Savior on the Last Day.
Jesus’ parable is a story about a wedding. In Jewish culture, the groom would pick a special day to bring his wife to their new home. It was a festive wedding-walk. His best friends would come with him to his wife’s home to pick her up. Then they’d parade together to their new home where a wedding feast would be held to celebrate.
In Jesus’ story, nobody knew when the groom would arrive. It was a surprise. Those who didn’t want to be left out of the celebration had to BE READY TO GO when he showed up.
In the same way, if we don’t want to be left out of Heaven’s celebration, we need to be ready when Jesus returns to collect us.
INTRO TO FIRST THESSALONIANS 5:1-11
In our sermon reading, the apostle Paul is talking to followers of Christ who lived in a town called Thessalonica. Since they are followers of Christ they know that the Day of Judgment is coming. Since they follow Christ, they know that their sins have already been forgiven because Christ died in their place.
Here Paul tells them, Because you trust in God’s promised Savior, you’re ready to meet Him. You are Children of the Light! You have nothing to fear when He returns. He will come to gather you to Himself, not to condemn you.
Through faith in Christ, they are ready to meet Him in the End. Here Paul warns them to STAY READY for Christ’s return. And He tells them how to do that.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NIV)
1Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self–controlled. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be self–controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
It’s easy to be lulled to sleep during Advent. Author Max Lucado speaks about this in one of his Advent meditations. Let me ready what Lucado has to say.
“I saw a manger in a mall. Correct that. I barely saw a manger in a mall. I almost didn’t see it. I was in a hurry. Guests coming. Santa dropping in. Sermons to be prepared. Services to be planned. Presents to be purchased.
The crush of things was so great that the crèche of Christ was almost ignored. I nearly missed it. And had it not been for the child and his father, I would have.
But out of the corner of my eye, I saw them. The little boy, three, maybe four years old, in jeans and high-tops staring at the manger’s infant. The father, in baseball hat and work clothes, looking over his son’s shoulder gesturing first at Joseph, then Mary, then the baby. He was telling the little fellow the story.
And oh, the twinkle in the boy’s eyes. The wonder on his little face. He didn’t’ speak. He just listened. And I didn’t move. I just watched. What questions were filling the little boy’s head?
…why is it that out of a hundred or so of God’s children only two paused to consider his son? What is this December demon that steals our eyes and stills our tongues?” (When God Whispers Your Name, Max Lucado).
In other words, What is this December demon that lulls us to sleep?
In our sermon reading, Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians, As you wait for Christ to appear the second time, DON’T BE LULLED TO SLEEP.
The tragedy isn’t that you don’t know what’s coming. The potential tragedy is this – that you MIGHT BE MADE TO FORGET IT. The potential tragedy is that you might look away from the manger and the cross, to some false source of forgiveness. Or that you might mistakenly think that there is something you need to add to the equation before God will really accept you.
Don’t let these lies lull your faith to sleep. Be alert. Stay awake.
Paul calls the Thessalonian Christians “Children of Light”. And he explains that part of being a “Child of Light” is being alert and also learning self-control. Learning to be sober in all things. Learning to be self-possessed in every situation, not controlled and driven by emotions, peer pressure, by our physical impulses, or by anything else.
Look at verse 8 again. There Paul says,
“…since we belong to the day, let us be self–controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate” (1 Thessalonians 5:8 NIV).When a person comes to trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin, God expects change. Mark that order. First faith, then change. So often people think, God wants me to change first, then He’ll accept me. But that’s not how grace works.
It’s NOT, If I want to become a Christian I have to stop sinning in this way – then I can be God’s child. It’s faith and forgiveness first, then change.
Just like Paul said, You’re Children of Light, so NOW don’t continue to live like you did when you were in the darkness. NOW cultivate self-control. And be putting on the breastplate of faith and love.
Paul calls them Children of Light, but he might just as well call them Soldiers of Light – because until we cross the threshold of heaven followers of Jesus are in a constant battle. Satan wants to hurt us with sin. He wants to wound and batter us until we no longer trust God. That’s why we need to keep on wearing the breastplate of faith and love. It protects us from sin’s damage.
When we trust that Christ died for us, and when we know that God loves us dearly, then we’re protected from God’s anger on the Last Day. And we’re also insulated against the damage that sin can do to our lives NOW.
When other people do bad things to us, it can both hurt and damage us. Their sins can make us bitter and hateful. Their sins can incite rash reactions from us that damage others and ourselves. But when we wear the breastplate of faith and love daily, then we’re protected.
Think about it like this. Imagine that you come home after a long day, only to open the door and receive a tongue lashing from your spouse because of something you did wrong.
Now, if you’re already mad at your spouse about something, you’re probably going to react badly. There’s going to be words, and I don’t mean good ones.
But, what if you’ve been thinking about how much your spouse does for you? What if throughout the day you’ve had little reminders of how much she loves you, and how much you love her? Then you’re not going to react in quite the same way. The breastplate of love deflects and diffuses sin that would otherwise hurt and damage us.
And if you’ve just had a reminder of all the things that God has forgiven YOU of lately, that deflection and diffusion is going to be magnified big-time.
In verse 8, Paul also tells the Thessalonians to put on the hope of salvation as a helmet. Maybe you noticed already, that Paul mentions the two most critical parts of a soldier’s armor. You can take an arrow to the arm, or a bullet to the leg, but you can’t take a bullet to all the organs in here (the torso) quite as easily.
If I were to clock you over the head with a war-hammer, if you survived, you probably wouldn’t be thinking straight. And that’s what the hope of salvation does – it’s a helmet that helps to keep thinking straight. That we’re under control.
The hope of final salvation at Christ’s return is a big-picture hope. It draws us back and gives us a proper perspective on everything.
Think about it. We were sinners doomed to hell, but along came our gracious Savior who rescued us from our damning sins through His death in our place. Now that we’re forgiven, we’ve got heaven scheduled in our future. With that kind of perspective, the glass of milk that just got spilled on the laptop looks a lot less important. Now, those thoughtless words from our neighbor seem a lot less important. God’s gift of salvation clears our heads, so that we can respond to these things soberly. With self-control. With a proper, measured response – instead of responding like someone who’s had a few too many drinks.
These are qualities that we Children of Light want to cultivate. Alertness. Self-control. And these are also qualities that we want to help each other cultivate.
Look at verse 9 again. Paul says...
“…God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 NIV).▬
The people sitting around us tonight know that God’s judgment is coming on the world because of sin. They know that their salvation is coming also, because of Christ. Look around you. These people are just like you. They depend on Jesus. We’re Children of His Light! So let’s keep each other awake. Let’s keep each other sober, self-controlled. Let’s encourage each other to keep on putting on the armor of faith, love and hope.
Then we’ll be ready to really WORSHIP Christ this Christmas. And more importantly, we’ll be ready to praise Him as our Savior on the Last Day.
Children of light, see your sin, trust your Savior, and follow Him into the light.
You received candles when you came into the sanctuary tonight. Now we’re going to light those candles. Please rise.
As we light these candles, think about how Christ has made you a Child of His Light. A sinner made a saint. An unworthy one made perfect by the gift of Christ’s righteousness.
Think about how Christ’s light came to you through other Christians. Maybe through the people you’re going to share this flame with.
By touching one candle to another, we’re going to light up this room. And that’s what we have to do. We have to touch one life to another if we’re going to encourage and build each other up.