Sunday, December 03, 2006

Signs of the Coming - A sermon preached in Magheralin at 'Good News at Ten' on 3rd December 2006. Luke 21:25-36

Have you ever been to a surprise party? A few years back we had a surprise birthday party for my gran’s 80th birthday. For weeks, we had been arranging it – making sure people could come, getting the food sorted, and the entertainment.

We concocted the cover story – she would be going out for a meal with my parents that night, and she was all ready. In the meantime, all the guests had arrived at the venue, making sure to be there before she arrived.

As the guests arrived, we had good time meeting up with relatives and friends, hearing of their news, and catching up on stories. But that wasn’t the reason we were there. The special guest hadn’t arrived yet.

The whole point of the surprise party was for it to be a surprise. And to be a surprise, we would need to know when she was coming, so the lights could be out, and we would all be quiet. How would we know when gran was arriving? What were the signs of her arriving?

Well, we had made sure that mum would ring through on her mobile to someone in the room when they were leaving. Then when they arrived, the car horn was tooted to warn us. When we heard this, we knew gran was about to arrive, and we had to be quiet, with the lights out.

She got a big shock that night as she walked into the dark room, and saw all the familiar faces as the lights came on. We had a great night after that, enjoying the party! But we needed the warning that she was coming – the signs to let us know she was arriving.

Or what about the arrival of Christmas? What signs are there that Christmas is coming near? Today is Advent Sunday, and Christmas is just three weeks tomorrow. For several weeks now, the Christmas trees have been going up in towns and villages. We’ve seen the shops full of the toys, and lights and trees. Even though they appear in the shops and town centres from the middle (or start of November), they’re still a sign that Christmas is coming.

In our reading today, Jesus is talking about another arriving - the time when he will return to the earth again. So you might be asking, when is Jesus going to come back? After all, it’s been about 2000 years so far, and he hasn’t returned yet.

But he says there are certain signs that will show that his kingdom is near – and his return will happen then.

‘There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

These might sound scary, or create fear and worry in us – but Jesus says that they show us that he is coming soon. He goes on to say: ‘At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’

Even though the nations are in uproar, and bad things are happening – we don’t need to be afraid, or concerned. This is because they are signs, pointers that Jesus is coming back soon. Indeed, he then tells us to be watching out for him.

He says: ‘When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’ Jesus encourages us to be watching for him, to be ready for when he arrives.

Because when he does, our redemption is drawing near – that is, Jesus will come back to take us to be with him. He will be with us, and we will be with him. We will be changed and transformed to be like him. As we read in Titus, 'we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.' (Titus 2:13)

Jesus then gives us another way of putting it. As you might know, Jesus liked to tell parables, to explain the things he wanted to say in ways that were easy to understand. In some ways, my two stories at the start, about gran’s surprise party, and the shops at Christmas time were a bit like Jesus’ parables.

Here’s how Jesus said it – ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.’

I don’t know about your mum, but mine always makes some comment on the trees… For example, last week when we were out for a drive, she talked about the lovely colours of the leaves, and the leaves all falling to the ground. When that happens, we know we’re in autumn. Then in a few months time, when the blossom comes out on the trees, and the new leaves start to grow, we’ll know that we’re in springtime again. The leaves coming on the trees are a sign that summer is near.

Jesus tells us, therefore, that just as we can all see the signs of summer coming by looking at the trees and the new leaves, so we can also see that Jesus is coming soon by all the signs of his coming. All those signs we talked about – the nations in anguish, the terror, and the shaking.

So just as we have the signs of Jesus’ arrival, we know he is coming soon. In that sense, it’s like my gran’s birthday party. But Jesus’ coming is going to be different, too – we don’t know when he is going to arrive. We can’t arrange it all the way we had arranged what time gran would arrive at her party.

We simply don’t know when Jesus is coming back. But we have to be ready for his arrival. As I said earlier, because it has been so long, and he still hasn’t arrived back, some people ignore the promise, or else think he isn’t going to return. But as he says, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’ What Jesus has said will happen, will happen.

So how should we live? What do we need to do to be ready for his coming? ‘Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch and pray that you may escape al that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.’

We should be careful, watching and praying for his return. Not forgetting about it, or getting bogged down in other things. As the verse in Titus told us, we are waiting for our blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ. When he arrives, we who know him and who love him will be with him in his kingdom for the feasting of heaven and all the joy of that neverending party. What more incentive do we need now to watch and pray, to be ready?

Jesus is coming back. He has said so himself. He has told us about the signs of his coming. And we need to be ready for his coming, by watching and praying for it. And when he comes, we will be with him!

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