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The Advent Challenge

Date: Nov. 27, 2016

Author: Bob Henkins

Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44, Romans 13:11-14, Psalm 122:1-9

Key Verse: Matthew 24:44

“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Since Thanksgiving has come and gone, along with Black Friday, now is the time to turn our attention to Christmas. [although some may have started right after Halloween] Usually there’s a noticeable change in the city. Soon lights will be popping up all over and the music will begin to change and we’ll start to hear the familiar Christmas songs. I have a co-worker at work who goes around putting up Christmas decorations all throughout our office. He even bought the decorations with his own money, because the office won’t pay for it, and he seems to be one of the few people who has any Christmas spirit at all. So, break out your decorations, Christmas tree and lights and start decorating to get into the Christmas spirit. People do this to create an atmosphere and build anticipation. While these are good they’re nowhere near enough. That’s why I’d like to try the Advent challenge, similar to the ice bucket challenge or the cinnamon challenge you may have seen on YouTube. So, what exactly is the Advent challenge, before we can get into that, let’s talk a little bit about Advent.

Advent, with a small A is defined as “coming into place,” or “coming into being,” or arrival like “the advent of the holiday season.” But “The Advent” with a capital A specifically refers to the coming of Christ. Today is the first of four Sunday’s of the Advent season in which we commemorate the birth of Christ and we also look forward to when he will come again. And with each passing week, our hope and anticipation of Christmas should grow. The four passages we have today come from Isaiah 2, Psalm 122, Romans 13 & Matthew 24. I hope and pray that you may have a blessed Advent season.

Let’s start by taking a look at Isaiah 2. “This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Let me ask, is this a picture of what was or what is yet to come? Some Biblical scholars believe that this vision, that the prophet Isaiah saw, was began with the birth of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel, and they believe that it will climax with the return of Christ. Other scholars believe that it is only a prophecy about the future reign of Christ on the earth. Whichever case it is, it gives us a beautiful picture of what God’s kingdom will be like.

In Isaiah’s vision of the last days, God gives him a glimpse into the future. And he sees the Temple of God, that is God house, where he resides, raised up and exalted above all the earth. And just as people are drawn to places like Mt Everest or Mt McKinley people will be drawn to it. And it not just adrenalin junkies or thrill seekers but all people of all nations will stream to it. Why do they go? They go because they desire to know God. They want to know God’s word, his wisdom and his ways. This reminds me of the Magi in the first Christmas. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”” (Mt 2:1-2) When Jesus was born there were some who had such a strong desire to see and worship him that they traveled long distances spending great time and wealth to do so. The baby in a manger wasn’t an ordinary baby, but the Messiah, the one who would save people from their sins. That was the first Advent, the birth of the king of the Jews. Even then he drew people to himself. Returning to Isaiah’s vision we see that the people have desire to live according to his commands because they experience his love and compassion. God’s word is not isolated and localized, it spreads and goes out from Jerusalem into the whole world. Wars will be a thing of the past. There will be no need for military training or boot camps. No need to stock pile weapons or for a military budget because the Lord will judge between the nations. In fact, there will be such a strong peace that even the surplus of military equipment will be repurposed for construction instead of destruction. Going beyond the sword and spear, maybe aircraft carriers will be used solely as hospitals and desalination plants. How beautiful a time it will be where war will not even be a thought. How different it will be from our current time where there is constant war in the world. From Psalm 122 we see a song that expresses joy for Jerusalem and prays for its welfare. It is about the people of God who rejoice together and praise the name of the Lord. They pray for peace and security. (v7) When Isaiah saw this vision, he must have been filled with hope and thanksgiving and maybe even a longing to be there.

The natural question would be when will this time come? In fact, many people ask this question all the time, even Jesus’ disciples asked, “Tell us when this will happen…” We can see Jesus’ response to his disciples in the Matthew 24. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” In his description, Jesus describes the suddenness of his return will be similar to the time of Noah. People were going about their daily business eating dinner, getting married, working when all of a sudden the rain began to fall. The people were oblivious of their impending doom because they knew nothing about what would happen. Noah didn’t know the specific timing of the flood either and yet he and his family still prepared. This reveals that most of the people had no desire or time for God and were consumed with living their own lives. Thus, they were completely unprepared when the flood came and it took them all away. Just think about that for a moment. They were unprepared and the flood swept them all away.

In the Matthew passage we see a contrast to the Isaiah passage. In Isaiah’s vision the people have a strong desire to go to God while in the times of Noah people didn’t care about God. This reminds me of our time. Modern people might wonder, why should I worship the God of Israel. Many don’t even believe there is a god and worshipping is just a waste of their time. Those who proclaim they have no religion, called “The Nones” are growing in number. But what about those who do believe in God even they are so busy with their own lives that they have very little time for God. Our world lives at such a quick pace. Every day is filled with things that draw our attention. We have to get up, get ready for the day. Get the kids ready for school. Prepare lunches and get to work or school. Students have to do homework or study for exams. While others have clean the house or take care of the duties at work. We have to make sure the bills are paid, chores are done, whatever needs to be fixed gets fixed. We have to prepare dinner and make sure the kids get their projects finished. The list of tasks seem to be endless. The days fly by and before you know it the year is almost over and Christmas is right around the corner. Where did the year go? It’s easy to get consumed with the demands of life and leave no time for God. That’s what happened in the time of Noah and they were completely unprepared for when the flood came.

There may be a temptation for some to think, but I’m different, if I make time for God and read the Bible and follow his commands. For those who do that, maybe we’ll be different and we’ll know the time when Jesus will come again. But in this passage Jesus states that not even those who follow God will know the time. Verse 40-41 say “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” So the suddenness of the time of Noah will be the same, but it will be different in the sense that God’s people will be mixed among the others and one will be taken and the other left.

Because of the suddenness of his return he urges all people to keep watch. Take a look at verses 42-44. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Jesus uses the example of a thief breaking into a house. If the owner knew when the thief was going to come, he could prepare himself to be ready. We had no idea that our house was going to be broken into. We had left for the day to go to a wedding. We took our dog and kids and dropped them off at my parent’s house. The thief must have been watching. They attacked when no one was at home. Had we known they were coming, we could have left the dog at home. Or at least we could have locked the screen door. Since that time, we have become better prepared. We bought a steel door and house alarm and make sure our screen door is always locked. So, it’s good to be prepared. Because we don’t know when Christ will return believers must understand what’s going on so that we can be prepared.

This is where the passage in Romans helps us to be prepared. Take a look at verse 11. “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” It is wise to understand the present time. Bible study gives us wisdom and helps us to understand our present time. The certainty coming of Christ is motivation for godly living. The phrase, “The hour has come…” is a call to action. Jesus is urging us to wake up from our slumber because our salvation gets closer every day. Verses 12-14 say, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Jesus says that the night is nearly over should give us a sense of comfort in that the present evil age is almost over and we can look forward to the day when Jesus comes again. But it should also give us a sense of urgency. If it’s a call to action, what action are we are called to? To summarize: we should put aside the deeds of darkness, that would include, stop getting drunk, stop indulging in sensual pleasures and sexual immorality, stop getting into strong disagreements, stop being jealous, and stop thinking about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. After seeing the crowds that we out in force for Black Friday it made me realize that not all desires of the flesh have to do with sex, it can be related to comforting. Instead we are to put on the armor of light and behave decently, and cloth ourselves with Jesus.

The Advent season is also like a call to action, one in which we think deeply about the birth of Christ and why he came. We praise God for his faithfulness, celebrate Christmas, repent of our sins and live like we are looking forward to Jesus’ return. That means doing what we’re supposed to be doing, and keeping away from what we’re not supposed to be doing. We shouldn’t begrudgingly do it, or do it just to get a reward. We should have a genuine desire to do it and have the right motive behind our actions. This is the meaning of cloth ourselves in Christ.  We should develop a godly lifestyle, be true. Whatever we do, we do it for the glory of God. Everything we do can be an act of worship to God. We can even thank God for taking out the garbage because he provided us with enough. If we live like we are looking forward to Jesus’ return, it doesn’t matter when Jesus comes because we’ll be prepared. So this brings me to the Advent challenge. The Advent challenge is to do one godly act a day during the Advent season up to Christmas. My hope is that if we sincerely seek to do just one thing a day, over the course of 25 days, it may develop into a habit. And that habit came become our character. May God bless you during this Advent season.

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