[Sermon preached on November 29th, 2020 at Avenue United Methodist Church. First sermon in our series, “A Thrill of Hope.”]
Our family stayed home on Thanksgiving and while we missed seeing our extended family, we had a lot fun together as we cooked, watched a movie, and took advantage of the amazing weather we had. We had our Thanksgiving meal as a late lunch and then went outside for a family game of three-on-three basketball. We also started a fire in the fire pit and those who didn’t want pumpkin pie had s’mores. As we sat around the fire, it felt like it was 10:00 p.m. I looked at my watch and it was 5:17 p.m. The darkness was profound and had a deep affect in our lives. There was a tiredness at 5:00 p.m. that we usually feel at 10:00 p.m.
We live in a weary world. We are weary of COVID and the COVID restrictions. We are weary of our lives being negatively impacted by the virus. We are weary of our loved ones being sick or even dying because of the virus. We become weary with the corruption we see in high places. The darkness that is in our world is profound and has a deep effect on our lives.
When our skies become dark early, it reminds us of the darkness that is in our world. Even as we can already see Christmas lights and decorations, it seems like a short-term fix when we see the vastness of the darkness. The world is telling us to celebrate the civil holiday of Christmas while the church offers another option.
It is ADVENT- a time to name the darkness in our world and to wait expectantly for the light.
I had a candy ADVENT calendar when I was a child. My sister and I would wake up every morning to get a piece of candy on our way to school. On the last day of Advent was a $5 bill. While there is nothing wrong with the countdown, it did reinforce that the view that ADVENT is a countdown to Christmas. Advent is a season of recognizing the darkness that surrounds us, of “looking straight into our own heart and finding there- the absence of God.” Advent is a season where we name the darkness in our world and we wait expectantly and hopefully, for the light to come.
Throughout the ADVENT Season, we want to highlight HOPE. When we live with HOPE- a weary world can rejoice. In general, we have taken the power out of the word hope. We hope for short lines or a good diagnosis. These are passive things. We can often think of hope as a grown-up wish. In fact, we talk about wishful thinking our hopes are too extravagant. Christian hope is not wishful thinking. Christian hope is expectant. It anticipates what God has promised to do. It makes us leap forward. It moves us to action. Hope puts our life in motion.
Let’s look at our text from Mark and see what it teaches us about hope.
- Hope Keeps Us Awake
There is a parable in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus tells about a man of a great house who goes away on a trip with an indefinite return date. He puts his servants in charge of the house, the property, and the business. Each servant has an assigned task that they are to tend to while the man is away. One of those servants is assigned to stand at the door and keep watch. They would stand at the gate of the house or a watchman would stand at the gate of the city and let everyone know when someone was coming so they could be ready for friend or foe.
A doorkeeper or a watchman would stay awake during the deepest darkness of the night, straining their eyes towards the horizons looking for any signs of the master’s arrival. They stayed awake and watched because they believed that the master would return.
Hope works in the same way. We have hope, and belief, that Jesus will return. The darkness is deep and Jesus has been physically been away for a long time. However, HOPE keeps us awake, looking at towards the horizon. Hope keeps us watching for signs of Jesus’ return: signs of redemption, signs of love, grace, and mercy even in the midst of the overwhelming darkness. We are doorkeepers and watchmen looking out for the return of Jesus. Hope Keeps us awake.
2. Hope Rolls Up Its Sleeves
The servants do not know whether the man will be gone for a day, a week, a month, a year, or 2,000 years. Jesus says in vs. 32 that “No one knows the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor that Son, but only the Father.” They are to do their assigned tasks with the same vigor and readiness on Day 10,000 as on Day 1. You don’t want to be caught sleeping on the job or hosting a part at the Master’s house when he returns. You want to be sure you have completed your tasks. They are be ready for action.
In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter writes
“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.”
The Greek word that is translated “Alert” in the passage is a term describing physical preparation. It is visualized as people gathering up their long outer garment and tucking it into their belts in order to do something physical. The same word is used by John to tell the story of Peter “wrapping his outer garments around him…and jumped in the water” when he saw the resurrected Jesus on the shores of Galilee. Peter invites the early Christians to “be ready” and to “Be alert” in the hope they have for Jesus’ return.
In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the 1 Peter 1:13 this way:
“So roll up your sleeves.”
Christian hope is about rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. It is not wishful thinking. It is not passive. It moves us to action. Just like the passage in Mark, we have been given a tasks and a mission while Jesus is gone. We believe Jesus will return. We do not know when. This hope calls us to be alert. To Stay awake and to roll up our sleeves and get to work doing the things that Jesus did.
The HOPE of Jesus’ return motivates and drives the work and mission we live into as Christians. But we also do not know when Jesus will return. We must continue to remind ourselves to: STAY ALERT. STAY AWAKE. GET TO WORK. Do not let the master find us asleep on the job. Hope keeps us awake so we can roll up our sleeves.
Like most kids, my sister and I were overflowing with excitement on Christmas Eve. We would have gone to our church’s candlelight service and when we came home we would open up one gift and read The Night Before Christmas. Then it was off to bed. We lived in a three-bedroom ranch at the time with all of the bedrooms at the same end of the house. My sister and I were so excited for Santa that we kept waking up and attempted to sneak out of our bedrooms to see if Santa came. Because my parent’s bedroom was right there with ours, Dad always hollered for us to get back in bed. Which we did…until we tried again.
In the middle of the night, when the darkness was deepest, my sister and I waited for Santa’s arrival with great anticipation. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the Big Guy and perhaps share a cookie with him. Hope kept us awake.
As Christians, we recognize that the world around us is full of darkness. We see it all around us. Through a pandemic, racial tensions, social distancing and masks, virtual schooling, a heated election season, misinformation and so much more, it is easy to see why suicides, domestic abuse, and drug abuse are sky rocketing. Amidst the darkness it is easy to become accustomed to it. We pay lip service to the idea of Jesus returning and setting the world right, but if we’re honest we can easily think this is wishful thinking.
Jesus warns us to be ready and to stay awake. Peter tells us to be alert and ready to act. Hope is more than wishful thinking- it is a call to action. A call to roll up our sleeves in order to prepare for the Master’s return. This means that we, as Christians and as the church, must roll up our sleeves to ensure that we are prepared, but to help other people prepare for Jesus’ return as well.
First, the hope we share for Jesus’ return should lead us to repentance for the times we have been sleepwalking through our faith, going through the motions. We must repent for the ways in which we live that is contrary to the gospel.
Secondly, we must call people to salvation. We believe that Jesus is the way to salvation. Believing that, we must share the good news of salvation through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to as many people as we can. We do this, not just be telling people, but by walking along side of the them as a guide and discipling them in the process. Will we take a chance and pray with a neighbor? Will we share the story of salvation with someone who has not heard?
Finally, we must roll up our sleeves and do the work God has called us to. Calling people to salvation is one way we do this, but it must be coupled with caring for the poor, giving sight to the blind, caring for the sick, and seeking justice for the oppressed, forgiving someone who has wronged us, and reconciling with an enemy. This is not wishful thinking for when Jesus returns, but the tasks and mission that we have been given now.
This Advent, as Avenue Church, are we willing to repent of our sin and our shortcomings. Are we ready to share the hope we have in Jesus with those around us. This isn’t just from our building or the pulpit, but telling people about the difference that Jesus has made in our lives? Are we ready to be people of HOPE who roll up our sleeves to stand with those who experience injustice in our community? Will we be a church who stands in the gap for the voiceless and the marginalized in our community?
As we begin Advent, we live in the tension between Jesus’ birth and Jesus’s Return. We have been tasks with preparing ourselves and preparing others for Jesus’ return. We are watchmen and watchwomen. We are doorkeepers. We stand in the deepest darkness of hopelessness and stay awake because we believe that hope is coming. In the midst of hopelessness, despair, and sin our mission is to point to the coming light. There is hope. There is light.
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Come! Amen.
 Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. 264.
 I’m indebted to Jay Y. Kim for his article, Hope: An Expectant Leap in the November 2020 issue of Christianity Today for some of these thoughts on 1 Peter 1:13.