"Oh You Better Watch Out"
Mark 13: 32-37
November 25, 2012


          

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             Nothing says Christmas to me quite like Christmas songs and carols.  Among other things, listening to Christmas songs and carols takes me back to my childhood days when my father would pick my sister and me up on Christmas morning and drive us to his house where we would open up the presents he and our step-mother, Carolyn, had gotten for us.  We would spend all of Christmas day together, and Uncle Johnny and Aunt Gertrude would drive up from their home in Burbank and have Christmas dinner with us.

            Christmas is my favorite time of year, and like department stores everywhere, I want to get a jump on it.  Even though Advent does not officially start until next Sunday, I want to begin our Advent sermon series this Sunday.  I'm basing our Advent sermon series on Christmas songs and carols, which are not only popular this time of year but also are good for us.  Studies show that listening to Christmas songs and carols boosts our spirits.  They also regulate our heart rate and breathing which, in turn, reduces stress.  Singing Christmas carols and songs are one of those rare fun things that is good for us.

            As we begin this series let me remind you that the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two vantage points - looking back and looking forward.    The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah and to be alert for his Second Coming.  The scripture readings during Advent typically point us to the first coming of Jesus Christ as savior and to his second coming as judge.

            So as we get ready for the season of Advent next Sunday, let's begin with first line of the popular song Santa Claus Is Coming to Town".  It was first sung on Eddie Cantor's radio show in November 1934. It became an instant hit with people ordering 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day and more than 400,000 copies by Christmas.  Of course, this Christmas tune sounds very much like an effort by parents to keep their children in line after Thanksgiving.  "Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, Im telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town.   And when it comes to keeping children in line how about this line from the 1934 song: Hes making his list, checking it twice, gonna find out whos naughty or nice.

            Some people think of God that way, and they read the same kind of warning, the same kind of "watching out," into the words Jesus spoke on the Mount of Olives during Holy Week.  Listen to what Jesus had to say.  Open your bible and follow along as I read.  Mark 13:32-37.  During his first advent, Jesus speaks of his second advent.

 

            But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Therefore, keep awake - for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.  And what I say to you I say to all:  Keep awake.

 

            As we wait for Jesus' return, stuck here between his first advent and his second advent, let's take a closer look at what he has to say to us today.  This thirteenth chapter begins with Jesus predicting the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  After hearing the prediction the disciples ask him a question.  They ask, "When will all this happen?"  In response Jesus spends the rest of the chapter talking about the end times, including his second coming, and in so doing he makes two important points.   
          

            First of all, Jesus points out that nobody knows, other than God the Father, when the end of times will occur.  The angels in heaven dont know.  Jesus himself did not know.  As a result, we certainly do not know. 

            There is an Hasidic story about a rabbi who crossed a village square every morning on his way to the temple to pray.  One morning, a large Russian Cossack soldier, who happened to be in a vile mood, accosted him, saying, Hey, rabbi, where are you going?

            The rabbi simply said, I dont know.

            This infuriated the soldier. What do you mean, you dont know?  Every morning for twenty-five years you have crossed the village square and gone to the temple to pray.  Dont fool with me.  Why are you telling me you dont know?  He grabbed the old rabbi by the coat and dragged him off to jail.

            Just as the Cossack was about to push him into the cell, the rabbi turned to him, and softly said, You see, I didnt know where I was going.

            Someone asks, "When will Christ return?  When will history come to a climax and a new world order, an order straight from God, be introduced?"   Jesus answers, "We dont know."  The early church thought it would be in their lifetime.  Some today think it will be December 22.  Still we dont know.

            We should not be surprised by that.  There is much in life that God has not revealed to us.  We dont even know what tomorrow may bring.

            I was reading about the tragedy of September 11.  The people who died that day had no idea such a fate would befall them.  Im certain they would have called in sick if they knew the jetliners were going to ram those towers.

            In this regard sometime back the head of security of the Twin Towers related some amazing stories about those who might have been there.

            One man was late because it was his turn to bring the doughnuts.  One womans alarm clock didnt go off.  One missed the bus.  One spilled food on her clothes at the last minute and had to take time to change.  Anothers car wouldnt start.  And one person couldnt get a taxi.  Perhaps the most amazing was the man who put on a new pair of shoes that morning and headed in to work, only to develop a blister on his foot on the way.  Because he stopped at a drugstore to buy a BandAid for his foot, he is alive today.[1]

            We dont know what the next day may bring.  We live in an uncertain world.  We dont even know for certain what this evening will bring.  Jesus was insistent nobody knows when his return will be.

            Second, note how vague Jesus is concerning the details surrounding the end of time.  I know there are some people who are enamored with the Left Behind series of books and movies.  They certainly are thought provoking and entertaining. Of course,  my favorite on the end times is Eighty-eight Reasons Why the Rapture Will Definitely Occur in 1988.  Im sure these books were written by well-meaning individuals, but the scriptures provide us with very few details about the nature of Christs return, and much of what we do have is written in images and word pictures that can be widely interpreted, or misinterpreted as the case might be.

            For example, did you know that one time Ronald Reagan was thought to be the anti-Christ?  Ronald Wilson Reagan, the six letters in each of his names, comes to 666.  What more evidence do we need?  At one time the website of the PBS show Frontline carried a list of prominent figures who have been labeled the anti-Christ at one time or another.  Some are quite predictable, ranging from Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, primarily because of the strange mark on his forehead that some said was the mark of the beast.  But how about Reagan?  And how about John F. Kennedy?  Kennedy was there because he received 666 votes at the 1956 Democratic Convention and a head wound killed him.  Bill Gates was there because he would enslave the world through computers, but surely none of these were the anti-Christ.

            In other words, let's not let the fear mongers cause us undue distress.  We have very little information about the end of time.  Certainly if the return of Christ means the end of life as we know it, then it will be dramatic.  But other than that, we dont know when it will happen and we dont know the details of whats coming.  Therefore, rather than sitting around worrying about it, lets focus on how Christ wants us to live here and now.  Thats the purpose of todays lesson from Mark.  Jesus reminds us of two essential truths: One, the future is in Gods hands, not ours. And two, we can trust God for the future.

            As we wrap up today, let's begin with truth one: the future is in Gods hands, not ours. 

            Some people are excited about the future.  They see cures for cancer and all manner of diseases.  They see our life spans reaching well beyond one-hundred years of age.

            The World Future Society released their forecasts for the next 25 years and some of those forecasts were upbeat.  For example these futurists predicted that by the year 2025 the world will have a billion millionaires.  Thats a lot of wealthy people.  I hope youre one of them.  They also forecast a new process to remove salt from seawater and make it drinkable at a much lower cost than thought possible.  They predict drastic improvements in artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics.

            But they also report that the threat of another cold war with China, Russia, or both could replace terrorism as the chief foreign-policy concern of the United States. Also of deep concern is climate change with the disappearance of much of our bio-diversity, widespread flooding and water replacing oil as the most precious commodity on earth.[2]

            How much of this will occur?  No one knows.  But heres what we do know.  The same God who sent a tiny babe 2,000 years ago to redeem our world is the same God who holds the future.  As the old spiritual said,  Hes got the whole world in His hands.  God loves His creation with a love that cannot be comprehended.  Heres what you and I need to do.  Make good decisions about the future to the best of our ability and then trust God.  The future is in Gods hands, not ours.

            The future is in Gods hands.  That's the first truth.  Now for the second "wrap up" truth: we can trust God for whatever may come.

            John Phillips, in his book Exploring Revelation, tells about the return of Richard I, the Lionhearted, to England.  It was during the time of the crusades.  While Richard was away doing battle in the Middle East, his kingdom fell on bad times.  His brother, Prince John, justly vilified in the tales of Robin Hood, usurped the kingdom and misruled the realm.  The people of England suffered under Johns rule and longed for the return of their rightful king.  They prayed that it might be soon.  Then one day Richard returned. He landed in England and marched straight for his throne.  Johns castles tumbled before Richard one after another.  Richard the Lionhearted laid claim to his throne, and none dared stand in his path.  The people shouted their delight.  They rang peal after peal on the bells.  The Lion was back!  Long live the king!

            John Phillips adds these hopeful words: One day a King greater than Richard will lay claim to a realm greater than England.  Those who have abused the earth in His absence, seized His domains, and mismanaged His world will all be swept aside.

            That day is coming.  Get ready.  No one knows when it will be.  Get ready.  No one knows what shape it will take, but get ready.  "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why ... Jesus Christ is coming to town

 

[1] Daily Grace: Devotional Reflections to Nourish Your Soul (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 2005), p. 6.

[1] futuristupdate@wfs.org