A man came home from work one day and found his young three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.
The door of his wife’s car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog. Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room the TV was playing the cartoon channel very loudly, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the refrigerator door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door. He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.
As he rushed to the master bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went.
He looked at her bewildered and asked, ‘What happened here today?’
She again smiled and answered, “you know, every day when you come home from work, you ask me what in the world did I do all day?’”
‘Yes” he said.
She answered, ‘Well, today, I didn’t do it.’
Well, today, I didn’t do it. Sometimes it is nice to not do the day to day chores, to simply to let things go. But as Christians it is a little different. Someone said that the difficulty about Christianity is that it is so every day!
Today we begin the season of Advent. In this season we remember that Jesus came to earth around 2020 years ago. Secondly we are reminded, as our Gospel reading tells us today, that Jesus is coming again. Remember John the Baptizer warned the ancient Jews to get ready for the coming of the Messiah. In the same way we warned to get ready for the second the coming of the Messiah. But one may ask ‘Why do we need warnings? Why is it a penitential season?’ One would think that the coming of Jesus, the Day of the Lord would be a day of rejoicing. I am looking forward to return of Jesus, aren’t you? I am looking forward to the new heaven and the new earth when the lion will lie down with the lamb, there will be peace on earth, no more sin, no more death, no more tears. What is not to look forward to about that? Well, before that part happens there are a couple of other things that are going to happen.
First as we heard Jesus say, there are bad things that will occur. In fact, there will be some things that are going to happen that are frightening, even terrifying. Remember several weeks ago we talked about the earth going through its birth pangs because the new earth is being born, a new earth whose inhabitants are going to live without sin and be pure. All of creation is looking forward to that happening. However, as any woman who has given birth can tell you, the birthing process itself is quite painful. The contractions are painful and the baby being born is painful. Jesus tells us that process of the new world being born will be so terrible that men will faint with fear.
As the time comes closer for Jesus to return, there will be more upheavals among the nations. Obviously, if there is less stability within nations, there will be more anarchy and more economic problems. Distribution of food, of electricity, of water, and other goods will be more difficult. But that’s not all. He says not only will the nations themselves have problems with civil wars and wars with other nations, but on top of that there will be natural disasters like earthquakes and famines. With earthquakes come tsunamis and volcanoes and mudslides and the general destruction of buildings, bridges, roads, infrastructure, and that sort of thing. Famines speak of weather pattern disruptions and times of either too much dryness or too much rain. In view of this last month’s headlines does this sound familiar to anyone?
But again, while all this is really bad- we still have not answered why Advent is a penitential season. Why is there the emphasis on confession and self-examination? Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading today to take heed to ourselves lest our hearts be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and cares of this life so that the day of his return comes upon us suddenly like a trap snapping shut. Because that is how it will happen to everyone else on the earth. So Jesus warns us to watch out for our hearts! Our hearts symbolize the center of our lives, the center of our emotions, the center of who we are and what we want. So Jesus is saying, “Watch out for your center.” With what are our hearts concerned? What is the focus of our hearts? The Apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth that when the Lord returns he will reveal the thoughts and intents of the heart. William Law once wrote that we will be judged not on whether we have always lived up to our intentions, but on whether our intentions were the best they could possibly be. The Lord is going show us and everyone what is really on the inside of us. What do we really think; what do we really want. He will show everyone what kind of person we really are on the inside! Understanding this makes many of us uncomfortable. Some of the stuff that goes on inside me is not always really good. The problem for all of us is that it is too easy for our hearts to get off track. It is too easy to become self-centered. It is too easy to get carried away with the worries and stuff of this world. Jesus said, “First seek the kingdom of God and then all the other things will fall into place.” This is why Advent is a penitential season; this is why there is an emphasis on self-examination and confession. It is a time for us to get the focus of our hearts back to where they should be. We need to focus them again on following Jesus.
When Eisenhower was president of the United States, he once visited Denver. His attention was called to a letter in the local newspaper saying that a six-year-old boy dying with cancer expressed a wish to see the president. One Sunday morning a black limousine pulled up in front of the boy’s house. Ike stepped out of his car and knocked on the front door. The father, Donald Haley, opened the door. He was wearing faded jeans, an old shirt, and a day old beard. Standing behind him was the boy. Ike said to the boy, “Paul, I understand you want to see me. Glad to meet you.” Then he took the boy to the limousine to show it to him, shook hands, and left. The family and neighbors talked about the President’s visit for a long time but the father always remembered it with regret because of the way he was dressed. He lamented, “What a way to meet the President of the United States.” And he always felt bad about it.
Jesus is coming back. Everything around us, this whole earth, is going away. Jesus warned us to watch over our hearts. During this Advent season let us make time to consider where our hearts are. If metaphorically we are staying in bed and just not been doing what we are supposed to be doing, well then, it’s time to get up and get at it. If our hearts are not centered on seeking the kingdom of God, if they are not centered on following Jesus then let us refocus our hearts and be ready to meet our Savior Jesus so we have no regrets. Amen