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Surprise!
December 3, 1989

MATTHEW 24:36-44

Surprise! Some were ready, some werenít and were they surprised when they didnít get to go. Jesus said no one knows when the Son of Man will come. Two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left behind. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left behind. Jesus concluded, "Watch therefore, for you do not know what day your Lord is coming....Therefore you must be ready." Be prepared.

Usually we apply these words to the final time, the day of completion, what is often called the second coming of our Lord. However, the term "second coming" is inaccurate. The Lord comes to each of us many times, daily, sometimes hourly, with opportunities to follow, to go with him. The Lord calls. Those who hear the call and answer are those who are ready, who are prepared. The others are left behind.

Advent is the season when we prepare for the Lordís coming. We donít know where. We donít know when. Therefore, be ready! But, what does it mean to be ready? In Romans 13:11, Paul urged his people to wake up. "It is full time for you to wake from sleep." What does it mean to wake up, to be ready, to be prepared?

One way to be ready, to be prepared, is to take charge. There are two kinds of people; those who let life happen to them, and those who make life happen. Those who let life happen to them are asleep, or dawdling, reacting to what happens to them, so when the Lord calls, they are left behind, reacting to what didnít happen to them. On the other hand, those who are awake make life happen. They are proactive, rather than reactive. They make things happen, and when something happens to them beyond their control, they take charge of their response, and choose what attitude and what stance they will assume.

Albert Schweitzer, the famous medical missionary to Africa, had a brilliant mind and a multitude of talents. He was a gifted theologian and author. He had a respectable position as principal of St. Thomas Theological College at the University of Strasbourg. He was also an accomplished organist, and in his day, was perhaps the greatest living interpreter of the works of Bach. Yet he wanted to do more with his life. He felt God was calling him, but he wasnít sure to what. But, Schweitzer didnít let life happen to him; he made life happen, and so he was awake, alert, ready for the possibilities.

Late one evening, he came home exhausted. He saw the mail on his desk, and wanting to go through it quickly so he could go to bed, he flipped through the envelopes until a magazine caught his eye. He thumbed through the magazine until he reached an article which intrigued him. It was titled, "The Needs of the Congo Mission," and was written by Alfred Boegner. Boegner wrote, "As I sit here in Africa, it is my prayer that the eyes of someone on whom the eye of God has already fallen will read and be awakened to the call and say, `Here am I.í"

Albert Schweitzer was ready. He was fully awake to the possibilities, and the earnest appeal to go to the Congo and help touched his heart. Schweitzer made life happen by bowing his head late that night and praying, "My search is ended, I am going to Africa." From 1905 to 1913, Schweitzer went back to school and studied medicine, and in 1913 he sailed to Africa to begin a distinguished medical career. His first jungle hospital was a chicken coop. "Watch therefore...be ready." Make life happen.

Christmas is not a happy time for many people. The festivities and prevailing assumption that most people are enjoying bonding, beatific, bountiful family times increases the frustration, isolation, and loneliness of many. So this sermon--and this Advent series--will deal with some of the reasons Christmas is a disappointment for many people.

Now, if you are among those whose Christmas abounds in cheer, merriment, without loneliness, without guilt, without boredom, without any kind of strain or tension in your interpersonal relationships, then this sermon is not for you and you have my permission to go back to sleep! Ask your neighbor to wake you up in time for Communion. Actually, I hope your neighbor wakes you in time for the offering!

Christmas may be an unhappy time for people who live alone, for the elderly whose families live elsewhere, and for those who are estranged from their families. If it looks as if you will be alone for Christmas, plan ahead. By the way, Christmas is not one day. Christmas lasts 12 days. Actually, Christmas is a season. There is no law that says you have to put all your eggs in one basket, and celebrate Christmas on only one day. But, if it looks as if there are some solitary times in store for you, and you would rather be with people, you have a choice.

You can let life happen to you, take whatever comes along, and depend upon the morsels that might drop from someoneís table. You can wait for someoneís invitation, you can let life happen. Or, you can take the initiative and make life happen. You can take responsibility for your own Christmas celebration, and use Advent to make preparations for the best Christmas youíve ever had. The possibilities are endless. You can begin now to say to friends, "Iím going to be alone this Christmas, what about you? Shall we do something together?" Or, you can help serve Christmas Day dinner to the homeless. Or, you can invite folks to your house. If you canít cook anymore, or really canít entertain, take one or two to a restaurant. Or, you can plan to spend time on the telephone this Christmas, and make two special phone calls a day for several days.

Make plans. You donít have to be surprised when Christmas comes and you find yourself alone, like Jesus said, "One is taken and one is left." Donít say, "Those with families again have a big time together, and I sit alone. Nobody invited me." Why be surprised? Why be disappointed? Donít let Christmas happen to you; make Christmas happen.

Besides folks who live alone and find Christmas difficult, divorced families have a particularly difficult time with Christmas. The family unit is severed. The guilt from a broken marriage is heavy at Christmas. I especially sympathize with children of divorced families. The children are often angry with one parent, blaming him/her for the separation. Christmas is often a miserable time.

But, you have a choice. If you are old enough to listen to this sermon, you are old enough to choose to let life happen, or make life happen. You can choose to feel sorry for yourself, give vent to your feelings of bitterness and anger, and end up having a terrible Christmas, a just awful Christmas, or you can choose to make Christmas happen. Why let your parents spoil your Christmas? They already spoiled your home by divorcing, why let them spoil your Christmas? Realize they are also hurting, and feel guilty because they couldnít make the marriage work. Donít ever for a moment entertain the thought that they divorced because of you, because of their feelings towards you. Donít entertain that piece of guilt.

Donít let Christmas happen; letís all of us make Christmas happen. Plan to come to church on Advent Sundays and Christmas Eve, both Sunday morning and Sunday evening, to be with your church family. All of us are the church family, Godís family, for each other.

Throughout the season, make Christmas happen. Choose the joy, peace, and love of the Christ Child, rather than bitterness, anger, sadness, or self-pity. Make Christmas happen for someone else--a neighbor, friend, a homeless person or family. Go out of your way to share yourself and to give. Remember how Jesus gave his life for you which we celebrate today in Holy Communion.

Take charge; make life happen! Be ready. Today is the First Sunday in Advent, the season of preparation. Now is the time to wake up, get ready, and be prepared, "for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect," said Jesus. Surprise! Who knows how, where, when the Lord will come to you? Surprise! You may end up in Africa like Albert Schweitzer, or across town. You may discover a new way to serve. What the Lord has in store for you is a big surprise! Get ready! Make life happen!

ã 1989 Douglas I. Norris