Sermon 3 December 2017

I wonder if you’ve heard this song about the end-times:
Steal away, steal away,
steal away to Jesus,
Steal away, steal away home
Steal away home,
I aint got long to stay here.

My Lord, He calls me;
He calls me like the thunder,
The trumpets sound within my soul,
I aint got long to stay here.

Here’s another song you might recognise, from today’s Scripture reading:

My Lord, He is a comin’ soon,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Get everything ready for that day,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

If you’re asleep, it’s time to wake up,
Awake o sleeper, arise.
If you’re in the dark, it’s time to be lit;
Awake o sleeper, arise.

My Lord, He is a comin’ soon
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Get everything ready for that day,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

The origin of African American Spirituals finds its roots in the days of slavery. The slave owners were not approving of the West African culture, but when the Great Awakening revival movement took hold in America, the Christian faith was encouraged amongst the slaves, as a way to pacify them and integrate them closer to the culture of the owners.
But little did the slave owners realise, that the spiritual songs, which their slaves sang, were encoded messages about their suffering, their longing for freedom. And by the time of the Underground Railroad, the spiritual songs of the salves would speak in code, about the opportunity of escape to freedom in the North.
Throughout the history of the Christianity, believers have known persecution at various times and places. At the time of the writing of Mark’s Gospel, the church was experiencing persecution under the Emperor Nero.
And so, the promise of the coming again of Jesus, was a welcome intervention of the Lord, into their lives and into the world as they knew it. And, this longed-for salvation from persecution, slavery and oppression would be shared by many Christians suffering at the hands of their fellow man, down through the ages.

These end-time passages, are what theologians call eschatological, remind us of the need to be ready, to prepare for the Lord’s coming again in glory, in power to judge and sort the sheep from the goats; the wheat from the chaff.
And if we trawl back through the scriptures, we find a lexicon of readiness.
Remember how the Israelites on the night before Passover had to cook and eat with their tunics tucked into their belts, ready to move at short notice.
The watchmen on the city walls, were always ready to look out for danger, and for anything of interest.
Shepherds, watching their flocks by night, would lie across the entrance to the sheepfold, ready to defend their flock.

In our Gospel reading, we are urged to be ready for the Lord’s coming, like servants who’ve been left in charge of our master’s estate until his return. For he will come when we least expect him, not with a fanfare, or with a herald out in front. As Matthew 24:32-44 says, “He will come like a thief in the night”.
But, why do we have all these warnings?
Surely, not to make us afraid of that day, no.
They are to motivate us to make our faith real, and to do our best with what God has untrusted to us.
We are saved by faith, not by works. But, that does not mean we abuse the freedom and the salvation God has won for us through Jesus’ death on the cross.
But, we are expected to deliver the will of God; his mercy and love upon the earth, with a sense of urgency and in the knowledge, that He could come back at any minute. But also, with a joyful anticipation that He is coming, so that we are not only carrying out our duties, but also preparing for the celebration.

We only have to go into every town, and see the Christmas lights along the main street. In each supermarket and boutique shop, there are displays and goods to celebrate Christmas. On the television, there Christmas movies, from everyone’s favourite to the golden oldies. And on the radio, the classic Christmas hit songs; from hymns and classical pieces, to concerts and recitals.
Everything is gearing up for and anticipating the magical, mystical and majestic events surrounding birth of Jesus.
But even before that, we must ready, just in case He returns before expected.
In preparing for Christmas, during the waiting time, known as Advent. It is tempting to plan as if the fourth Sunday in Advent will come and go and Christmas Day will roll around, just like any other.
But, to assume that Jesus, will not come and surprise us, before we celebrate His birth, would be a lapse in concentration, as if we had relaxed too much.
We must still prepare, our utmost for both, and not lose sight of the possibility that of the unexpected.
To do so, would be to become too fixated on this material world in which we live, and forgetting the Kingdom of God, to which we belong. Amen.

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