Let's Hope We're Ready!

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  November 27, 2022

Click here to listen to the service 
Read Matthew 24:36 – 44 (NIV)
Not too long ago I blinked and realized it was time for Thanksgiving and with that thought came the revelation  that, “If it’s time for Thanksgiving, then Advent and Christmas cannot be far behind…” 
As I began to question how that was even possible… I struggled because it felt like Labor Day had only been a couple of weeks ago, right?  Oh, wait that might have been Halloween because I seem to remember there was something about costumes and candy… oh no, maybe was that Election Day…
But seriously, how does time just suddenly sneak up on us like that? 
How do we lose track of time and not know that Christmas is almost here? 
After all, it comes at the same time, year after year after year… doesn’t it?
That always make me think of something that Dave Ramsey teaches in Financial Peace University – the Christian based program that is designed to help people with money management principles… ostensibly with the goal of becoming debt-free so that we can give and be a blessing to others.
I actually taught the Financial Peace University class many years ago when I was still at Bethany… and, while Ron and I still have not achieved the level of being debt-free just yet… some of the lessons did make a lasting impression on me.
There is one lesson entitled “Dumping Debt” where Dave talks about how we end up with these so-called “emergencies” that cause us to max out our credit cards because somehow… we did not know that the kids were going to grow over the summer and need new clothes when school started… or that Christmas was going to come on December 25th this year.  So, now we have an “emergency” and need to figure out how to manage what feels like a crisis.
Now unlike Christmas… that day that we traditionally set aside each year to celebrate Jesus’ birth and His first coming to earth… our text for the morning highlights the fact that we do not know the day nor the hour when Jesus will come again… His Second Coming.
But one thing is for sure… and that is, ready or not… Jesus will be coming back again.  So, we want to be sure our houses are in order before that day does come…
And that is why the subject of today’s sermon is: LET’S HOPE WE’RE READY!
Often, we say that the season of Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth… or what is sometimes referred to as the First Advent. 
And yet it is also the time for us to prepare for the Second Advent… to get ready for the Second Coming of Jesus… that time when Christ has promised to return for His bride… the church. 
And while I cannot tell you exactly when that Second Advent… that Second Coming… is going to be… one thing I do know for sure is that it is getting closer day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment… so, whenever that day does come LET’S HOPE WE’RE READY!
Now because the promise of Christ’s return means that there are better days ahead... rather than being worried about exactly when that day will come… believers in Christ ought to be infused with a sense of hope.
That word hope is a small world… but it is packed with a whole lot of possibilities.
It is more than a simple wish, but what exactly is hope?
Webster’s Dictionary defines hope as a verb that means, “to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope?src=search-dict-hed).
Webster’s also gives a definition for hope that means… to expect with confidence… in other words to trust.
We can have hope when we make the decision to trust in Jesus… as the songwriters, Louisa Stead and William Kirkpatrick put it, “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus… just to take Him at His word.”  We can place our hope and confidence in Jesus knowing that we can ALWAYS take Him at His word.
The other day, I heard someone use the word HOPE as an acronym that stands for Holding Onto Positive Expectations… and when we put our trust in Jesus, we can Hold Onto the Positive Expectation… that one day He is coming back again…
That is why this season of Advent, this time of preparation, is filled with so much anticipation and expectation and celebration.
Now, one thing I love about having hope is that it never grows old… even as we wait for whatever it is that we are hoping for to come to fruition.
Unlike some of the food and medical products in our cabinets and refrigerators… there is no best used by date stamped on the outside of hope… and that is because hope never becomes outdated… at least, that is, when we are placing our hope in the right place.
Sadly, however, we often place our hope in the people, places and things of this world… and we find ourselves being disappointed… did I already mention Election Day? 
Anyway… when our circumstances change and things don’t go the way that we thought they would or should go… we can find ourselves feeling helpless… feeling like all hope has been lost.
But the Apostle Paul put it like this in his letter to the church at Rome… and I believe these words still give us encouragement to hope in spite of our present day circumstances… Paul wrote:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.  (Romans 5:3 – 5).
What do you mean Paul, “We rejoice in our sufferings?”  What is that about? 
If you’re like me, you may be thinking that Paul must have been off his rocker to even make such an outrageous suggestion that we ought to “rejoice in our suffering…”
There is no way he would have said that if Paul knew about the chaos and confusion we are seeing in the world around us today… mass shooting after mass shooting… war in Ukraine with seemingly no end in sight… protests in Iran with thousands being arrested and even killed… so much senseless violence and bloodshed in our streets… not to mention the political chaos across this nation that is responsible for our children being terrified to go into their school classrooms and walk across college campuses… and has resulted in average everyday citizens being afraid to do simple things like go to the grocery store or spend time with friends at the local club or sadly even to go to their houses of worship.
Paul are you sure you meant rejoice in our suffering??
But even James, the half-brother of Jesus, had this to say: 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (James 1:2 – 4).
So, Paul says that suffering produces endurance which in turn produces character and character then produces hope.  And James says that trials… in other words suffering… produces perseverance… which can be used as another word for endurance… which ultimately leads to maturity and the sense of being complete… of being in a place where we lack nothing.
But perhaps someone is still not quite convinced about this suffering and rejoicing thing going together… based simply on the words of Paul and James… after all, they may have been good men, but at the end of the day they were just human beings… like you and me… maybe they did not fully grasp this concept of suffering and sorrow… of trial and tragedy.  How could they and still be able to say, rejoice?
Well, let’s go to one of my favorite scriptures and see what Jesus had to say on the matter… In John 16:33 we read, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Believe it or not, this is good news for the people of God, it is a reason to rejoice! 
The suffering… the sorrow… the trials… the tragedies of this world won’t last forever… because the day will come when Jesus… the One who has overcome the world will return.  LET’S HOPE WE’RE READY!
Now one of the reasons we can hold onto hope is because as believers in Christ… we have the assurance that the best is yet to come.  In fact, listen again to that passage I mentioned from Paul’s letter to the Romans as it is found in the Message Paraphrase:

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (Romans 5:3 – 5)
…keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged.…
That is what this season of Advent is all about… living our lives being alert with expectancy… because we know that someday… Jesus, the Christ, our Lord and Savior, will come back for His Church… LET’S HOPE WE’RE READY!
However, as our text for the morning reminds us… no one knows exactly when that day is going to come.  That is why our text calls for us to be vigilant… to be on the lookout for the Lord to return… to make sure that we are ready whenever He comes.
Now, to be perfectly honest, that day is much closer than it has ever been before… which is why we need to make sure that our hearts are filled with that alert expectancy… and that we do our best to be sure we are ready.
All anyone has to do is turn on the television, look at their iPad or tablet, check out their iPhone or smartphone in order to see what is trending in the headlines.  This world is full of unrest… full of sorrow, suffering and strife…
And rest assured, none of it has caught God off guard or taken Him by surprise…
In fact, if we were to back up several verses before our text in Matthew 24 (6-8), we would read these words of Jesus:

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.
In other words, all of this that we see happening now… this is just the beginning… and it is nothing in comparison to what is yet to come. 
But even in the midst of all that is going on, we can still have hope. 
In spite of what circumstances may look like around us… we have the assurance that Christ is coming back for us… and that ought to give us enough reason right there to hold onto hope.
So, someone may be wondering, why doesn’t God just tell us when Christ will return? 
Why do we keep waiting and celebrating through this season of Advent year after year after year? 
Why not just give us the high-sign so we know exactly when to expect Jesus to come?
Well… one possible theory is that if we knew exactly when Christ was going to return, we would just simply keep living sinful lives until that day and time got closer.  
But Jesus’ desire is for us to live our lives in such a way as to bring glory and honor to God.  His desire is for our lives to point other people to Christ… and in order to do that, we need to live our lives in ways that reflect Christ’s true nature. 
As Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Loving one another… even when that other is rather unlovable… that is exactly the way that God loves us.
And if we were to go back to Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, we would find these words:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8).
Talk about loving the unlovable… and yet that is exactly what the Lord has done for each and every one of us… loved us even when we were unlovable… and His desire is that we show that kind of love to one another.
And if we are living lives that are characterized by unconditional love for one another… when we are diligent in living our lives in ways that are consistent with God’s will… we will be ready whenever the Lord comes back for His church… no matter the day nor the hour.
And so let me suggest that we ought to be vigilant and be intentional in our efforts to live as if Christ is going to show up at any given moment… because the fact of the matter is… He just might… so, LET’S HOPE WE’RE READY!
Now, the closing verses of our text for the morning say,

But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
As the Boy Scouts might say, we need to be prepared… because ready or not… that day when Jesus comes back for His church is going to come. 
So, how can we make sure we are ready?  By asking ourselves what would happen if Jesus came back in the middle of whatever we may be doing… Would He be pleased and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” 
Or would He have a few other choice words for us?
Doing what is pleasing to Jesus means following His commands to love God with all of who we are...  this is the first and greatest commandment… and the second is like it, we are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (See Matthew 22:36 – 40). 
It really sounds so simple and yet, we continue to make it so much more complicated than it needs to be… but if we want to be ready when Jesus does return… we need to get back to basics and start loving the way Jesus taught us to love… pure and simple.
Love truly is an action word…

That is why the Apostle Peter had this to say about love:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8 – 11).
So, if we want to be ready when Jesus comes back, we need to make a point of loving and serving God and the people of God… of extending grace to one another… of showing kindness and compassion to one another… of blessing others even as we have been blessed…
And we can do all of that when we place our hope and trust in Jesus…
So, today, if that is where you have placed your hope and trust, I want to invite you to stand now and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: #537 My Hope Is Built.