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Second Sunday of Advent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, December 6, 2015

Jesus is Coming!

Text: Philippians 1:9-11

Jesus is coming! That is the message of Advent. The message that Jesus is coming rings loudly in the hearts of Christians this Advent. Jesus told us to be astute in reading the signs of the times. He told us that the days leading up to His coming would be filled with perplexing and frightening events. As we look around us, that is what we see: perplexing and frightening events. We see chaos and mayhem and confusion and rampant wickedness.

• Three weeks after the horror of Paris, ISIS has struck again at the heart of western civilization. This time it is San Bernardino. The leaders and fighters of Jihad declare that Christians and Jews must convert to Islam or die. They don’t just fight on the battlefield with tanks and soldiers. They infiltrate Western nations and set up terror cells. They don’t just kill Christians and Jews. They kill indiscriminately to spread fear, instability and confusion. They have a sophisticated propaganda campaign that turns the hearts of young people to evil.

• There is a multitude of refugees streaming into Europe and into refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. People are fleeing by the millions from Syria and Afghanistan and Somalia and other embattled countries of Africa and Asia. Who can take them in? Who can even handle them for a short time? And they are bringing their culture with them, and insisting on changing the world in which they settle. And lurking among them is who knows how many terrorists posing as refugees.

• In our own nation, we watch the news each day for the latest mass shooting at a school or a movie theatre or a college campus or a mall or a government building. Disillusioned, angry, mentally ill, violent, they act out by killing.

• And what about the growing outcry against saying the name of Jesus in public, or praying in front of people, or acting in accord with your Christian principles in your business decisions?

For you young people, this may just be the reality you have grown up with. But for people who have been around a few years, these things are shocking. They look just like the kind of things Jesus told us to prepare for in the final days. Let me first say that we are not supposed to be afraid. Fear is not a Christian virtue. We Christians are blessed with the knowledge that God is in control, and that we have eternal life with Him to look forward to. God warned us about the horror of the final days. He did that to prepare us so that we won’t wonder if He has forsaken the world. He has foretold the final conclusion to reassure us that He cannot be defeated. He will reign victorious.

And all of that will come to a head when Jesus comes again. Jesus is coming, and we must prepare. Two Sundays in a row, we have read from letters in the New Testament that speak of Jesus’ Second Coming. In both of them, there is a prayer, and in both prayers, there is a plea that God would keep His people so that they would be holy and blameless when He comes. Today, the prayer comes from Philippians Chapter 1, and it says this:

9 ... this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

What I would like to explore with you today is this: why must we be pure and blameless until the day of Christ?

When I was a little boy, my theology was dominated by a popular Christmas song called “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

He’s making a list and checking it twice.

He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.

Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you’re sleeping.

He knows when you’re awake.

He knows if you’ve been bad or good,

so be good, for goodness’ sake.

I remember the dread that put in my four-year-old heart. Santa knew when I had been bad or good, and he was coming. Had I been good enough? Even at four years old, I knew I wasn’t pure and blameless. The bad news was that if I wasn’t good enough, I would get a lump of coal in my stocking, rather than the Christmas presents I longed for.

The Good News is that Jesus is not Santa Claus. The message of the Gospel is that we don’t have to live with such dread when it comes to the day of Christ. For Jesus died on the cross so that our sins could be blotted out and discarded forever. He suffered the penalty that we deserved, and so we don’t have to fear eternal punishment. Everyone who believes in Him has been set free, and has eternal life to look forward to, come judgment day. It isn’t our good deeds or our exemplary behavior that saves us. It is the grace of God, who offers salvation free to all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. (See Ephesians 2:8-9.)

So why does the Bible emphasize being pure and blameless when Jesus comes in glory to judge the world? It is a worthy question to ask.

Over the years, as I have studied this matter, I have found a surprising number of reasons we must be pure and blameless even though we are saved by God’s grace. I will try to boil them down to three.

First, it is essential to our mission that we be pure and blameless. God has commanded us to live a certain way. Jesus is our model. The Bible is our guidebook. Why did God prescribe a certain way for people to live? He did so because He made us to function in community according to His specifications. When we fail to live that way, things break down; and that is what has brought about the tragic, violent, chaotic state we see today in the world.

That is why we, as the community of the redeemed, are to strive to be pure and blameless. When the world sees us living together in peace, love and joy, according to God’s specifications, they see the hand of God at work. They get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “You are the light of the world, you are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13-14) We are to point the way to Christ by the way we live.

Who are the Christians that people notice? They notice those who stand out.

• People are still fascinated with Mother Teresa, who died 18 years ago. She was a Christian who dedicated her life to bringing God’s blessing to the poor and dying in the slums of Calcutta. She was the light of the world. She was the salt of the earth.

• People pay a lot of attention when the families of the Christians shot by mass murders have publicly forgiven the killers. They are the light of the world, the salt of the earth.

Of course, people also pay attention when

• a high-profile evangelist gets caught in an adulterous affair,

• or when a Christian leader builds a cult around himself and makes his followers do crazy things.

• And they also notice the things you and I do.

When God’s people don’t behave in a pure and blameless way, the outside observers write them off as hypocrites. And nothing is more deadly to our mission. Our mission is to proclaim the Good News and introduce the world to Jesus. Our mission is to spread God’s truth. So when we are hypocrites, our very behavior calls into question what we are saying. But when we are pure and blameless, even if the outside observers make fun of us, they can’t help being illuminated by the light of Christ. The Bible tells us,

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. (I Peter 2:12)

So that’s the first reason we must be pure and blameless: it is essential to the purpose for which God called us together as a people—to be His witnesses and to be the light of the world. The second reason is that it brings us closer to God. You’ve probably heard it said that Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. This has become a cliché. But it is a cliché with truth in it. A religion is a structure of practices and beliefs that human beings have put together to give them something to worship. Christianity is an intimate relationship with the Creator, which He has offered to all who will put their trust in Him. If you have all the outward trappings and liturgical practices, but don’t know Jesus, your faith is impoverished. But when you have Jesus in your life—when you know Him and love Him and talk with Him and make your decisions around Him—then you’ve got something of eternal value. You’ve got the true gift that God wants to bestow on you. That closeness is something to be nurtured and preserved.

Most of us have had the experience of an estranged human relationship. Maybe it was a friend with whom you lost touch. Maybe it was a sister or brother or a son or daughter with whom you had a falling out that never got repaired. Maybe you did or said something that caused the rift. You felt guilty, but you couldn’t get up the courage to call them up and repair the damage. And as time passes, it becomes harder and harder to make that call. Eventually, the relationship simply dies.

Sin can do that to our relationship with God. We know God’s commandments. We know what He says is right or wrong. And when we are caught up in something sinful, we are ashamed before God. We find it hard to be intimate with Him. We avoid Him, rather than seek His face. Soon it becomes the norm to miss your prayer time. It becomes hard to ask God for special blessings when you have failed to bless Him by keeping His commandments. It feels hypocritical to praise God and thank Him when you are blatantly opposing His will.

Now, of course, God is always ready to forgive our sins when we humble ourselves before Him and repent. He restores our purity and blamelessness. But we have to ask. We have to seek His face. We have to humble ourselves. But the more we sin the more our pride gets in the way. It isn’t so different from human relationships. The only real difference is that we can always trust Jesus to take us back and love us and forgive us.

That’s the second reason we must be pure and blameless before God.—because our sin interferes with our closeness with Him. The third reason is that sin undermines our faith. The further we stray from that intimacy with Jesus, the less relevant He seems in our lives. And if He is irrelevant, then it is a short step to concluding He doesn’t even exist. We become susceptible to those who claim that Christianity is just a religion that was made up to make people feel better about a universe we don’t understand.

I knew a man who was raised a Christian, but strayed far from God’s commandments. He was a brilliant man with a doctoral degree in science education. When I first met him, he claimed he still believed in God. But one night, in a fit of shame, he climbed a water tower during a thunderstorm. And standing at the top of the ladder many feet up, he railed at God. He said, “If you are real, strike me dead with a bolt of lightning.” God didn’t do it. My friend came down from that water tower and said he would never believe in God again.

There are so many challenges against our faith in these frightening and perplexing days that we dare not introduce some of our own. Our faith is a precious gift from God. Jesus said to Pilate, “...for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37) He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) On the other hand, Jesus called Satan the master of deceit, the father of lies. Who are you going to believe? Don’t make it harder on yourself.

There was a time in this country when it was hard to imagine that Jesus’ return was going to be any time soon. We were prosperous. Most people were Christians. The prevailing social values were the same as our Christian values. Nobody made an issue when we opened a public meeting with a prayer in the name of Jesus. Nobody fired a coach for praying with his team. Nobody would ever have imagined the things that have happened at Columbine, or Aurora, or Sandy Hook, or the World Trade Center or San Bernardino. Nobody could imagine God being denied and ridiculed in the media. But these are the days of our lives. Jesus said these days were coming. He said,

At that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. [Matthew 24:12-13]

And Jesus also said we will see Him coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.

And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” [Matthew 24:30-31]

So “ Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Stand firm to the end. And may you “be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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