Stay Awake and Be Prepared!

secondI don’t think I’ve seen a sadder moment in recent memory than when I witnessed three solemn faces–those of my wife and two children–last Monday morning as they headed back to school.

My wife (a teacher in Dekalb County) and children cherished the days off during the big snow storm last week.  Returning was a necessary part of work and education for all three, but they would have rather participated in just one more snowball fight.

The storm was fun for this family, but it was not all fun and games for so many other fellow Atlantans who had to endure hours in cars and the cold, only to have their elected officials make excuses as to why the city was not better prepared to handle the elements, traffic, and response.

When my wife went to work that Tuesday morning, we wondered why city officials and superintendents insisted on seeing the first snowflake fall before having to cancel school.  It didn’t make sense to us, and I hope that our officials learned the lesson: be prepared!

The Reverend Quincy Barnwell, pastor of Grace Christian Church (his church meets in Trinity’s building at 8 AM on Sunday mornings), reminded his congregation last weekend that we Christians are called to be prepared too.

Except, in our case, we are to be prepared for Jesus’ Second Coming.  This is a command from the Lord.

In Matthew 24 Jesus foretold his return to reclaim the earth as God’s own and judge all creation accordingly.

Jesus said two important things about that occasion.  First, no one but God knows the “day and hour” of Jesus’ return (v. 37).

Second, Jesus’ return will be like the coming of a thief in the night.  We are called not to slumber or be distracted, but to be alert, awake, and prepared (vv. 38-50).

When Jesus returns, then, we Christians will not have the privilege of saying that we were not prepared.  We cannot wait for the first snowflake to fall in order to hear God’s call, repent of our sins, and live a life of holiness with God.

What is interesting is that Jesus tells us that being prepared for his return means more than merely being in a certain state of mind.  He also asks us to stay awake regarding the needs of others.

Jesus’ warnings in Matthew 24 leads into Jesus’ ethical commands to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the captive, and welcome the stranger in Matthew 25:31-46.

The way we stay alert is to remain in a sort of constant motion to fulfill these needs.

It is easy to fall asleep in our obligations to our neighbors.  We are distracted by the many things that surround us, beautiful things like cars and computers and fancy wardrobes and ostentatious homes (for me, its books…I get distracted by reading too many books!).

These distractions start to pull us away from the Lord, and we end up working day in and day out in order to afford more things that only distract us further.

No wonder Jesus likens his return to being like a thief in the night.  When Jesus comes, he will steal away all those things we’ve lusted after only to leave us naked and vulnerable.

Only then, when he shows us for who we really are, will Jesus ask: What have you done with your life apart from hoarding, collecting, and consuming things?

As a Baptist, I know this question comes awful close to the idea that we might be “saved” by our works as much as by our faith, but that’s not the case.

In Scripture, faith is a catalyst for works.  Works is the evidence that Christ has made a difference in our life, a difference that others can see and experience for themselves.  Jesus continues to call us even today to “stay awake!” in both our faith and our works.

Is it the end of the world as we know it?

I hope that you’re reading this.  If so, that means that the end of the world didn’t happen after all.  Otherwise, this blog–and everything else–would have been toast by now.  I know I should be writing about Christmas, but since it is December 21, 2012, I think writing about the end of the world is appropriate.

If you haven’t heard, today is the big day for yet another apocalyptic conclusion to our little planet in the galaxy.  Rumor has it that on this date, according to the Mayans anyway, the earth, sun, and Milky Way are all going to line up in such a way that it causes a cataclysmic event.  It’s so big, theories range from total destruction to an instant reversal of the earth’s rotation.

Some folks take this stuff seriously.  At least one website is dedicated to doomsday theories and reports the rise of one-way ticket sales to Southern France and Turkey (the location of two separate “holy mountains”), government-issued orders to help alleviate hysteria; and radio and television interviews from experts in a variety of fields.

It seems a bit much to be this prepared for something this outlandish.  Granted, I enjoy a good conspiracy theory myself, but the end of the world based on an ancient calendar seems, well, hysterical.

Perhaps we should be putting our energy elsewhere, in something a little more real like, say, the Second Coming of Christ.  This is Christmas, after all (you knew I’d get to it eventually, right?), and it is a time to remember God coming to us in the flesh and celebrating the fact that God-in-the-flesh, Jesus, will come again.

endof worldThe Mayans and theorists are correct about one thing: There will be a conclusion (or, more accurately, a new beginning) to history; but, according to Scripture, it will entail the coming of a “new heaven and a new earth” in which Jesus reigns over all creation once and for all (Rev. 21).

Yet, despite all of the naysayers and soothsayers, Jesus told us more than once that no one will know the time of His return.  No one, “neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father,” will know (Matt. 24:36).  Many will hear this and keep on living life as usual; but Jesus told us this not because He wants us to carry on as usual, but to be alert in exuberant expectancy.

After Jesus told his disciples that they will not know the day or the hour, he commanded them (twice) to “keep awake” (Matt. 24:42; 25:13).  Furthermore, he instructed them in parables and said, “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives” (Matt. 24:46).

He also gave them details on what that work should look like: feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and visiting those imprisoned and sick among other things (Matt. 25:31-46).

I have a hunch that you can guess the difference between a random person getting hysterical about the end of the world and the Christian who is remaining “awake” for Jesus because of the joy that a Christian has in expecting what the future holds.  While people stockpile food and batteries, Christians joyously give with abandon to neighbors and enemies alike, all the while celebrating the fact that God holds before us a bright future.

Joy is our response to end-of-the-world fanfare and joy is what we expect will come in the future. Jesus promises those who follow him that they will be greeted with this affirmation: “Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).