Advent 1, Proper B1                       
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 13:24-37 Sermon                                         
November 27, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal)
68 "The Advent Of Our King"
60 "Hark!  A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding"
64 "Jesus Thy Church With Longing Eyes"
95 "Saviour Of The Nations Come"




TEXT (vs. 32-33):  “32"But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 

            One of the television shows that has been popular over the years is called "Candid Camera."  It was in its heyday in the 1960's; however various versions of it have appeared in the years since.  And sometimes, you can catch one of the old original shows late at night on a cable TV channel.

            A man by the name of Allen Funt originally created the idea called "Candid Microphone" for radio, and then in the late 1940's adapted it for television.  It became so popular that a British and an Australian version also aired.  I would venture to say that this is one of the original "reality" shows on television. 

            The concept is similar in a lot of ways to the more current show, "Totally Hidden Videos."  The producers would create a particular situation that was unexpected or bizarre.  When an unsuspecting person came along, the camera was there to capture their reaction.  We might call these fairly tame and harmless practical jokes, because there was never any malice or ill intent behind them.

            For example, bowling alleys were good places for Candid Camera stunts.  There are several that I remember well.  One lady, when picking up a spare, knocked over all the pins.  And then, one of the fallen pins stood back up again.  Or there was the time that after a gentleman had rolled his ball, the crew substituted his ball with an identical one that they sent back down the ball return--only the one they sent back had no finger holes drilled in it.  But the one I liked the best was when a lady rolled a perfect strike.  However the crew had substituted the normal pins with a different set of pins that looked like the real thing--only they were made out of glass.  So her perfect strike completely shattered the pins at the other end of the alley.

            These are events that the participants never expected to have happen.  They knew what should have happened; but when the unexpected occurred, their various reactions showed their element of surprise.  And everybody seemed to have a lot of fun with it.  Allen Funt always described it as "People caught in the act of being themselves."  And when the joke was over, the unsuspecting person would be pointed to where the camera was hidden, and given the catch phrase:  "Smile!  You're on Candid Camera!"

            Expect the unexpected.  Apart from the humor and fun connected with Candid Camera, there are a far greater number of instances where an unexpected turn of events has more serious, and sometimes even dire circumstances.

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is telling all of us that we can expect and be completely assured of his second coming.  It will happen.  If we're alive on this earth when he comes again in glory, then we can expect to see him descend from heaven in the same way that the Bible describes him ascending into heaven.  Or if we have departed this earthly life, then we can also expect to meet him face-to-face.  The circumstances might be a bit different, but the fact remains that we can expect it to happen.

            The unexpected part of all this, is that we don't know when it will be.  And this is the part that just seems to drive people nuts.  They want to know the future.  And so we have had many, many people throughout history who simply ignore what Jesus says in this section of Scripture who will fix some sort of "doomsday" date. 

            The most recent person in the news is this guy Harold Camping.  I talked about him earlier this year.    He predicted that Christ's return would be on May 21, 2011.  This was popular because it was widely reported, in part because of a massive publicity campaign by Family Radio, and it prompted responses from both atheist and Christian organizations. 

            After May 21 passed without the predicted incidents, Camping said he believed that a "spiritual judgment" had occurred on that date, and that the physical rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the destruction of the universe by God. Except for one press appearance on May 23, 2011, Camping has largely avoided press interviews after May 21, particularly after he suffered a stroke in June.  And as we all know, October 21, 2011 has passed without any of his predictions coming true.  Even a secular publication, the International Business Times, has proclaimed Camping to be a "false prophet."

            Here's the part that I find the most interesting.  Camping has now admitted in a private interview that he no longer believes that anybody could know the time of the rapture or the end of the world, in stark contrast to his previously staunch position on the subject.  To borrow a popular expression, all I have to say is, "well, duh!"  Didn't Jesus make that abundantly clear in our Gospel lesson this morning?

            Jesus wants us to expect the unexpected.  Even though we don't know the day or hour, still we know that the end is coming.  The Bible has given us numerous prophecies that we can see happening right before our very eyes.  There are wars and rumors of wars.  Earthquakes are occurring in places that have never known earthquakes.  The wickedness of humanity seems to always be increasing.  People are falling away from God in so many ways.  Biblical truth is being traded for human logic. 

            The flip side of this, is that the Bible has been translated into just about every known language.  The Gideons work tirelessly distributing Bibles.  People are coming to faith in Christ all the time, all over the world.  The Gospel message is reaching the proverbial "four corners" of the earth.

            We know the end is near.  In verses 28 and 29 of our Gospel lesson today, Jesus explains this: "28"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates."   You can expect the unexpected.

            There's a story that I've told often enough, and I've probably used it in the pulpit too.  So if you've heard the story before, I apologize.  But I think it bears repeating.

            This happened back in 1992 if I have it figured right, when I was all of four years in the ministry.  I was in the church office working at my desk when my phone rang.  One of my members, Cindy Hartwig was on the other end.  She was crying almost hysterically.  She informed me that her husband, Bernie had been killed in an accident.

            Bernie was a farmer.  His farm was situated on a hillside, so most of his acreage was up and down.  He grew a lot of vegetables.  Bernie's farm is a story all to itself.  Bernie was also a very dedicated member of the church. 

            We were planning a remodel and a small addition to our church.  To fund this, Bernie was out cutting down some trees to sell for timber in order to fund this project.  He had finished cutting down those trees, and was in the process of cutting down a silky oak tree that he was going to use to build a dressing table for his wife.  When he cut down that final silky oak tree, it swung around, and fell directly upon him, killing him almost instantly.

            Bernie was about as subtle as the front of a bus.  There was never any doubt as to what was on his mind, or where he stood.  Bernie was also one of the most openly devout Christians I know.  He was an elder in our congregation, a position he took very seriously.  Bernie's faith was something that ran deep and strong.  For example, he would be out on his tractor or working outside on other projects, and he would be singing hymns at the top of his lungs.  Everybody knew how much Bernie loved his Lord.

            But Bernie also knew to expect the unexpected.  It didn't matter to him what day or hour he would meet the Lord.  Anytime the Lord wanted him, he was ready and willing to go.  Now I'm sure that he didn't know that when he left his house that morning, he would be going home to his mansion in heaven.  He didn't know he was going to die. 

            At his funeral, there were well over 600 people in attendance, which is by far the largest funeral I've ever conducted.  In my sermon, I remember very well something I shared with the congregation.  As I recall, this is what I said:

            "If Bernie could do it right now, he would take each and every one of you by the hand.  He would take you out to the cemetery, to that six-foot hole in the ground, and show it to you.  Then he would probably say, 'Take a good long look at this.  There's one just like it waiting for you.  What are you going to do?  Are you ready for it?'" 

            Sad to say, many aren't ready.  In fact, those who are atheists or agnostics just don't want to think about it.  They are like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand.  Ignore it, and it might just never happen.  Live for the moment seems to be their motto of life.

            In Luke 17, Jesus gives some more warnings about the coming of the kingdom.  In verses 26-30 we read:  "26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed."   Expect the unexpected.

            Today is the first Sunday in Advent.  The word "Advent" is from the Latin word, "Adventus," which means "coming."  Of course we are preparing to celebrate Jesus' coming to earth as our Saviour.  However in doing so, we also direct our attention to his second coming, when Jesus shall come again to judge the living and the dead.  So as we are preparing ourselves, Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson for today that we should expect the unexpected.

            This brings it down to a personal level.  Are you prepared for that day?  I continually have to ask myself the same question.  For the answer, we need to look to Jesus and his reason for coming to the earth in the first place.

            Jesus tells us in John chapter 3, "God so loved the world."   He so LOVED the world!  That includes you and me too!  When we read the warnings Jesus gives us in our Gospel lesson, he doesn't tell us these things to scare or frighten us.  He tells us these things because he loves us!

            Parents are continually giving warnings to their children for their own good.  "Don't touch the hot stove!  Look both ways before crossing the street!  Don't take candy from strangers!  Don't walk to school by yourself!"  Parents want their children to be alert to things around them.  It's for their own safety and well-being.

            Jesus wants us to be ready for his return, to expect the unexpected.  Without faith in Jesus our Saviour, the final judgment will be a terrifying thing.  But because we know Jesus as our Saviour, we have nothing to fear at all.

            As sinners, we know that we could not stand before the judgment seat on our own.  God knows that.  That's why he has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He gives us the ultimate gift he could, and that is the gift of faith.  This faith is what brings us to the manger, where we see our newborn Saviour and King, whom God sent to this earth to save us.  This is the faith that takes us to the cross, where we see how Jesus paid the price for our salvation.  Over and over again, our focus is directed to our Saviour, who alone can save us.  This is God's gift of love especially for you and for me.

            If you ever happen to see Candid Camera, you can see the way people react to the unexpected.  They have had no warning as to what will happen to them.  Their reactions are humorous.  And when all is said and done, everybody has had a good time.  Nobody gets hurt, as people are "caught in the act of being themselves." 

            The final judgment however is no laughing matter.  Jesus is dead serious.  That's why he gives us the warnings he does.  He does it out of love for our souls.

            So as we wait for that day and expect the unexpected, we can pray: "Come Lord Jesus, come quickly."