When I was young one of my favourite games was hide-n-seek. I use to love that game. And of course, our young folk still play it – it is a timeless classic and it is one of the simplest games I have ever played. Hiding behind trees, in the garage, in ditches, and literally anywhere I thought that no one would find me.
You remember what it was like hiding behind that tree and hearing the person that was it… counting down and then they would shout out “Ready or Not… Here I come.”
In these days of uncertainty how many of us have been wondering “is today the day?” With conflicts around the globe, big and small – Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria Egypt, Israel and Palestine to name but a few … could this be the beginning of Armageddon? With wars and rumours of wars, some people feel that the re-appearance of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is imminent.
Today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew are the words that Jesus gave us concerning the His coming. He urges us to be ready – it could happen any time. Indeed in James we are reminded, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
Life is short and Jesus says to each of us today “Ready or Not Here I come….”
So the question is … Are we ready or Not?
The head teacher of a large school was concerned about the disarray he found in so many of the classrooms he visited. Papers were often strewn on the floor, and the students’ desks were surrounded by clutter.
Feeling strongly that learning could not take place in such an untidy environment, he decided to take action.
He chose one class for an experiment, introduced himself to the students and with a smile made this proposition:
“Your teacher and I provide a well-equipped classroom for you to enjoy but we need your help in keeping your desks and the classroom orderly. Many of you have crumpled papers inside your desks with books left open and the pages bent. Often there are pencils on the floor under your desks along with other debris.
“I would like each of you to clean out your desk today and begin this school year resolving to keep it clean. One day I will return and inspect your desks and the person with the neatest desk will be given this £50 note. I won’t tell you which day it will be. It will be a surprise. Not even your teacher will know the day.”
The children were very excited and began immediately pulling things from their desks, filling the paper bins with crumpled papers, stacking their books neatly inside their desks, and lining up their pencils and pens.
Every morning for the first week, every student checked his or her desk to make sure it was in perfect condition, confident that today would be the day the superintendent returned.
The next week, a few of them grew weary of the exercise and returned to their former habits
By the third week, several students remarked, “I doubt if he’ll come back at all. He just said that to make us keep our desks clean.”
After two months, no one in the classrooms bothered to inspect their desks and in fact, forgot the superintendent’s promise.
Except for one girl.
Dutifully, she inspected her desk every morning and several times a day, making sure things were in proper order.
For months, she was teased by the other students. “He’s not coming back! Why do you keep looking for him? You look stupid believing that promise, anyway.”
Still, she remained quiet, kept her desk in perfect condition and waited.
Near the end of the school year, there was a knock on the door and the head teacher entered.
Quickly, the students flung open their desks and began frantically to clean them. But the head teacher held up his hand for them to stop. All the students were asked to stand beside their desk while the he inspected each desk.
One after another, he rejected them for being unkempt. One boy tried giving excuses but to no avail. Another blamed the teacher for not reminding them. Still another blamed the head teacher for making them wait so long.
Finally, the he arrived at the desk of the little girl who confidently displayed her well-kept desk while beaming at the head teacher.
After inspecting her desk, he took her to the front of the classroom and awarded her the £50 note.
“Boys and girls,” he said, “this girl never stopped believing I would return so she kept her desk in perfect order. She didn’t need to worry about what day or even what time of day I would arrive because she was always ready.
Ready that is the key word in our gospel lesson this morning. Be ready.
We have begun a new church year today as we are in the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is a time to look ahead to the coming of Jesus as a baby in the manger. It is also a time for looking ahead for the second coming of Christ.
Our gospel lesson says very plainly “Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
The question that Christians have been asking for over 2000 years now is; “Just How soon is soon?” In other words, how soon will Jesus return for His church? How soon will Jesus appear in the clouds and take us to be with Him in Heaven? How soon will the events described in the book of Revelation begin to play out on the nightly news?
Of course no-one knows when Jesus is going to return in fact Jesus himself said that He didn’t even know. He said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
But of course that hasn’t kept people from trying. Although the Disciples themselves didn’t try to guess when Jesus would return they all expected him to return during their lifetime. At the turn of the first Millennium so many people were predicting that Christ would return that many farmers didn’t even plant their crops. In the 1500’s Martin Luther believed that Christ would return and usher in His Kingdom during his lifetime. Luther wrote, “We have reached the time of the white horse of the Apocalypse. This world won’t last any longer.”
In 1800 a man named William Miller predicted that Christ would return on or around April 3, 1843. All over the Northeast of America, half a million of his followers awaited the end of the world. Reportedly some of them made their way to the top of mountains, hoping for a head start to heaven. Others were in graveyards, planning to ascend into heavens with their departed loved ones. But of course it didn’t happen.
More recently a retired NASA engineer by the name of Edgar Whisenant sold 4.3 million copies of a book that went into great detail outlining his reasons for believing that Christ would return in 1988. He had come up with a elaborate mathematical equation for calculating the 2nd coming. Of course 1988 came and went and Jesus didn’t return. Whisenant didn’t give up though. He went back to the drawing board so to speak and then predicted that he had just made a mistake in his calculations and that the Lord would return in 1989. Of course he was just as wrong the second time as he was the first.
So how do we get ready?
We get ready for his second coming by being like that little girl in our story, daily preparation. We are to keep our desks clean or in other words we are to look to our thoughts, words and deeds on a daily basis.
You probably know that we have a small sheep farm just outside Blackwaterfoot. Each year the sheep are clipped (or shorn) to keep them in a healthy condition. This is a hard job and a dirty job. My part in the proceedings is to roll the fleeces and pack them in sacks – a very dirty and itchy job, so I am glad to take off my dirty clothes and get into a bath before putting on clean clothes.
How absurd it would be to put on those same old dirty clothes again!
And that is what Jesus is talking about for the season of Advent. We are to clean up our lives, to take off the dirty clothes and put on new clean ones. Advent is a time of preparation – we are to take off the dirty old self and put on the clean new self so that when the second coming does come, God will see us as in our new selves. God will recognize us because he made us clean through Jesus’ sacrifice.
There was a little girl who was on a train to London shortly after the Second World War. She had been evacuated from the city during the air raids and had not seen her mother for a long time. She was excited about meeting her mother on arrival at the station.
A fellow-passenger teased her by saying. “What if she does not recognize you? It is so long since she saw you and she may have forgotten what you look like.
At first the child was shocked by the idea that her mother would not recognize her. But soon she was all smiles again as she announced, “It will be all right. Mummy made the dress I am wearing. If she does not know me by myself, she’ll know me by my frock.”
So we must persevere to keep our new clothes on. Daily, like that girl in our first story, we must clean our desks, so to speak.
C.S. Lewis says: “A Christian is not one who never goes wrong, but one who is enabled to repent and begin over again after each stumble—because of the inner working of Christ.”
If we acknowledge our failings then, because of Christ, we are forgiven and can begin over again. And this should happen on a daily basis if we are truly honest with ourselves.
Here are some questions we might ask of ourselves:
If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, how would you live differently?
If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, would you confess hidden sins that you thought you got away with?
If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, would you still hold a grudge against your brother or sister, or neighbour, or church member?
If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, would you not heal a relationship with someone you are angry with or someone you have hurt?
If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, would you not spend a little more time talking with your children and your grandchildren about Jesus?
If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, Would you not spend a little more time talking to God in prayer?
In the Revelation of St John we read “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”