There was a lot of talk this week about finding the solutions to Middle East peace. Our president tried to get various Arab groups together, along with the Israelis, to sit down and hammer out some sort of agreement that would ostensibly bring peace after 60 years of hostilities.
Forgive me for being cynical, but this has more to do with the President’s legacy rather than a strict desire to bring about peace in the Middle East. For three thousand years, Israelis and Arabs have been fighting each other, so what’s going to make anything different now? My main concern is at what cost will this great peace happen? And I’m not talking about the price of oil, or the cost of war. I’m talking about the cost of Human rights on both sides.
How can we get people and leaders to agree on peace when on the one side unmarried women are being flogged for sitting in a car with a man; a teacher is sent to prison for calling a teddy bear Mohammed; and on the other side, prisoners have been held in captivity in Guantanamo Bay for over six years, and possibly water boarded on a regular basis, trying to get information on a terrorist organization that has radically changed since 2001.
It may just be me, but I’m not seeing the potential for beating swords into plows or spears into pruning hooks here. All I’m noticing is a bunch of political leaders getting together for photo opportunities to take back home to their palaces and mansions, and pat themselves on the back that they tried to broker peace in their time. If they were all really serious about bringing peace to the Middle east, the whole area should be demilitarized with tanks being turned into bulldozers and missiles turned into medical supplies.
It kind of reminds me of when John Lennon and Yoko Ono brought out their Happy Xmas: War is over single at this time of year in 1971. Everybody was singing it thinking it was a jolly little song, sentimentally calling the world to seek peace at Christmas. Most of the population who sang Happy Xmas: War is over didn’t realize it was highly satirical and that John and Yoko were actually describing the hypocrisy of people at Christmas, who use this time of year to make themselves feel good by trying to maintain peace. Forget about the rest of the year, the song is actually saying, so long as we have peace for Christmas, we can all feel good about ourselves.
That’s why I’m very cynical about this latest round of peace talks at the Whitehouse and in other places around the world. It’s all for show and has no substance to it. It’s filibustering on a global scale. If the masses of people see their leaders trying to do something about peace, then maybe they’ll think their politicians are actually better than they really are.
As Christians, we worship the Prince of Peace, and we wait that special Day when Christ will return to establish His authority over the whole earth. That will be a time when Christ’s absolute rule is absolutely ruling the whole earth. There will be no more war because Christ will not allow it. We will not be able to choose to fight, rebel and argue because Jesus will not permit it amongst His people. His word will be absolute and His sovereignty will be complete. Peace will reign because division, schism, hostility, and war will be no more. It will be a day of reckoning for those leaders who publicly call for peace, but whose hearts glorify the scandal of war.
Romans 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
We have begun the time of Advent in the Church year, and many people incorrectly think that we are looking ahead to Christmas Day and of Christ being born into the world. But how can we look ahead to something that has already occurred more than two thousand years ago? Christ has already been born. It all happened a long time ago. Advent is not about Christmas and how prepared we are for this busy season: Advent is all about preparing our hearts and souls for that time when Jesus will return to earth. It could happen before Christmas. It could happen next week. It could happen before this sermon ends – which may or not be a long time, depending upon how I feel.
What I’m saying is this: we all get so engrossed with preparing for Christmas that we forget to be ready to meet Jesus. All the lights and the tinsel, the decorations and the gifts, the food and the feasts are not important. And if we become obsessed with getting things ready and perfect for the family coming home this Christmas, but put Christ out of our minds and do nothing to be ready for Him, then we’ve lost our faith somewhere in the process.
It’s like the day after Thanksgiving, we all want to buy, buy, buy! We’ve just spent a whole day thanking God for the things that we need, and then we’re up early at 4am for things to satisfy our greed! Within 24 hours, we’ve ditched God altogether and replaced Him with a shopping card, Christmas list, and check book.
And I’m just as bad. I get caught up in the hustle and bustle as well. In fact, I was sitting in the West Town mall with a bunch of carrier bags at 6am in the morning waiting for Evelyn and Lynsey to finish their shopping. I was their designated driver and beast of burden. So I’m sitting right next to the place where all the kids get photos taken with Santa, which is decorated with gorgeous Christmas trees and beautiful giant sized characters from the Nutcracker ballet. This is where all the families gather with their kids to meet Santa Claus…and ten feet from where the kids are being photographed is a Victoria’s Secret Superstore with almost naked mannequins in lingerie. This is what we’ve let Christmas become – a time to spoil our kids rotten and to indulge in our sexual fantasies.
It’s not Christmas that we have to reclaim. It’s Advent. Instead of saying that there are only 23 shopping days to Christmas, we as Christians should be expressing what Paul has written: The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
As each day passes, we’re all one day nearer to the time when Christ will return, but are we honestly one day better prepared for that possibility? If Jesus came to earth right now, would we be prepared – or would we be fiddling about with our Blackberries and cell phones, our text messages and emails, our Tivos and DVRs? We’ve already been given a text message and God has already recorded what is going to happen. It’s all in the Bible, but we’ve stopped reading it.
I read somewhere that Woody Allen, whose middle name is Stuart by the way, celebrated his 72nd birthday this weekend. He’s made many off the wall movies, which you either like or hate. The first movie that I can remember seeing with Woody Allen was one called “Sleeper.” It’s highly irreverent and the tagline for the movie is A love story about two people who hate each other – 200 years in the future.
It’s about a person who awakes from cryostasis and is used by revolutionaries to overthrow an oppressive government. I think it’s very funny and very clever. It’s also about someone from the past being resurrected in order to save the future of humankind. It’s a Messianic movie, although most people miss that when they view it.
The Church of Christ has been sleeping for decades and has allowed Christmas to spin out of control. We’ve become oppressed by capitalism and commercialism which is coming home to bite us. We all get into a frenzy trying to find the perfect gift for everyone. We put ourselves into terrible debt in order to keep up with our neighbors. We feel as though Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t give our kids everything that they want. We’re being led like lambs to slaughter on the altar of excessive expenses and being sold into the slavery of sophisticated shopping in order to make us feel good.
Advent is not a feel good time. It’s a season of realizing that we are not perfect. It’s a time to understand that we all have faults. It’s a month of perceiving that we need Jesus in our lives because our lives are meaningless without Him. The adventure of Advent is to wait for the Lord and to expect His Coming. If we dreaded the return of Christ as much as we dread our credit card bills in January, then we would probably be better prepared for His arrival. But because we take so much for granted in this life and are fuelled by our need to possess, we disown Christ in our lives and precariously place ourselves on the margins of salvation.
25 years ago today, the world’s best selling album by a singer was released. It was called “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. I can still remember the frenzy of excitement in Britain and around the world as people lined up for hours to purchase this vinyl album. Millions of people throughout the nations had been teased into buying the album because of a great video of the title song. Jackson’s singing and dancing in the video was electrifying. The use of werewolves and zombies in the video, as well as using the voice of great Vincent Price on the album was an amazing commercial coup for Jackson. Everyone that I knew, relatives and friends, neighbors and working colleagues purchased the album. People couldn’t wait to get their hands on a copy after seeing and hearing the video. Millions upon millions of people were enticed into record and music stores all over the world, just hoping to get a copy of “Thriller.” It was one of the best marketing ploys that the world has ever seen.
The Christian Church has the best message for the hope of humankind in all of history. We have been given the good news that all our past mistakes can be forgiven and forgotten by God. We are eternal beings, who will not be extinguished by death, but rather will be granted everlasting life through Jesus Christ. This is the best news in existence this very day, and yet we are slumbering and sleeping through it.
What will it take for us to market the message of Christ throughout Advent? What will it take for us to invite our families and friends to church on Sundays to hear this message, so that when Christ returns they will be ready. If Jesus were to return to day, I guess we would all be ready, for we are here worshiping the Lord; but what of our loved ones who are elsewhere this morning? What of the dear friends we love? What of the brothers and sisters, the parents and children, the grandparents and grandchildren in our lives? If Christ were to arrive today, would we be taken and they left behind?
Advent is the time when the Church awakes from its slumber and takes the message of Christ seriously. It’s not about the baby Jesus; it’s not about Santa Claus; it’s not about feasting and partying, the giving of gifts and the buying of goods. It’s about being ready for Christ’s return. It’s about being a Church that cares about the salvation of the souls of the people we love. We may be ready, but are they? If we don’t bring them in, they are lost to sin. What’s the most perfect gift we can give to our loved ones: salvation – but it’s not wrapped up in pretty bows and colored paper. It’s a covering of blood of a crucified Christ, who becomes our eternal Savior and welcomes us to His Kingdom…but we can’t win it, unless we’re in it. Sin can’t be repaired unless we’re prepared for Jesus. It’s called Advent, not Christmas. Amen.