This was the message I gave on the 2nd Sunday in Advent (6 December 1998) at Neon United Methodist Church, Neon, KY. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 11: 1 – 10, Romans 15: 4 – 13, and Matthew 3: 1 – 12.
We have all heard at one time or another the phrase “opportunity knocks only once.” I thought of that phrase this week as I was listening to a financial news program.
During this last week, with all the ups and downs of the stock market, there was an initial public offering for a company whose stock symbol was something like TMCO. This was one of the best IPOs ever offered and those that bought the stock when it came out saw their investment shoot up over perhaps 1000%. What was interesting that a number of people bought stock in a company with the symbol TMOC, thinking it was this new company.
Because of this confusion in sticker symbols, the stock price of this second company also soared. But unlike the stock price of the first company which stayed up, the price of the second company’s stock came down just as quickly as it shoot up in price as people discovered their mistake and sold the stock. Of course, in selling the stock at a higher price than it was bought, these investors made a profit, even though the original purchase was a mistake.
It is one thing to grab at an opportunity that arises quite by chance, such as was the case with this error in stock symbols. I would add that there are investors who seek such opportunities such as what I just described. These investors buy stock belonging to companies whose symbol is similar to the symbol of companies more widely known. By doing this, the investors hope to gain from the confusion between the two companies.
But, if “opportunity only knocks once”, waiting for such opportunities to present themselves is not always the best way to gain. After all, major stock plays do not occur every day and one is not going to make much money waiting for the big play in the stock market.
The challenge we face this year can be a daunting one. As we look around us, we see a world scared of missing that all-important opportunity. We tell everyone to grab that first opportunity that comes by, no matter what it is. It is also a time when getting everything that you can seems to be the only solution.
Last week while I was in New York, there were numerous reports about people fighting to get a single toy. Why this is the toy of the year, one only knows. But it seems that everyone wants one and will do whatever is necessary to get it.
I am sure that you have seen the ad on TV about when a winner in the Kentucky lottery asking Dracula to give her immortal life because in winning the lottery, she won $1,000 a week for the rest of her life.
First of all, immortality is not achieved by turning into a vampire. I think on that point alone the commercial really shows the futilely of counting on the lottery to provide financial success. From a Christian standpoint, there is only one way to achieve immortality and being turned into a vampire is hardly the way to do it.
It is one thing to purchase a single ticket every now and then but it is an entirely different matter to spend large sums of money in hopes of hitting that one combination of numbers. And as many people find out, they are not prepared for what to do after winning all that money. Consider the individual who won the Florida lottery last week. While he won enough money so that he doesn’t have to work anymore, he still has to work because it is a requirement of his parole. An interesting twist on success.
Yet, this ad typifies the way we may see life today. It seems that if we don’t take the first opportunity that seems to come by, then we will lose everything. Our society demands the fix right now and I will agree that many times we really would like it right now. But Paul told the Romans.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
When life is at its darkest, when things seem so hopeless, that is when we need to realize that Christ is our hope. The time when Isaiah wrote his prophecy may have been one of the darkest times in Israel’s history with everyone taken from the Promised Land into exile in Babylon and Assyria. Yet, in the reading from the Old Testament today, Isaiah speaks of the hopes of the future. In verse 11 of this same chapter, he told the people that God would not forget his people.
In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and the islands of the sea.
God gave us His son as a gift so that our hopes could be answered. But the gift can only work if we allow the Holy Spirit into our lives.
The world we live in is a far cry from the world envisioned by Isaiah and it is definitely a far cry from how John the Baptist lead his life. It is a simple world in which the Holy Spirit is the center.
This is the second Sunday in Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. The readings from both the Old Testament and the Gospel spoke of preparing for the coming of the new King. But how do we prepare for Christ?
Coming to Jesus requires that we repent of our sins and that we ask for God’s forgiveness. But we must also change our life. As long as we are hung up on all the world offers, it will be very difficult for us to have a simple, Spirit-led life. We do not have to give up all our possessions but we must give up the hold that have on us.
Remember the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus seeking entrance to heaven but left disappointed when Jesus told him he had to give up everything he owned. The rich young ruler was not willing to give up his worldly goods for a better life.
That is why John spoke harshly of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
The Pharisees and Sadducees saw John’s presence only as a way to show the common people that they too felt the need for repentance; yet their actions each day showed that they carried very little about true repentance. While outwardly accepting John’s message, by not changing what they did each day countered such actions.
At this time of year, when the message is overwhelming about getting and getting more, it is hard to hear the message of giving up. It is even harder to take the appropriate actions.
That is why we prepare for Christmas. That is why the people of Israel heard John the Baptist’s message of repentance and preparation before they heard the message of salvation. If we feel that our only hope is in what we have, then we have nothing. John led a simple life, preparing for the riches that were to come.
Isaiah spoke of a world of simplicity and peace, brought about by the inclusion of the Holy Spirit in the life of the community. This week, in one of the mailings that I get from the conference, I read this story.
A nurse on the pediatric ward, before listening to the little one’s chests, would plug the stethoscope into their ears and let them listen to their own hearts. Their eyes would always light up with awe.
But she never got a response equal to four-year-old David’s.
Gently she tucked the stethoscope in his ears and placed the disk over his heart. “Listen,” she said. “What do you suppose that is?”
Little David drew his eyebrows together in a puzzled line and looked up as if lost in the mystery of the strange tap-tap-tapping deep in his chest. Then his face broke out in a wondrous grin. “Is that Jesus knocking?” he asked. (A Clear Vision, Issue #8 – December, 1998)
Is Jesus knocking at your heart today? Rufus M Jones writes
It is a primary truth of Christianity that God reaches us directly. No person is insulated. As ocean floods the inlets, as sunlight environs the plant, so God enfolds and enwreathes the finite spirit. There is this difference, however, inlet and plant are penetrated whether they will or not. Sea and sunshine crowd themselves in a tergo. Not so with God. He can be received only through appreciation and conscious appropriation. He comes only through doors that are purposely opened for him. A person may live as near God as the bubble is to the ocean and yet not find him. He may be “closer than breathing, nearer than hands or feet,” and still be missed. Historical Christianity is dry and formal when it lacks the immediate and inward response to our Great Companion; but our spirits are trained to know him, to appreciate him, by the mediation of historical revelation. A person’s spiritual life is always dwarfed when cut apart from history. Mysticism is empty unless it is enriched by outward and historical revelation. The supreme education of the soul comes through an intimate acquaintance with Jesus Christ of history. (From The Double Search by Rufus M. Jones)
Our hope, as the hymn says, is built on nothing less than Jesus’ righteousness. As Paul wrote our hope comes “ by the power of the Holy Spirit”. God’s gift to us this year is that our hopes can be answered when we allow the Holy Spirit into our lives.
Are you prepared for the coming of the Lord? Is there room in your heart for His Spirit? Opportunities in this world may only knock once, but the opportunities offered when we accept Jesus are countless. Just as the little boy asked, “Is Jesus knocking on your heart this morning?”