Between

Scriptures: Matthew 24:36-44; Isaiah 2:1-5

Tweens. Tween is one of those words that has had a multiplicity of meanings, actually. Its first known use, as far as I know, was in 1954, by J. R. R. Tolkien, in his book The Fellowship of the Ring. The quote from the book is as follows: “Tweens, as hobbits called the irresponsible twenties, between childhood and the coming of age of thirty-three.”

In this case the word seems to have been coined by Tolkien from a blending of the words “teen” and “twenty” to signify a person in his twenties, or as the passage describes, “a person in between his childhood and his coming of age at thirty-three.”

Another possible route is from the word “between.” As the person may be between childhood and adulthood. Though Tolkien might have been using both routes as a kind of play on words, as the person is both in his twenties, in his “tweens” and a person who is between childhood and adulthood.

I remember when we went to the church in Langhorne, before I was ordained. We were actually part of a group, my wife and I, called Tweens. It was set up for young adults who were past college age, and yet didn’t have families yet, weren’t all settled yet.

Nowadays, “tweens” means something a little different. (By the way, just as an aside, for all you chemists, yes, tween is a solution that’s used in chemistry experiments.) But the modern use of tween is a boy or girl who is between ten to twelve years old. I’ve seen ranges between eight and fourteen, but ten to twelve seems to be the most prevalent. Frankly, call me old-fashioned, but a boy or girl who is ten to twelve years old is still a kid. But that’s what they call them, and the marketing people try to market to “tweens,” as someone who’s between a child and an adolescent.

I’d like to suggest that we are all tweens, although not exactly in either sense that I just spoke of. At the Presbytery meeting that we had recently, there was a guest speaker, a professor from Austin Theological Seminary. She spoke about Advent, which is what this season is beginning.

Her husband has converted to Eastern Orthodox, although she’s still Presbyterian. And she spoke of the Orthodox church, and the fact that in every Orthodox church, they have icons – they like lots of icons, statues and things. And they have, on the left side of a doorway, an icon of Mary holding the baby Jesus. On the right side is Jesus resurrected, the King.

Then through the door, you can get – if you’re the priest – into where the altar is, for Communion and other such things as that. But one of the things she noted is, every time you want to progress to God, you have to go between the first coming and the second coming of Christ.

We are all between one Advent and the next. We are all between the first coming of Christ and the next. And that’s what Advent is about, the Second Coming of Christ.

I listened to a hymn earlier this week, that was sung at the church in Morning Sun, to make sure I refreshed my memory on it, called “Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending.” The tune is one I’ve known, and the song is an OK hymn, but what interested me most was the comments below. Have you ever done that, when you’ve been online, and you look at an article and the comments are frequently more interesting than the articles are – and a lot longer.

But one of the things that was fairly common, that I saw a number of times – and I have to admit, that I actually broke down and I signed in and replied – was that they said that this is a great hymn, they love the way it sounds, but they hate that it’s in Advent because it’s not about the birth of Jesus. And I thought to myself, well, that’s because that’s not what Advent is about.

The reason we have purple or blue for our paraments is because it’s a time of preparation. A time repentance in terms of preparing our hearts. A time of expectant waiting, for the coming of the King. It is a time when we are looking forward to what is to come.

In the early church, I’m sorry to say, the birth of Christ was really unimportant. That didn’t start to be celebrated until sometime after the fifth or sixth century. It became particularly popular, actually, even later than that, when the story of the birth became sort of romanticized for people.

But for the early church, it was about the coming of Christ. “Come, Lord Jesus.” They recognized the fact that we were between one Advent and the next.

As we wait for this second coming, we continue to practice what Christ called us to do. But I have to admit, as I look at those comments that I saw under that hymn, as I look at the world around us, I see, it seems to me, that many people have, in essence, given up.

They live as if Christ will never come again. Or in some cases, that He won’t come until we have made the world right and ready for Him. So we get Libertines – and that is not libertarians or liberals. A Libertine is a person, especially a man, who behaves without moral principles or a sense of responsibility, especially in sexual matters, or a person who has rejects accepted opinions in matters of religion.

So on the one hand we get Libertines, who basically throw out the Scriptures and everything regarding it, and on the other hand we get Pharisees, those holy rollers. Both pushing their agendas without regard to what the Scripture actually says.

In our passage today, Jesus said that no one knows the time for certain. Not even he did, while he was here on earth. Only the Father. But there will be signs. And those signs don’t, unfortunately, include utopia, world peace, or even a world that is “Christendom.”

If you look at this passage in context, you see that before it, he talks about the lesson of the fig tree as a sign, but even before that, he talks about the signs of the age, because people were asking him and his disciples. He said, “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. There will be earthquakes and famines in various places.” And all of this is “but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

So these wars and rumors of wars, these earthquakes, these famines, all of this traumatic tribulation stuff, is going to be the beginning of the new order in Christ. Then in the passage that we have today, he notes that people will be living their lives as in the days of Noah, disregarding the warnings of the prophet, and mocking the one who lived righteously.

Do you realize that it took 120 years to build the ark? That is one long sermon. Or one long witness, if you will. One man, building this boat, and nobody else. They mocked him and his family. They didn’t listen. They’re going about their business with no care for eternity, living their daily lives.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? I’ve often said that “the Bible is as relevant today as in the day it was written because human nature hasn’t changed.” That’s, by the way, my quote. I had someone email my wife, because I had it in her blog, to see if I’d gotten it from somebody else.

Jesus was pointing to the people in his time there in Jerusalem, prophesying its destruction in a couple of years and the chaos that was to come upon Israel. He used the example of Noah in his day, and he also told us of what would be coming before the Day of the Lord they all claimed to hope for, yet did not witness to.

Let me suggest to you, people are still doing the same thing today. And I suspect that we will experience some of the same tribulation and destruction as Jerusalem did. And in the passage by Jesus, we have been given our instructions, to watch, to wait, to be alert and to be ready.

He notes that if a man knew that a thief was coming, he would have locked the doors and been alert. After this passage, there’s a parable of ten virgins, with oil. They have lamps they’re supposed to keep burning until the bridegroom comes, and half of them fail. Then the other half get to go on with the groom.

We need to be going about the Father’s business, even if it is unpopular. We need to be ready for when Christ comes again.

I don’t want to make Advent a season of doom and gloom and everything like that, because it wasn’t for the early church. Advent was a season to celebrate. Especially during times of persecution. Especially during times of tribulation.

Why? Because of the hope that they had in Christ Jesus. “O come, o come, Emmanuel.” They wanted Christ’s arrival. Can we say the same?

This is a time that we should be looking forward. We should have our heads up, our eyes up, and we should be lifting our voices up to the King of kings, whom we celebrated last week on Christ the King Sunday, so that we can give proper reverence and appreciation to Christ, and ask Him to come again.

Now I promise, we’ll get to the incarnation, before the end of the season. After all, we couldn’t have the second coming if we didn’t have the first. But the coming of the first time changed the world one by one, as hearts are changed in salvation occurs. When Christ comes again, the world itself, the whole world, will be changed.

As it says in Isaiah, as the nations come to Jerusalem, or come to God, basically to hear the law, to worship the King, as they come to put themselves at His service, as they beat their swords into plowshares, and peace arrives on earth.

You know, any time they do one of these surveys or polls about Christmas, and what people want for Christmas, if it’s not some child saying “I want …” some toy or other, it’s almost always somebody saying “peace on earth and good will to men.”

That is what Christ will bring. He will bring peace on earth. He will bring good will between men and women of all nations, of all statuses, of all races – it doesn’t matter. And we will all be one in Christ. What we hope to experience as a foretaste here in the church will become worldwide. “Come, Lord Jesus.”

The challenge for us today is that we’re still “between.” We are tweens in that we are not there yet. We’ve had the first coming and we’ve had the death on the cross and the resurrection that brought us salvation. We await with eagerness the second coming. And it brings us hope, which is what the candle was that was lit today. A hope that can never fail. A hope that will ultimately bring joy and peace, as we experience God’s love.

May we never let go of that hope. And may we always look forward to the coming of our King, staying alert and watching, while we’re between.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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