Matthew 24:30-44; I Timothy 4:1-22

Once again, it’s that wonderful time of the year; when Indian summer gives way to fall and all its delights: autumn colors, gourds and pumpkins, the pungent smell of burning leaves, Thanksgiving, OSU and Michigan. What could be better than that?

But you and I know that when autumn’s leaves begin to fall, it won’t be long before something else begins to fall (got a little appetizer last Saturday). It won’t be too much longer until we’ll be surrounded by bare branches, icy shadows, frozen ponds; and we will experience the “dead of winter.”

And because we know that winter is coming, we have time to prepare for it. Last week, Gail and I began to do just that. We took down the canopy over our back patio, wrapped tarps around Gail’s potting station and an outdoor wooden swing, disconnected the hose and shut off the water supply, checked out the fireplace chimney and lit the pilot light.

Have you started to make your preparations for winter yet?

The changing of the seasons is not unique to North America. If we could take the time tunnel to the city of Rome in the Fall of 65 AD, to a cold dark, damp prison cell, we would see Paul spending time making his last minute preparations for winter.

It’s not only the Fall of the year, it is the autumn of Paul’s life. He knows that his final winter is approaching soon. And it is his desire before his time is up to see his son in the faith, Timothy, one more time. Timothy is pastoring a church across the Aegean Sea in a place called Ephesus. So Paul writes this kind, gentle, loving, yet urgent letter, in which he asks twice for Timothy to come to him before winter.

Why before winter? Because navigation across the Aegean became impossible and heavy snows in the mountains made it very difficult to travel between what is present day Greece and Italy.

If Timothy were going to see his father in the faith before Paul died, he would have to ‘come before winter.’ Sadly, there is no biblical evidence that Timothy made it to see Paul before he died. Perhaps he was too busy in the church to get away right then. Maybe he decided to wait until spring. If so, when he arrived in Rome he discovered that time had run out, that the great Apostle Paul had already been executed. Sad to say but Timothy missed his last opportunity to spend some time with his friend.

To all of us come opportunities such as Timothy had. Opportunities that must be taken ‘before winter,’ that is, before time runs out, before it becomes too late.

All of us need to think about our relationships. They can be so fragile. And we need to ask ourselves if we have been, for whatever reason, neglecting them.

Every once in a while parents who still have kids in the home need to do a self-check to see if they are spending enough time with their children because children sometimes have a way of saying to parents, “Come before winter.” And if you are not mindful you just might fall into the trap of thinking that they would rather spend time with their electronic devices. If you believe that, it may be a sign that they have given up on the idea of being with you. But I have to believe that they want you more than they want their toys. So perhaps this is a wake-up call for some parents to make sure you are giving your kids what they want more than anything else: your time. For the truth is, they really want you.

Parents and grandparents have a way of saying to their adult children and grandchildren, “Come before winter.” Sad to say, but sometimes it takes getting older before a parent or grandparent realizes they spent more time chasing the dream rather than nurturing those precious relationships. But now that they have gained some wisdom and are increasingly aware that time is slipping away, they hunger for time spent with their sons and daughters and with their grandchildren. But alas, their children and grandchildren are often caught up in chasing dreams of their own.

Our intentions are good. We want to take advantage of opportunities to spend time or at least to call or Skype. But it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking there’s always tomorrow or next week or next month. And before you know it, the months have flipped by like so many pages of a calendar blowing in the wind. And opportunity has passed by.

Like it did for the author of a story in one of my Chicken Soup for the Soul books in which she tells how her brother-in-law opened the bottom drawer of her sister’s dresser and lifted out a tissue-wrapped package and handed it to her as he said, “This is not a slip; this is lingerie.” It was exquisite: silk, handmade and trimmed with a cobweb of lace. The price tag with an astronomical figure on it was still attached. “Jan bought this the first time we went to New York, nine years ago. She never wore it; she was saving it for a special occasion. Well, I guess this is the occasion.” He took it from her and gently placed it on the bed with the other clothes they were taking to the funeral director.

His hands lingered on the soft material for a moment, then he slammed the drawer shut and turned to her. “Don’t ever save anything for a special occasion; every day is a special occasion.” She remembered those words through the funeral and the days that followed as she helped him and her niece attend to all the sad chores that follow an unexpected death.

She thought about them on the plane returning to California from the Midwestern town where her sister’s family lives and how she now regrets not taking the time to see her sister before her untimely death. She’s still thinking about his words, and they’ve changed her life. ‘Someday’ and ‘one of these days’ are losing their grip on her vocabulary. If it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, she wants to see and hear and do it now.

Perhaps it is time for us to “wake up” as Paul admonishes Christians in his letter to the Romans to the opportunities that we have before us to make a difference in our own or someone else’s life before it’s too late. Before time runs out for us, or for that other person.

As bad as these kinds of missed opportunities are, there is another kind of opportunity that if it is missed spells disaster. Jesus says, “Come before winter.” “Come, before time runs out on you.”

Time could run out should Jesus return today or tomorrow, as our text in Matthew reminds us that He one day will. And on that great and glorious day ‘two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left, two women will be grinding at the mill, one will be taken one will be left.’ Note here are two outwardly identical people; one is taken, one left. What is the selection based upon? According to the Lord Jesus, every person who has made a decision to trust in His death and resurrection has already been selected.

The second coming of Christ is going to happen. But because it’s been over 2,000 years since Jesus predicted He would come again many have been lulled to sleep; like Noah’s neighbors who continued to go to banquets and parties and wedding until it was too late.

“Be ready . . . for you do not know the day or hour on which the Lord is coming.”

Another way time could run out on us is our own unexpected death. On November 23, 1996, an Ethiopian Airlines B-767 aircraft en route from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya, was hijacked by three Ethiopian males. Demanding the plane divert course to Australia, the pilot tried, to no avail, to convince the hijackers that the plane didn’t have enough fuel to make it. Three and a half hours into the flight, with the plane’s fuel supply dwindling, it began to lose altitude. The pilot then advised all passengers to prepare for a crash landing. It was then that a Christian, Andrew Meekens, rose to address the other passengers with the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. Meekens died in the crash, but the surviving flight attendant not only told the story but also reported that some twenty people prayed to receive Christ as Savior in those desperate moments before impact.

This message reminds us that none of us knows the day or hour when our time is up. “Be ready!”

Retired pastor and author Warren Weirsbe tells about a frontier town where a horse bolted and ran away with a wagon carrying a little boy. And how a young man risked his life to stop that wagon and save that boy. And how that boy grew up on the wrong side of the law and stood before a judge to be sentenced for a serious crime. And how the prisoner recognized the judge as the man who had years before saved his life and pled for mercy based upon that experience. And how the Judge said, “Young man, that day I was your savior. Today I am your judge, and I must sentence you to be hanged.”

Similarly, some day, today, tomorrow, the next; Jesus will say, “During that long period of grace, I could have been your Savior but today I must be your Judge.” Can you say with full assurance that Christ is your Savior? If you cannot, then He must be your Judge.

Don’t wait for the 11th hour to turn to God for salvation. You have an opportunity to prepare right now. There’s still time right now.

“Come, before winter.” And all too often, the response of men and women young and old is: I’m too busy for that right now . . . there’s no hurry. There will always be time for that later.

How many times have I shared the story of how the devil called a meeting of his henchmen to ask them for ideas about how to dissuade human beings from accepting Christ as their Savior? And how one demon came forward with the idea to tell people there is no God. It didn’t take long for the devil to respond that no that wouldn’t work God has entrenched it firmly in the human heart that there is a God. A second demon came forward and suggested they work on convincing people that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross and He was not raised from the dead. And although the devil thought about it for a moment, history confirms that reasonable people who investigate and carefully consider what the Bible says about the death and resurrection of Jesus will accept it. After a long silence in hell, a third dark spirit glides forward and says, “We won’t tell them there is no God. We won’t tell them that Jesus is a fraud. We will simply tell there is no hurry.” And at that, the devil smiled.

That’s why there is a sense of urgency that permeates the NT in both the words of Jesus as well His followers that we had better take advantage of the opportunities now because eventually, opportunity knocks for the last time.

Not that God stops issuing the invitation but that with each passed opportunity another layer of callousness wraps itself around our hearts until eventually the cold of winter comes to the human heart.

I’ll never forget the conversation between me and the driver of the hearse as we rode from the church to the cemetery to bury a 16-year-old boy. He told me how his heart had been strangely warmed upon listening to a sermon and he felt compelled to respond to the invitation to become a Christian but he said, “I resisted the moment.” He was thinking he’d get around to it eventually, for you see he was a church going man; he just wasn’t a Christian. But he never did get around to it and he told me “I don’t go to church much anymore.” Winter had come to his heart.

Don’t let that happen to you. “Come to Me.” I know you; that you have this propensity to be selfish, materialistic, and prideful; but I love you anyway. I know that you are guilt-ridden. I want to forgive you. I know that you want to be accepted for who you are. I do. I know that you are wondering what life is all about, that you are searching for the meaning of life, that you really desire to discover a deep sense of peace in your life. Then trust me and see what I have to offer you before it’s too late.

It is still Fall. Winter hasn’t settled in yet. We are just entering the Advent season. Christmas is right around the corner. And I can’t think of a better time than Christmas to open our hearts to what God has before us.

Oh, my friends, “Come before winter;” before the snows begin to fall and the brooks begin to freeze. And your heart begins to grow cold and desire is gone and life is over.