People Get Ready – An Advent Sermon


People Get Ready

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (Matthew 24.42-44)

As I reflected on the gospel passage for this week I kept on finding myself singing the song ‘People Get Ready’. It has been a real ‘earworm’ and in the end I decided that the only thing to do was to sing the song and then offer some Advent reflections on it.  Better than a recording of me singing it you can listen to the original version here.

People get ready, there’s a train a coming;
you don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming;
don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

People get ready for the train to Jordan;
it’s picking up passengers from coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board ’em;
there’s hope for all among those loved the most.

There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner;
who would hurt all mankind just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner;
for there’s no hiding place against the Kingdom’s throne.

So, people get ready, there’s a train a coming;
you don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming;
don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.
You don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

‘People Get Ready!’ – this is the Advent message, the Advent cry.

This song by Curtis Mayfield and covered by many artists was first a hit in 1965 and became very popular especially with the Civil Rights movement in America.  The song has a strong gospel influence and the imagery of the train appears in several songs in this tradition and from the Spirituals.  The Underground Railroad was not an actual train but the name given to a network of escape routes and safe houses for slaves in the 19th century.  The stated destination of being bound for Jordan is a biblical reference to God’s people being led by Moses from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land. So, get ready for freedom, get ready for liberation, get ready for salvation!  To get ready for a coming train (often in my experience) involves a lot of waiting and watching; this is not just an idle hanging around, but an expectant looking for something you know is going to come.  This is a call to Advent hope!

To go on this journey to freedom all you need is faith: to catch the sound of the train’s engines, to open the train’s doors so you can climb on board – all you need is faith.  We are saved by faith; not by our own believing but by God’s faithfulness – it is God’s steadfast love that keeps on calling to us and reaching out to us.  Advent is a time to hear afresh the call of God’s love and his longing to bring us back to himself. Advent is a time to get ready to receive the gift of God’s love and forgiveness.  It is not about what we do or what we have:  we don’t need any baggage, we don’t need any ticket – we can ‘just get on board’ because our salvation is God’s gift to us.  God’s grace, God’s gift of love, God’s forgiveness is for everyone – there is room for all among those who love the most. There is room for all who love and who want to be on board this train; that is important to remember as we come to the next verse…

Judgement is also a traditional Advent theme – one that often gets lost amongst the preparations for Christmas.  Advent means coming and it is not just the celebration of Christ’s first coming to us when he was born at Bethlehem; this is also about the second coming at the end of all things.  Then all the nations will be gathered before the judgement throne of Christ the King:  the song warns us that there’s no hiding place against the kingdom’s throne.  The warning is clear to the hopeless sinner; the person who would hurt the rest of humankind just to save themselves.  There will come a time when we have to stand before God’s judgement and so the Advent call is to repent, to turn from our self-centred ways and become centred on God’s will.  In this way, we believe that no sinner is truly hopeless before God, there is always hope because God judges us not only with infinite justice but with infinite mercy.  There is pity – there is mercy – for us and for all who turn back to God.  We may feel that our chances are indeed thin, and Jesus challenged his followers to enter by the narrow gate. But as the words of one of my favourite hymns say: there is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.  We do not deserve it on our own merits but we are counted worthy by God because of all that Jesus has done for us.

So people get ready.It is Advent. Christ is coming.Wake up, watch, wait,Pay attention, look, listen…Keep faith, keep hope, keep on turning to God’s love and mercy…Get ready to get on board the train bound for God’s kingdom of freedom, justice, mercy and peace…And be thankful that it is coming and you are welcome to join the journey…You don’t need no ticket you just thank the Lord. Amen.