12/1/2019 First Sunday of Advent The text is Matthew 24: 36-44.
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
(Jesus said to the disciples,) “About that day and hour no one knows”. This is Jesus telling his first followers that even he doesn’t know the time of his return, his ‘Second Coming’.
It seems that the human race has had a preoccupation with time ever since; well, ever since time began. It also seems like we don’t have a very great understanding of the concept. Brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking wrote his seminal book, ‘A Brief History of Time’ in 1988. It sold over ten million copies and I would bet that no one who read it understood a single word of it.
Or, maybe that’s just me. I tried to read it more than once and it made my eyes glaze over! I’ve never gotten past the first few pages. The book details the search for a unifying theory of cosmology; one which combines Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity with the science of quantum mechanics. That and the space-time continuum theory which postulates that gravity distorts the passage of time as we perceive it. I told you this would make your head spin!
I tend to identify more closely with the popular song by Chicago from 1970; ‘Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” The lyrics to the chorus are: ‘Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care? If so, I can’t imagine why, we’ve all got time enough to cry’. I guess I’m more of a rock and roll guy and not so much of a physics nerd. And timing is really the central theme of the Advent season. We’re just beginning the wait for Jesus’ birth at Christmas; and at the same time, he is telling the disciples to be ready for his ultimate return. Thus, we find ourselves revisiting the ‘already’ but ‘not yet’ nature of the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus has ‘already’ risen, but he has ‘not yet’ returned to herald the fulfilment of God’s kingdom on earth.
In either case, the timing notwithstanding, it comes down to the ‘advent’, the arrival. While there is no way to know the time of Jesus’ Second Coming, we do know that we will celebrate his initial appearing in flesh on December 25, on Christmas.
And as with any pending arrival we tend to do two things; we wait and we prepare. It seems that it’s easier to await and make preparations for Christmas, since we are bombarded with seasonal music and gift-buying reminders that seem to start earlier every year. The tree is decorated, wreaths are displayed, and stockings are hung. The preparation is relatively easy; convincing the kids to patiently wait can be another story.
Preparing for the ultimate fulfilment of God’s plan for the world is a bit more complex, and I daresay more important. We may as well acknowledge that since Jesus himself tells us that the timing is known only to the Father, that it serves no purpose for us to spend the time waiting.
That leaves the other action with which we should concern ourselves; that is, preparation for the coming event. We can prepare for the advent, the arrival of God’s promised realm. And we know that this perfect new reality will be brought about by Christ’s Second Coming into the world. This ‘arrival or ‘presence’ is known as ‘Parousia’ in Biblical Greek. How shall it be prepared for? In the First Reading this morning Isaiah tells the people to, “walk in the Lord’s paths”. And in next week’s Gospel we will hear Matthew quote John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And while both Isaiah and John were referring to Christ’s initial incarnation at Christmas, we should take this admonition to heart and recognize that it speaks to how we are to prepare for Christ’s ultimate return.
In his letter to the Romans this morning, Paul tells the believers in the church in Rome that they do, in fact know what time it is! He tells them that the dawn has broken, it is the morning of their lives. And the first thing we do to prepare for each new day is to get dressed. Paul tells the Romans to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’. He is in fact telling them, and us to clothe ourselves in Jesus’ garments of faith, trust, hope, and grace.
This ‘putting on of Christ’ is the way we are called to prepare to live into lives that express the faith, trust, and hope that we experience through God’s grace. And by clothing ourselves in this way we are equipped to live in preparation for the advent of the coming Kingdom. Note that this is not static inaction, but preparation that is active, engaged, and participatory. “Prepare the way of the Lord” Isaiah states, and Paul re-emphasizes this.
If we’re going to wear Christ’s garments as we prepare for his coming, we had better be prepared to walk the path that he walked, to be willing to drink the cup he drank. We need to be prepared to be his hands and feet in the world, as we await and prepare for his advent, his coming again. Living the faith-, hope-, and trust-filled lives that we are blessed with by God’s grace just isn’t quite enough.
The preparations that we are entrusted to make in advance of Christ’s ‘Parouosia’ are simple enough. Since we have been recipients of God’s gracious blessings, we are expected to not rest until all of God’s people are included in this abundant Christ-blessed life. There is much to be done. One-in-six American children go be bed hungry. The number of homeless people in Massachusetts jumped 14% from 2017 to 2018. That equates to nearly 21,000 of our neighbors without shelter. One in three children in Massachusetts under age 12 are not adequately clothed. Soon after Jesus tells his disciples to ‘be ready’ this morning, he admonishes them that whenever they feed, clothe, and shelter those in need, that they are in fact doing these things to Jesus himself.
So, there it is; we know that we must prepare the way for Jesus’ coming among us. And Christ himself has told us what needs to be done. We are to reach out to those in need and provide for them all the blessings that have been granted to us. As a congregation, Emanuel is participating in several Christ-centered areas of generosity and compassion. Food drives, a potential clothing ministry, the ‘Giving Tree’, buying Christmas gifts for needy kids by the youth group. If you feel compelled to lend a hand in any of these endeavors, please reach out to the office, the church council, or me. And if you have any other ideas as to how we might help prepare the way for Christ’s coming among us, we would love to hear them. There is much to be done. I recall seeing a bumper-sticker that said, ‘Jesus is coming; look busy!’. I suggest an alteration; ‘Jesus is coming; BE busy!’
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, we wait with anticipation, the coming of your Son, Jesus into the world. Help us ‘make his paths straight’ by reaching out to those in need, in preparation for his arrival. Send your Holy Spirit to guide us as we seek to clothe others in the garments that Christ has given us to wear.
And in Jesus’ name together the people of God say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.