“History, Mystery, Majesty”

Matthew 24:36-44

December 1, 2019 – Advent 1, Year A

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 24:36-44

 

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 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, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

 

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.

 

1

 

Prayer.

 

Welcome to Advent;

A four-week season preceding Christmas;

A sacred time

Meant for our spiritual preparation.

 

During these cold and overcast days,

We remember God’s remarkable action in salvation history,

When Jesus,

Was born a baby in Bethlehem.

Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, and wise men all play a role in history’s greatest activity.

 

During Advent

We focus our thoughts on the mystery of incarnation.

We interpret Gospel and discern God’s revelation.

We experience sacrament,

Christ’s body and blood,

His presence among us and in us

To plumb the depths of God’s mystery.

 

Over these next four weeks

We anticipate the majesty of Christ’s promise

To return,

With justice and judgment,

To complete God’s kingdom.

 

History: a newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger.

Mystery: Christ with us and in us. What does this mean?

Majesty: Christ’s promise to return at any moment. What should we do?

 

What should we do?

 

Stop the music.

Cut the Christmas carols.

Suspend the shopping.

Postpone raising a tree and stringing the lights.

Jesus has other plans.

 

Nothing says “Welcome to Advent”

Quite like an apocalyptic Gospel passage of Jesus teaching

About the coming of the Son of Man, impending judgment, and possible death!

 

 

Insight to the future

often results in a change in current behavior.

 

There was once a time and era

when it wasn’t unusual for a relative to call

to inform the family that they were coming to town

… they couldn’t say exactly when …

and that they hoped to stop in to say “hi”

and maybe join the family for dinner.

(I know; in an era of cell phones and economy motels it is hard for some to imagine.)

 

“Certainly!” would be the hospitable response.

“Drop in any time.”

As soon as the phone was returned to its hook

(remember when phones had hooks?),

a flurry of housecleaning would ensue.

Sheets would be replaced on the bed,

the vacuum would roar to life,

the dust mop would be shook out the back door, sprayed with Pledge, and run across the floor.

 

All clutter would be swept away,

leaving the house with the smell of Lysol, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and a whole host of assorted household cleaning fluids.

Protesting to your mother would only result in a stern look

and a point to your offending domain with the implied command,

“clean up your room!”

Each ensuing day would be lived in expectation;

“will today be the day?”

Will the cousins, the aunt, or the uncle show up today? or maybe tomorrow?

We haven’t seen them in a while, I wonder what’s new?

 

Behavior changed until the time of their arrival.

Order was rigidly enforced.

Messes were immediately cleaned up.

Clutter wasn’t allowed to accumulate.

Nothing could disturb the carefully preserved order.

Life would be lived with spotless anticipation that at any moment,

the familiar station wagon would wheel into the driveway

and cousins would spill forth.

 

 

Insight to the future

often results in a change in current behavior.

 

I know I’m talking to the choir,

but our Gospel for this morning is the perfect opportunity

to recognize that life is defined by a limited span,

between birth and death.

 

Diseases aren’t terminal; life is.

Each of us will one day die.

This doesn’t change with a doctor’s diagnosis.

Every one of us are given a span of time

in which we can change the world with the

words we chose and

the choices we make.

 

Though we intellectually know that one day we will die,

it usually takes a long life to come to terms with this fact.

Our thoughts and faith require a long time to simmer in the pot of human development.

As we age and mature,

and as our bodies ache and begin to fail,

we begin to see the end of our earthly life more clearly.

Clarity comes to faith,

Allowing us to make preparation for the life that is to come.

 

Too bad most of us don’t do this at a younger age.

People wouldn’t take up smoking,

drive recklessly or

try street drugs

if they considered the mortal and eternal consequences of their actions.

It is a good thing to prepare,

and as your pastor,

I’d encourage you to start sooner rather than later.

 

 

With age and maturity comes insight to the future.

That often results in a change in current behavior.

 

If we were entirely self-absorbed and ego centric,

we would stop with our Gospel lesson for this morning

with the belief that it is entirely about death, dying and eternity.

But that is only half of the story.

 

In the time of Noah, we are reminded,

the people who faced judgment and death were those who didn’t get into the boat.

Noah and his family did.

Their lives were spared.

 

Jesus tells us this morning,

two will be in the field;

one will be taken and one left.

Similar to Noah,

the one taken will face judgment and death.

The one left behind is spared.

 

(It always makes me laugh when I think about false teaching about rapture.

Fact is, fear mongering end times nut job preachers and believers get it backwards.

Jesus clearly makes the case that you don’t want to be chosen for judgment and death.

You want to be judged, saved, and left behind to live another day!)

 

Yes, our Gospel is about judgment and death,

salted with a little bit of fear.

Jesus teaches about judgment and death

with the hope of changing our behavior.

 

But listen to the other side of the message.

 

Jesus is teaching that

A new day is dawning,

something great is coming,

and like Noah who faithfully built the ark and was saved,

and like the faithful worker laboring in the field who was left behind and was saved,

so, too, are we to prepare ourselves

for what the Lord has imminently in store for us,

his imminent return, judgment, and salvation.

 

It’s time to build an ark

And get in it,

For a storm is coming.

 

 

How are we to prepare?

 

Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah:

 

“The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

 

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

(Isaiah 2:1-5)

 

How are we to prepare ourselves?

 

The prophet Isaiah gives us a hint today.

The day is coming, Isaiah correctly observes,

when the nations of the world will stream to the mountain of the Lord.

Out of that mountain will come instruction.

The Lord will teach us his ways;

how to walk in his paths.

 

Those who follow the Lord’s way and walk in his path

will be passed over from death into life,

will receive the promise of a world

where there are no more weapons and war.

Swords will be recast into plows, and

Spears will be beaten into pruning hooks.

 

Weapons of death will be destroyed;

Recycled into agricultural implements and tools, and

All will be fed in peace.

 

Those who follow his ways and walk in his path

are given the promise that something new and wonderful is coming.

Live at war, in constant confrontation, fighting, and violence

and face judgment and death, or,

Live in eternal peace

by planting, pruning, feeding, and growing God’s kingdom.

 

 

What exactly does the Lord have in store for us?

we ask on this first Sunday of Advent.

What is so urgent that we should

run right home and get prepared?

 

Quite honestly,

Jesus is coming.

 

Advent is the annual metaphor

for the imminent return of Christ.

Christ is coming:

to those who rode out the flood with Noah and his family,

to those who haven’t be taken from the field to face judgment and death,

to those who have faithfully planted, pruned, and harvested,

to those who have listened to the Lord’s will and followed in the Lord’s ways.

 

“Therefore you also must be ready,”

Jesus teaches, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

(24:44)

 

Salvation is at hand.

 

Personally, it seems silly to set an arbitrary date for a birthday

when the baby Jesus comes and we throw a big party.

That was the first time around

With annual celebrations ever since.

Who doesn’t like a good party?

 

We don’t know, and have no way of knowing

how, or when, or even why Christ will come the next time around.

But he is coming;

so be prepared.

 

 

Insight to the future

often results in a change in current behavior.

 

If you see a light at the end of the tunnel,

You might want to get off the tracks.

 

If you knew a thief was coming,

you’d bolt the door,

get out the baseball bat, and

put on a cup of coffee to keep yourself awake.

 

Now that you know Christ is coming,

what are you going to do?

How will you change your behavior

knowing that Jesus might be waiting for you in the next minute, hour, or day?

 

I can’t answer this for you.

Neither does it help

for me to tell you what you have to do.

 

As for me and my life,

my preparations don’t focus on death and dying.

I’m focused on living and life;

eternal life with my Lord and Savior

starting new each moment

with my commitment to Him,

faithfully following his will, and

awaiting His triumphant return.

 

Like the Apostle Paul,

I live my life prepared to die,

(some days better than others)

prepared to welcome Christ when he returns,

by faithfully

listening to God’s will and

walking in His path.

 

 

The way of the Lord may be the road less traveled.

Yet, I invite you to join me.

Beloved house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Prepare for the day when the Lord returns and

judgment will be at hand.

 

Embrace life!

Taste and see the richness of salvation.

The majesty of Advent welcomes the day we are passed over,

the divide between earth and heaven disappears.

Eternal peace is coming.

All will be filled.

Amen.

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