Advent 1 Year A November 28, 2010 Matthew 24:36-44
The Rev. Benton Quest
Happy New Year!
Some may think I am about a month early, but today we celebrate the beginning of a new church year. With a new church year comes a new sense of life and vitality that change often brings. And with this change we once again stretch and look at our life anew.
So often in our lives we can get lulled into a kind of walking sleep. We get up in the morning, we go about our daily lives, and we go to bed at night. That day is gone, never to be lived again. And then, again the next morning, we get up, we go about our daily lives, and we go to bed at night. Before we know it, weeks have passed and we really have nothing to show for it, no memories to reflect back upon. We have been living life, but we can’t remember anything about it. We have been going through life in a kind of sleep.
Well, that kind of thing could happen with the church year, too. We come in, we say the familiar prayers, we hear the familiar stories, we see the familiar people… And granted, there is a certain comfort in all of this; but there is also the potential that we can get to the point where our worship life becomes another type of walking sleep. We have been doing it; we just can’t remember anything about it. It is for this reason that we have the various seasons in the church year. We have the different seasons to wake us up and help us to see our worship and the whole world anew. So you see, we changed the color of the paraments on the altar, we added the Advent wreath, and we have changed the prayers we use during the service. All of this to help us to remember that time has passed and to keep us from being lulled into sleep.
So, I guess I could have said, “Wake up!” instead of “Happy New Year.” I could have, but you all would have probably thought I was being rude. However, with the start of this new church year, we do get a wake-up call. As we begin the season of Advent, I won’t be the one telling you to wake up, in the gospel, we hear Jesus himself telling his followers, which includes all of us here, to keep awake.
In the gospel reading, Jesus is telling us the importance of keeping awake. When we hear this, we must realize that this is more than just being coherent, keeping awake is maintaining an awareness of those people and things that surround us.
Jesus first starts by telling his disciples that no one knows the day or hour of the Lord’s coming. NO ONE. Not even the son – Jesus himself – knows this. Only the Father knows. I find it interesting that even though Jesus tells us that no one knows the date, so many people spend so much time trying to figure the day and time out. What is especially interesting are the people who will state, “Well, we may not be able to know the day and hour, but at least we can figure out the month and year!” Why people are so interested in knowing the exact time eludes me. My only guess is if we know, we don’t have to be awake. We can sleep until that moment and then wake up when the time arrives. Kind of like the bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming back, look busy!” But Jesus doesn’t want us to sleep; he wants us to be awake and alert. He wants us ready for action.
Jesus again reinforces that no one would know the day or hour by citing an example from the time of Noah. Jesus tells the disciples that as the great flood approached, the people had no idea their own demise was near. As Jesus says, “they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” So, again, what Jesus is saying is that planning for the coming of the Lord is a waste of time.
Since we are not actively planning for the Lord’s coming, that doesn’t mean we get to kick back and do nothing. Just because we do not know the day or hour that does not mean that we can just slide through. Just because we can’t know the details, doesn’t mean that we should be spending our lives in a state of walking sleep, Jesus wants more of his disciples. It is here that he brings in a few other examples.
In his examples, Jesus talks about people out doing things, people going about their daily lives. These people are not waiting in a cave in anticipation of the Lord’s return; they are out in the field and are grinding meal. He does not talk about people just sitting around waiting for something to happen. These people are active.
It is while these activities are occurring that some are taken, and some are left behind. Now, we might want to ask how the choice was made as to those who were taken? Unfortunately, we are not given the details, but Jesus does give us another example right after, which we can assume is meant to help us understand.
Right after the disappearing people, Jesus tells about the thief in the night and the homeowner who was asleep. Since the homeowner was asleep, the thief was able to steal the owner’s property. But if the owner had been awake, the thief would not have succeeded. So by giving us this example, we can assume that in the previous examples, the ones who were taken were the ones who were awake and those who were left were those who had fallen asleep under the spell of the world. And finally make sure everyone gets it, Jesus reiterates that we need to be awake, alert, and ready because the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour.
What Jesus is telling us, then, is that we are to live our lives being alert and ready. We are not to let the routines of the world lull us into sleep. We are to wait for the return of the Lord but we are not to just sit there and let the world pass us by. We are to live in the tension that the advent of Christ’s return brings.
One of my seminary professors had a great way of explaining this tension: He would say, “Could Jesus return today? Yes.” Then he would say, “Am I counting on it? No.” It is true, Jesus could return at any time. We can look for signs, we can try to figure out dates, but we are told that no one knows the hour of the Lord’s return. So the message Jesus has for us is that we should live in the expectation of his return but also realize that we have been given a life to live, here and now. We need to live our lives but we also need to live with the awareness that Christ could return, and so therefore, we can’t just go through our lives, asleep! We need to get busy!
I think there are many things that stop us from being busy for Christ. We have jobs, families, and commitments. We get caught up in the trials of life. These trials can be thought of as a darkness in our lives, a darkness where, if we are not careful, we can get lost. What is sad is that when we get lost, we forget that we have been given a light to lead us. We have the example of God incarnate, God with Us. We don’t need to fumble around in the dark when we have the light of Christ to lead us.
This awareness of Christ’s presence in our lives gives us a new way of living life and a new way approaching the tasks in our lives. Christ is the presence that opens our eyes to the true potential of life.
Granted, we do not know when Jesus will return, but there is something else we cannot know, we cannot know when we will make our own personal return to Christ. We usually do not like to think about that too much, but we will each have our own “thief in the night” moment. And try as we might, we do not know the day or hour of our death. When this time comes, will we have our house in order? Will we be ready to move on to the heavenly kingdom?
Part of Jesus’ call to “keep awake” is for us to be aware of our relationships, not only with God but also with those around us. As we approach the day we celebrate Christ’s birth, we are to remember the great sacrifice that was made for us in that act of God becoming human. As we look to Jesus’ birth, we can also be thankful for his saving death and resurrection. And we needn’t be afraid of the thief in the night, because we know that we have great love of God to lead us into the night and to keep us safe.
So, Happy New Year! Happy Advent! And Good Morning! As we approach the celebration of Christ’s birth, I ask you each to make a New Year’s resolution: Resolve to approach each day as a gift and each person as a treasure. Resolve to see the light of Christ in everyone you meet and to see Christ’s light in yourself also! Resolve to dream the dream God has for us! Dream of a world where Christ love fills our community. If we are not dreaming, then we are just sleeping. Christ calls us out of our sleep! And finally, resolve to leave behind the dark and live in the wondrous light that has been given to us through that small child in a manger and the miraculous man he became.