Summary: Jesus comes to us in three ways -- three times. At his birth, at the present, at his second coming. It is now that is of present concern to us.
1 Advent A Matthew 24:36 – 44 2 December 2001
Rev. Roger Haugen
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the start of the church year. The day when we begin the preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. We begin to light the candles, we sing the Advent hymns – and we wait – we prepare. Advent seeks to take us back to simpler times, without the frantic pace that is the signature of so many lives today.
We celebrate how Jesus comes to us in three ways. We celebrate the first coming at his birth some 2000 years ago, and we re-enact the birth in the pageant and the carols.
We celebrate his coming amongst us now – most notably in Word and Sacrament. We celebrate how Jesus comes among us in one another, in the least of our brothers and sisters, as we will read in the chapter that follows today’s text.
We celebrate Jesus’ Second coming, when he will come again to judge creation bringing in a time of peace and joy that is spoken of so eloquently in the reading from Isaiah today.
The end is coming, of that we can be certain. But when?
Our congregation has been touched by three deaths this past week. This only serves to reinforce that we do not know when our end is coming. One died in his 30’s, another in her 50’s and another in his 70’s. When each of these people were born and growing up, living their lives in the activities that concerned them, they had no idea that this week would be their last. We do not know, and more than that we are not going to know.
There are many people who want to know the time, and spend much energy in trying to discern the time. Sept. 11 brought about another rash of people only too ready to tell us that the time is here. This has been going on for centuries and will continue, no doubt. Most of these predictions are about Bad News. Earthquakes, fire and torment. The stuff of good movie effects but not so good theology. Certainly not good biblical study. The Book of Revelation takes great precedence in their work but the focus is on the Bad News, the signs and not on the Good News which John trumpets at the beginning of the Book, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Millions have been made on the “Rapture” series of books sold in many Christian bookstores. They make much of the last times and trade on fear and anxiety. They may be an exciting read but certainly not a good biblical read. The author would do well to read today’s text from Matthew. We will not know the time and to assume that we can is to presume to know more than the Son of God. To want to know is to stand alongside of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and long for the fruit of the tree that would allow them to know more than God meant them to know.
The desire to know the end is very much a part of our society. If we know when the end will come, we can do pretty much as we like now. If we know the end, then we can make a final rush preparation and do as we like now. “Freedom 55” trades upon the certainty that the end for us will hold off at least until we are 80. Retirement funds and pensions do the same. The problem is, we do not know which of us will live to see today’s sunset.
Today’s text from Matthew speaks of the ordinariness of his coming. People will be eating and drinking, getting married, baptizing their children, working in the field.
Martin Luther is supposed to have said that if he knew the end of the world was coming tomorrow, he would plant an apple tree this afternoon. Luther was not given to speculation of the end times. He focused rather on the purpose of the world which God intends for the present time. What may happen in the future does not excuse you from what God requires of you here and now.
If we know the end is near, the temptation is to hole up in a bomb shelter, or armed fortress in the mountains and wait. We would create a fortress mentality of us against them. Instead we are to live with the uncertainty. An uncertainty of what will happen but within a certainty that Jesus Christ is in the midst of it with us.
When we stop trying to figure out when, we have energy to listen to what God is calling us to do today. Advent preparation is about removing the noise from our lives so that we can hear and see the coming of Jesus Christ among us today. Matthew spells it our very clearly in the 25th Chapter which follows. In the Judgment Scene those condemned say to Jesus, “If we had only known that it was you in the poor and the hungry, of course we would have fed you!” Jesus comes to us today in the least of our sisters and brothers. Advent is a time to watch lest we miss his coming. If we ignore and trample our neighbours today in our eagerness to be religiously prepared to welcome Jesus tomorrow when he returns from heaven, we will not be prepared at all.