First Sunday of Advent 28 November 2010
(Isaiah 2:1-5 Psalm 122 Romans 13: 11-14 Matthew 24: 36-44)
We just heard one of those Gospel texts I love to avoid! I think I consented to preach this weekend before I saw what the text was!
Did you really hear what this Gospel text is saying?
Here’s what it seems to be saying: As the people are doing good, normal things like eating and drinking, going to weddings, they are suddenly swept away. Two people in a field and one will be taken and one left [behind]. And two women are grinding meal together; one is taken and one left [behind]. And then there’s the part about a thief breaking into your house!
And this is all supposed to be all about the coming of the Son of Man!
And then to make it worse, why would they put this text on the First Sunday of Advent? Didn’t they see the headlines in the newspapers yesterday? Obviously, we’ve had a terrific Black Friday! Here’s one headline: Recession on Pause; Shopping on Fast Forward. Here’s another one: Shoppers Eat up Black Friday Deals. One more: Black Friday Turns Green. Final one: No stores left behind this year!
Obviously such headlines wish to communicate something hopeful that occurred this past Friday. So why do we have to come to church to hear such a scary reading when we’re feeling so good?
So, do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to preach on the Gospel text. Do you know why? Because I don’t think everyone is feeling so good! I think there are lots of people who did not have money to go shopping on Friday. I think there are people who are struggling to make ends meet. I think there are people living out of their cars. I think there are people who do not have the ability to Eat up Black Friday Deals. I think there are still lots of people living with the fear of losing jobs, of not finding jobs, of losing family members, losing health and losing homes. I think there are people who feel pretty hopeless this time of year.
To be sure, ours is a very different world today than it was when Matthew wrote his Gospel. But, there were hopeless people in Matthew’s time, for many, their world was falling apart. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by Roman troops. The Jewish people were in open rebellion against the emperor’s people. God’s chosen rescuer was overdue, to name only a few of their fears.
So maybe Matthew’s world then and our world now are not so different. The sources of our fears may be different, but, just the same, we find ourselves confused and struggling and tired.
On this First Sunday of Advent, we hear this section of Matthew’s Gospel, often known as “the little apocalypse.” This section can sound scary. It sounds as if it’s talking about the end of the world. And it sounds as if we’ve taken verse 40 and wrote a whole series of “Left behind” books about this one verse, books about blood and destruction and rapture. And it sounds as if we’ve taken verses like these and made them into a guessing game about the timing for the end of the world.
So how can these verses that sound so scary speak the Gospel? The word “apocalyptic” means “to reveal.” This type of writing is meant to take us to the heart of biblical hope. It reminds me of the image from the Wizard of Oz, when Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the huge head of the Great Oz? Something new is revealed.
That’s how it is with apocalyptic writing, something new is being revealed to us. In these writings, there is a sense of things ending, but it’s not the end of the world; rather, it’s the end of the world as we know it today. In some deep and fundamental way, the Gospel is brought to bear upon the events of our lives.
So when the temple is destroyed, the Jewish people are in open rebellion, and the world as they knew it was coming to an end, Matthew is asking the question what world is coming to an end for the Christians? What curtain was being pulled back so that the early Christians could begin to see their world differently? And then the final question always is, “What new world is being created?”
And so when 9/11 happens, and when Katrina and the Gulf Spill destroy major portions of land and sea, when ice caps melt, and millions of people are killed in war, the first thing we hear is: this must be a sign from God that the end of the world is near.
A more biblically-accurate, faith-led, hope-filled question would be, what is the curtain these tragic events are pulling back in order to reveal something new? What new world are we being asked to create?
And for the world to be created anew, we need to be re-created; hence the section on the thief breaking into the home. I will suggest the thief is Jesus, the Son of Man. Our need to be watchful for the thief is not so much to keep the thief out, but to know what the thief is breaking into. Like any thief, Jesus is after what is most valuable to us—not our iPod or our Droid—but Jesus is after our heart and soul and mind. Jesus knows how badly we need to be broken into and how hard we will resist, and how hard we will try to protect ourselves from a God who want to take us on a new journey and reveal to us a new way of living life.
Like a thief in the night God wants to break into our wounded and broken places to make us whole, that we might claim God’s vision of reconciliation and peace.
As we begin this four-week journey of Advent; as we move toward the most daring story of God’s love for the world; as we anticipate yet again the most incredible story of God breaking into our lives, coming to dwell within us, the curtain is being pulled back to reveal our creative God breaking into our lives!
Be awake! Be watchful! God is on the way! Amen!