The Gift Worth Waiting For

Matthew 24:36-44, Romans 13:11-14

Legend has it, that at one point in his life, Luther was asked the question of what he would do today, if he knew the world was going to end tomorrow.

While Luther could have responded with any countless variety of answers, as we could no doubt should the question be directed to us, with great faith, he simply responded, “I would plant a tree.”  I would plant a tree

For the liturgical Church, St. James included, this weekend marks the first weekend of the 2019 Advent season.   For those of us who hit up Google for our go to source of information, the word Advent, coming from the Latin word Adventus, is defined as; the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.  With this, it makes sense that the season of Advent is most often described as the season of waiting and anticipation.

While this time of waiting over the next four weeks focuses primarily on the birth of the babe in the manger on that O’ Holy Night, as Matthew reminds us in our gospel text selected for this morning, it is as well, a time to prepare for his return… for his second advent.  For the day when Jesus will come again, not as he did on the night of his birth, wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger, bringing peace and joy… but in some other form, bringing with him the final judgement and the end of the world as we know it… the division between those who are saved and those who are lost, irrevocable… Two will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left…

And the only real that advice that Jesus gives, is that it will take place at an unknown hour.  That we must “keep awake” and “be ready” at all times.   As one commentator on today’s gospel reflects; “we are to live in a constant state of red alert”, for “it is how God’s people are living now that will be the key to their fate at the end”.

If you’re anything like me, texts such as the one before us leave you with more questions than answers.

What is it that determines who will be “taken” and who will be “left behind”?  Where exactly are those who are saved, taken?  What happens to those who are left behind?  What exactly does Jesus mean when he tells us to “keep awake” and “be ready”?   If keeping awake and being ready somehow equate to our faith or to our good works, how are they measured?  How much faith is enough?  At what point have my good deeds tallied enough for me to be part of the elect?

While there’s no way to know the answers to questions such as these for certain, nor does Jesus seek to answer them directly, he does, at the very least, seek to give us an idea of what he means when he instructs us to keep awake and be ready. “No one know about that day or hour… For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…

If we were to look back to Genesis, to the story of the great flood, we find that story we are all familiar with.  The world is one defined by great wickedness.  Where Sin ruled over faithfulness.  That had gotten so bad, that God was, from Genesis 6:6; ‘’sorry he had made humankind and it grieved him to his heart.”  The people of the earth were corrupt and filled with violence…  But Noah, who was righteous and blameless… who walked with God… found favor in the sight of the Lord by following God’s command to build the ark regardless of the unknown to come.  He kept awake and was ready

Like Noah’s, our lives are full of unknowns.  And following God’s commands in a world that goes directly against them, is no easy task.  As was the world described in the story of the great flood, the one we find ourselves in today is one too often made up of Sin and death… of war, hardship, and persecution… of broken families and divided homes… addiction and disease… hunger and homelessness… greed and selfishness… of disappointment and hopelessness… where the peace and joy that Jesus was born into our world to bring can feel absent altogether…

Yet, regardless of these realities, the season of Advent, calls us to keep awake and be ready for the coming One of God.  To live our lives each and every day in the way Christ calls us to live.  To walk with God as Noah did, doing our best to remain faithful evening amidst the ways of the world that seek to draw us away, trusting in God’s promise of forgiveness and grace in those moments when we fail.  To follow God as if the day of judgement and world as we know it was going to end tomorrow…  And not in attempts to ensure our spot amongst the chosen… but in humble thanksgiving for all that God has already done…

Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, as we enter into the season of waiting and anticipation for the birth of our savior, Gospel writer Matthew reminds us, that the work of Jesus’ first coming… his first advent… is not yet done.  That the Good News of great joy, the Son of the Most High, is still at work in our world and in our lives.  And so, we reflect on that question for ourselves, that Luther himself was asked so long ago.

If you knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, what would you do today?  What would you do?  Would you plant a tree along with Luther?  Would you extend an act of kindness to a neighbor in need?  Would you forgive someone who has wronged you or ask for forgiveness yourself?  Would you hold firm to your faith as Christ has held firm onto you?  What would you do?  What would you do?

Keep awake.  Be alert.    As St. Paul, the great champion of grace, writes in our Epistle for today; “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light…”

May this first Advent be one full of expectations.  May it cause you to yearn for the coming of Jesus…  For his birth, and for his return, when all things will be made new…  And may it awake you from whatever it is that is keeping you in slumber to live your lives on red alert, putting aside acts of darkness, that you might follow in the path of the One who was born into a broken world that we would have hope.

And in those times when you are left standing in the dark — by sickness or sadness, when you feel alone or betrayed, when you wonder about the future and a world filled with violence, and about the presence of God in it all… when you wonder about life after death or the day of judgement that is to come– remember that it is in your darkness where God has joined you to God’s light.  For you and me and all the faithful, the gift well worth waiting for.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.

~Pastor Andrew Geib

2 thoughts on “The Gift Worth Waiting For

  1. You pull alot of threads in this sermon and I would like to suggest another thread, that this text appears to be about hope and that is what I believe Luther meant when he said he would plant a tree. The most sobering statement, however, in this passage is that “they did not know.” They did not put two and two together, Jesus said, “until the flood came and took them all away.” Jesus then said, “so shall the coming of the Son of Man be”. The fault is that people are so caught up in the routine of daily living after they leave church that they take no thought for their spiritual lives. Our problem is not “gross sin” but “secular indifference”—”nonchalance about God” again the emphasis is the normalcy of life. The person who lives in daily companionship with Jesus will not be threatened by Jesus’ sudden appearance. One is taken and one is left in place but our preparation has to do with spiritual hope rather than physical wakefulness.

    Context is everything as we try to hear what it means to “not understand” and appears at the conclusion of the Gospel lesson, Jesus gives three parables that relate directly to the text: Parable of the Faithful and the Unfaithful Slaves, Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, and Parable of the Talents.

    Like Bonhoeffer says we often hear the gospel preached as follows: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.” “But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”

  2. Wonderful reminder of the meaning of Advent. Advent is so important but so often we forget to participate in it. Thanks!

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