Something is happening. Something big. The whole world is buzzing. Jesus compares the coming of the Son of Man to the days of Noah—when the whole world was essentially wiped out. There are many possibilities for the implications of such a comparison, but whatever the background reason for the analogy, the parallel of the actual event is clear—it is sudden and unexpected. This isn’t Y2K, when the world waited for a technological meltdown, or a comet racing towards us that we have to go out in space shuttles to fight off after months or years of planning. It will be sudden and unexpected. As our text says, before the end, people were eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage. Pretty normal stuff—I know I ate some cereal and drank some coffee this morning just before I came to church. Never mind cereal and coffee, Thursday I cooked a whole turkey for my family to eat.
The point is no one knows the day or the hour. Jesus said that even the Son doesn’t know. Why would we be so arrogant as to suppose that we could know? People have been thinking the world’s end is imminent for thousands of years. The book of Daniel in the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls (a collection of sacred and secular texts collected up to the Jewish revolt in the year 73 not quite two thousand years ago), writings of our attributed founding theologian, Martin Luther, even today’s movies—2012, Armageddon, Deep Impact, etc.—all contain evidence that humans throughout the ages have often thought the end was near. It could be right around the corner right now, too. I’m not rejecting that possibility. But rather than having Apocalyptic tunnel vision, we need to open our eyes and see what’s really going on. Paul tells the Romans that this is the time to wake up—put on the armor of light against the darkness and the temptations of the dark. A fixed date isn’t mentioned, but he says that salvation is closer than when they became believers—that’s true for them, and true for us too. Every day we are closer…every day we grow and learn and go deeper in our faith walk with God.
Jesus also tells us to keep awake, stay vigilant. We know something is coming, but we don’t know when—only that it will be at an unexpected hour like a thief in the night. So we have to always stay alert. We have to prepare ourselves for any time. How do we do that? The tragic flaw of the people in Noah’s time wasn’t that they did ordinary everyday things—there are tons of rules and regulations about ordinary everyday things throughout the Bible from the time of Adam onward—but rather that they became consumed by them. They fell into an obsession with the world. The account of Noah’s story in Genesis states that all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth, that earth was filled with violence—so much so that they ignored God. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus said that one cannot be the servant of two masters. That is likely the warning that we should be hearing as well. We have these same cares—some of us (myself included) do stress about what or how we will cook for Thanksgiving or Christmas or lunch tomorrow. If we become consumed by those cares—what we will eat, what we will drink, what we will wear—we run the risk of forgetting who we are and whose we are.
However, this isn’t an excuse to ignore the world that God has created, either. Look at the lesson—two will be working in the field. This isn’t a call to give up on the earth or quit living to simply sit and wait for the end. If both are working in the field, if both are working at the grindstone, then this is not a call to stay out of the workings of the world, or to dispose of it as quickly as possible so that the end will come sooner. That’s not up to us. Rather this is a call to continue caring for God’s creation—for our neighbors, for the earth, for the air, for the waters, for the animals, for our brothers and sisters as citizens of humanity. It is a call to pay attention to what we are doing, and to what God is doing, so that we may be ready and may continue to be ready for days, weeks, months, or generations to come.
We’re living in the meantime. This is the time when the Kingdom of God has been glimpsed by us in the concrete historical life of Jesus and in the everyday moments of light we experience in the world. This is also the time when the true fullness of the vision of that Kingdom has not yet been realized. We are still living in that broken, imperfect world where we are still human and still retain our sinful nature.
This is the First Sunday in Advent. There’s a huge temptation to skip over this season in our culture and go straight to Christmas with Santa Claus and cookies and carols. Personally, I think I’ve seen the Christmas goodies out in the stores since Halloween was over…and I’m sure I’ll hear more carols in those stores during this season than I will in all four of our Christmas Eve services combined here at church. I’m not saying that we don’t need to or shouldn’t prepare for Christmas. Actually, Advent is a season of preparation, so that is quite appropriate. But it is more than just that. It is also the season of waiting, of watching, of reflecting on what it means to be getting ready for Jesus as a community of faith.
If there is a cultural theme for this whole season, it might go something like this “You need to be good because Jesus is coming!” but that doesn’t work, either. We can’t be like kids being good for Santa Claus in order to get better presents at Christmas for two reasons. One—while we have a deadline for Santa’s arrival, we have no idea when Jesus is coming. Two—there’s nothing for us to earn.
This is good news on both accounts. We don’t know when this will happen! Hallelujah! Do you realize what that means? It means that right now is all we know about…right now is what we are able to act in. We can look around us—open our eyes—and see God’s people and God’s work in the world without wondering, without predicting, without obsessing about Y2K or 2012 or the like. We get to live today. We get to work to find and reflect God’s light right now.
We also don’t have anything to earn. We don’t have to worry about who will go where or what will happen then. Jesus sorted that out for us. Since we don’t have to worry about that, what are we freed up to worry about? I often wonder about that—if my ultimate salvation is no longer to be a concern to me, what is? Should I worry about how Jesus will find me rather than about what he will do? I don’t think that’s even the point. It’s not a fear or a worry that drives us at all, but a freedom. A freedom instituted by the Son of God.
Something is happening. Something big. The whole world is buzzing. It will be unexpected and sudden—coming like a thief in the night. Until then, we get ready. Until then, we are in the meantime, constantly reminding ourselves we must live in the now even as we anticipate the not yet. Until then, we do our best with the freedom we have been given. Until then, we wait, we watch, and we live. Amen.