A Sermon Delivered by The Reverend Titus D. Clarke
First Sunday of Advent
St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church
December 1, 2019
We wait for your dear LORD;
You are our deliverer and shield.
For our hearts rejoice in you,
And we trust in your holy name.
Open my mouth to declare your glory.
Our hearts and minds to hear and feel you,
May we experience your faithfulness, O LORD,
And may our living be shaped and inspired by your love for us. Amen.
As I prayed and study today’s readings, the thought that captured my imagination was the phrase, “In the meantime.” Because it is a phrase, and not a complete thought; the document check on my computer suggested that I should put a comma, implying the anticipation of the completion of the phrase. But I think if we follow along with the logic of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24:36-44, we will by the end of this message, individually and collectively complete this phrase that is set before us for reflection.
You would think that Advent, the first Sunday of the Christians year would be setting the stage for mood of Christmas, after all we are entering the season to be jolly. But the message on this first Sunday of Advent is not a jolly one. It is a radical, mind bogging message that out jolt its listeners to attention. The message of this First Sunday of Advent points to a time that no one knows, how or when it will come. It reveals a time clothe in the mysterious mind of God, that will be introduced by disappearances. “Two men will be in the field one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.”
I want you to notice an important difference between this reading, as it references the Days of Noah, and the left behind theology, it is not the good people who are raptured. Quite the opposite, the good people are those who are left behind, as it was in the days of Noah.
This passage in Matthew, fits the genre of Apocalyptic literature in which Jesus is talking about the eschatology, a big theological word that simply means the “end time”; Jesus here is talking about the end of the world. He is explaining the meaning of the “Parousia” another big theological word which means “Presence” or “Arrival” which is the second coming of Jesus. The central focus of this text is future events, that ought to impact how we live now. Matthew is presenting a message about the second coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ; and the paramount concern here is: What should the church be doing in the meantime as we await the second coming of the Lord? More directly stated; How should we, you and I, live and engage each other and the world, as we anticipate the Second Advent of Jesus?
The Historical Context of the Text
This was a subject of great concern for Matthew community. Matthew’s community had embraced the teaching of the disciples. For more than fifty years they had been waiting for Jesus’ return. Meanwhile, they are experiencing persecution. There world is turning upside down. There is deep division among the people. There are those who see themselves as insiders and those who points to the others as outsiders. The insiders have in their minds what God should do their enemies. It seems like Matthew’s agenda here is to help his church live now as if the end was already here.
It seems to me that the world of Matthew’s church is much like ours today. We live in a time, when we are greatly divided by race, gender, creed, sexual orientation and politics. We defined each other by which TV channel we watch MSNBC, Fox or CNN. We see the world; not though the lens of our faith and the Gospel we read each Sunday; but through a political and ethnic lens. In the process we forget who we are as children of God and as children of the light. We ignore the one common denominator that make us human, the image of God in each of us.
I think Matthew is teaching here; that salvation came into the world with the birth, life and death of Jesus; and it will be fully realized or fully completed in his second coming. We, the church, now live in the in-between time, the time of the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet.’ It is the time of waiting for the consummation. “In this time, we cannot rest on God’s grace and ignore our responsibility to live that grace in the here and now. God gives us all the responsibility for doing God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven” (Working Preacher Commentary O. Wesley Allen, Jr.). We cannot embrace a cheap sense of grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer states: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” God’s grace is not cheap, it costs God his Son, his only Son.
Therefore, how we live in this in-between time matters, because it is in the way we live now that we open ourselves to the workings of the Holy Spirit that helps us lay aside the works of darkness, take our light and light the world. In other words, we cannot be so focused on the time to come that we forget what it means to live today. We cannot be so engaged with Jesus’ coming again, that we forget the implication of that coming for the world today.
The Days of Noah
Perhaps, this is what Jesus meant when he said: “As it was in the day of Noah, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah enter the flood.” The point is this, people were so concerned about everyday living that they forgot what it meant to do as Paul describe in Romans 13, “…put on the armor of light.” They were so wrapped up in the wrongs, failings and inadequacies of the other that they forgot their responsibility to God. I think this is a major problem of living in the in the meantime of the in-between time. Because it requires waiting, it means that it is easy to become complacent and loose sight of the important things.
So, Jesus says here you do not know the day when the son of man will come, therefore you must be on the watch. In other words, you must be about active waiting.
In the Meantime We Are Called to be Actively Waiting
Scott Hoezee in his reflection on this text tells the tale from Ann Taylor’s novel, The Amateur Marriage: It is the story of Michael and Pauline, a pair of World War II-era sweethearts who get married and eventually have three children. But then one day their oldest child, Lindy, just disappears. She runs away from home and promptly falls off the face of the earth. For the first days, weeks, and even months, they watch for her return. They seize on any and every clue as to her whereabouts. The pace, they peer out windows, they listen for a key scratching at the front door’s lock, they would jump out from their sleep and sit upright in bed, each time they thought they heard footsteps in the driveway.
Each time they thought it was Lindy, but it was not. Lindy does not return. As time passed, weeks became months and months years, Lindy absence became just another part of life. They never finally give up on the idea that they would see her again, but they just stopped watching for her. At first, they were certain she’d be back soon. They would not have been at all surprised had she walked back through that front door. Years later, though, the surprise flipped: after a while, they would have been surprised if she had come back.
When Lindy finally returns, her mother Pauline had died. Although, Pauline had gotten on with life, she never gave up waiting and expected her daughter’s return. When Lindy shows back up, her father says to her, “Your mother never gave up hope, I could tell.” She had a way of glancing out the window that let you know the hope was still there. When she had the chance to take a cruise with a group of friends, she refused. She came up with a dozen excuses, but everyone knew that deep down the real reason was that she didn’t want to be gone . . . in case Lindy came back.
I think this is what active waiting looks like. It is living each day as if this is the day that Jesus will return, and therefore participating in God’s ongoing activity around you. I think each of today’s reading offer aspects of the reality to be lived in the meantime:
- Isaiah points to the new community that God is forming, a community of fertility where weapons of hate and division will be no more. The nations shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and they shall study war no more. Our response in the meantime is to work toward the realization of this vision and promise of God, by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us by turning our eyes inward to see the hate we give and reversing it to love.
- The Apostle Paul in Romans 13 calls us to recognize the urgency of the time; to put on the light of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the burning light we received at our baptism. This means we ought to reflect Christ in all that we do in whatever we do. In whatever vocation we are involved. If you are a teacher, nurse, a lawyer a doctor, your vocation is your platform for ministry. Remember that God is the source of the light, he is the power that make the light shine, notice that the bulb on your Christmas tree bears no light until it is plugged into a power source, so too, your light cannot shine unless it is plugged in. So, in the meantime we should be plugged in to shine forth.
- In the words of the Psalmist we can be glad that God offers us the opportunity to be participants in the future he is bringing.
Finally, In the meantime, we are called to be awake – A theme that will be revisited in this year’s reading of Matthew. This call is a reminder that nothing last forever, time can run out; therefore, we must take notice of what God is doing right before our very eyes. We must be alert, alive and awake to see the hurts and pains that surrounds us. It is a call to be aware of the work of the Spirit in the world and get involve. It is said that Howard Thurman a great black preacher used to say: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive” (Sundays and Seasons). Active waiting calls for people awakened people, sensitive to the activity of God in the world and they join in. They by their living make Jesus’ coming in the world a visible sign for all to see.
A few years ago, I developed the hobby of preparing for public worship by having a private time of Praise and Worship – During this private time I will sing hymns or songs that would make me focus on my calling. One of the songs that I use to begin with, you may not know put the words always moved me it says:
Let me live my life for Jesus before its too late.
Let me live my life for him, before it’s too late,
Let me preach while I can,
Let me pray while I can
Let me do does things he wants me to do.
Because when I am lying still, when my mouth cannot make a sound – then it will be too late.
So, as we contemplate the Advent of Jesus in this season, I invite your reflection on the question: What do you think God is calling you be doing in the meantime?
What do you think he wants us to be about as a Church as we await his second Advent?
Whatever your answer, may God give you wisdom and strength to live into it in Jesus’ name.by