December 1, 2013 Sermon
Preparing for the Unknown
Today is the beginning of the Advent season. It is a period of time within the Catholic, Lutheran, and a couple of other denominational traditions that begins 4 Sunday’s before Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin Adventus and is a translation from the Greek word parousia, often used in New Testament Scriptures to reference the Second Coming of Christ. The color of the season, as seen on the paraments is blue, a traditional symbol of ‘hope’; hope that can only be found in Jesus and his promises.
So this season is one that is centered on preparation for the coming of the Messiah. And in this context, we commemorate two aspects of preparation. First, we remember the traditional preparation for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. And secondly, we wait in preparation for the second coming of Jesus which is yet to occur.
As I prepared for this sermon, I couldn’t help but think of times that we anxiously wait for something to happen in the future. For example, when the heat stops working and you call for help, the company doesn’t usually give you a specific time of arrival. “They will get to you as soon as possible.” Or when I had cable hooked up to the parsonage, they said that I should be available during a window of time…maybe two or four hours. The arrival of these technicians is not seen as threats, but as hopeful promises.
The same can be said with our understanding of Jesus return. While Advent is the traditional time of preparation, Christ said that we should always be prepared. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus’ coming is not something to fear, but to await in hope!
You’ve heard people trying to predict the return of Jesus, right? And what happens when they’ve guessed wrong? Either God must have changed His mind or these ‘so-called prophets’ go off in obscurity. Jesus said that neither the angels nor HIMSELF know the day or hour of his return. Only God the Father has that information. So if Jesus doesn’t know the time of his return, then why would we think that any human could figure it out?
That brings up a question to consider? Why do we feel the need to predict? Why do we NEED to know? It really is an attempt to be in some kind of control. And not knowing can be a helpless feeling, can’t it? If we don’t know when something is going to happen, then we have to be prepared at all times. We aren’t able to schedule an hour in advance to plan when the arrival time is not provided. That’s a vulnerable feeling. We are out of control at that point, and must rely on our trust in God.
Then Jesus describes his coming as like the days before the flood in the days of Noah. People were eating, drinking, and marrying (how ironic that we had a wedding here yesterday!). And in their busyness of life, they ‘knew nothing’ before the waters came.
What does it mean that they ‘knew nothing’? I believe that Jesus means that the people were caught unprepared. They blew Noah off as a crazy man and didn’t pay attention to what was going on around them. Wouldn’t you think that if animals started showing up in pairs at the ark that something would have rang a bell?
But we don’t like to admit that someone else might have more power than us, yes, even God. We say, “Prove it!”, “I’ll believe it when I see it!”, or we’ll question if God’s plan because we didn’t get our way. In other words, we believe it is up to God to serve us, as if our belief is what makes the actions of God official. Jesus is saying, whether you want to believe it or not, it’s coming. Whether you understand it or not, trust me.
Verse 41 has become popular through the book and movie series ‘Left Behind’. Two will be in the field when one will be taken. But the word ‘taken’ is just one of several translations from the original Greek. The word ‘paralambano’ from the Greek text can be translated “to take with one’s self, not to reject or withhold obedience, to receive something transmitted, or to receive with the mind.”
While the Left Behind series suggests that one person will disappear in a rapture while the other stays on earth, we cannot assume this through the original Greek texts. It might also mean that while two are working in the field, one recognizes the need for preparation while the other does not. The coming of Jesus will happen not when we expect it, but in the monotony of our daily duties, such as working in the fields or cooking meals. And though Left Behind was a successful book and movie series, none of us know the specific details and don’t have to know. God has everything under control whether we understand it or not.
Jesus also describes his coming as a thief in the night, and if the owner of the house knew when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake. It is humanly impossible for us to stay alert 24/7 and we are not supposed to be waiting in fear. The prophets had been waiting for a Messiah for thousands of years. And under the radar came a baby, born in a stable, unexpected and unassuming that changed the world.
When we are waiting for the technician to show up at the house, we find things to do until their arrival. Jesus has said that we should always be prepared for his return. He does not want us to sit around in complacency waiting for him but to work steadily in the mission of Christ, serving God and our neighbors generously and pointing our efforts toward the love, mercy, and blessings of Jesus. Whether Christ returns before you get home today or whether it is another 3,000 years from now, we are to be persistent in his mission. When the day comes, whether by our own unpredictable death or Christ’s return, nothing else will matter in the indescribable presence of God. Amen.