OT: Isaiah 2.1-5
NT: Matthew 24.36-44
Are you ready?
How many of you started listening to Christmas music this week? How many of you decorated your house for Christmas? How many of you went Christmas shopping?
We did start listening to Christmas music. We didn’t do any shopping. And Kerry did most of the decorating. We started Saturday morning, and at some point in the afternoon in between rocking the baby and warming up turkey, she asked me, “What’s your sermon about tomorrow?”
“Uh oh,” I said. “I need to stop decorating now and go write my sermon!” I think that’s the first time I’ve had a legitimate excuse to get out of decorating!
But there is something serious and something important about the preparations we make this time of year. Yes, the music and the shopping and the decorations are all part of that; but the real preparations we make are on the inside.
This week’s passage from Matthew, like most passages we read early in Advent each year, is about watching and waiting. The season of Advent which begins today and leads up to Christmas Day is all about watching and waiting. But watching for who and waiting for what?
You might say we are watching for Jesus and waiting for his birth. That’s right. That’s what Advent is all about. And it’s why I encourage you to attend this afternoon’s Advent wreath-making educational event. You’ll make a wreath that will help you count the time in a spiritual way leading up to Christmas.
What I want to focus on in today’s sermon is not who we watch for and what we wait for. I want to focus on how we do it. How we watch and how we wait. Because that’s what Matthew 24 is about. Let’s read it together.
The passage begins with a comparison to the time of the great flood, saying the return of Jesus one day in the future will come just like the flood. In other words, judgment will come in the form of an event that catches people by surprise. More specifically, a whole host of sinful humans were swept away in the flood, right? They were taken. Who was left behind? Noah, his family, and the animals. Why? They were good, and their job was to make a better world.
This story about two people being in a field when one is taken away and the other is left behind makes people nervous. It has led to books and movies and television shows where people let their imaginations run wild! I saw a truck not long ago that said, “In case of rapture, you can have this truck.”
In that school of thought, who gets taken away? The good people. Who gets left behind? The bad people. The problem with that popular version of the story is that it doesn’t fit the Biblical example. In the flood, who was taken away? The bad people. Who was left behind? The good people.
That’s when we get to the meat of the story in verse 42: “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” This is a story about watching and waiting, just like we do at Advent. And it speaks to how we wait.
Does a watched pot ever boil? Well, yes…but it takes forever and you waste a lot of time when you could’ve been doing something else productive! We don’t wait this time of year by simply counting down the days until Christmas. We don’t watch this time of year by counting our presents under the tree. Watching and waiting are not selfish, passive endeavors; watching and waiting are selfless, active endeavors where we open ourselves to the possibilities of what is right before our very eyes.
Matthew 24 is a passage about timing. And friends, in today’s rushed world, we need to hear this version of timing more than ever. It is a sense of timing where you do not regret time that is past; you do not long for time that is yet to come; instead, you open yourself to the time in which you live in the present. Let me say that again. You do not regret time that is past; you do not long for time that is yet to come; instead, you live in the present.
This is a lesson I do not want to learn, but a little boy is teaching it to me regardless this Advent. Regrets are useless; plans are pipe dreams; all we have is right now. And that’s all we need.
Ben Witherington is a great Baptist preacher and theologian who says this about today’s passage. “In the days before cell phones (B.C. as I like to call them), my grandparents used to call us up and tell us they were coming for a visit. Since they sometimes stopped various places along the way, we were not sure when they would arrive. This meant we had to always be ready. It was the certainty of the coming, not the timing which motivated this behavior of being ready at any moment.”
Are you ready? I’m not talking about the music and the lights and the presents. I’m talking about what’s on the inside. Are you using your time wisely? Are you being a good steward of what you’ve been given? Are you ready? Amen.