Advent 1 – December 1, 2019
Matthew 24:36 – 44
Jesus said, ‘About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
How are you with waiting?
Where is God in the midst of your waiting? How do you know?
They’d been waiting. It seemed like forever ago since Jesus had died and buried in the tomb. He’d promised he’d return. They knew when he did, everything would change. No longer would they be oppressed. It would be soon! They just knew it!
For a while they’d watched with a growing expectation. Maybe today. Maybe today it would happen. Maybe today Jesus would return. The end of the day brought disappointment. Tomorrow……maybe tomorrow.
The days turned into weeks. Weeks wound into months. Months rolled over into years. Years dragged into decades. They wondered if they’d been forgotten. Had God turned God’s back on them? Echoing the Psalmist who crafted Psalm 13 they began to cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?
The Gospel of Matthew was likely written about eighty long years after Jesus had died. Everything was different when he was alive. He was making a difference, pushing against the status quo. He hung out with all the wrong people challenging everyone not to see them as “those people”. They, too, were children of God made in the image of God. He brought the presence of God as illnesses were healed. He forgave sinners, offering them a new beginning with a clean slate. Demons? Not with Jesus in the neighborhood. Legions of them were cast out.
Jesus was teaching as well. Trying to disassemble the power structures that pushed away some people. The politics that forgot the weak and helpless as it protected its own power. Jesus was a threat. And he was killed to protect the status quo. With Jesus’s death all those changes that were making a difference were gone.
They knew he’d be back. He’d promised and they believed him. They knew that when Jesus returned he would bring about a complete change. The Kingdom of God would emerge! They couldn’t wait for that day. They waited with great anticipation. “How long, O Lord, how long?”
As years turned into decades they began to lose hope. Nothing changed. In time they couldn’t even see the possibility that anything could change. One by one it started. A quiet rumbling at first. “What’s the point. Nothing will ever be any different.” A rumbling that began to grow until it shouted through the crowds. “Why bother even watching! Jesus isn’t coming back. Not anytime soon.”
Those decades wound into centuries. And centuries have now become millennium. Still, still Jesus has not returned. Do we even watch anymore? Except for the odd time when someone tries to predict the exact date that Jesus will return, despite the fact that Jesus himself didn’t know the date. Do we even attempt to watch for Jesus’s return? The news headlines sure don’t say that we as a society are watching.
Just yesterday yet another terror attack. This one a knife attack by a man wearing a fake bomb strapped to himself on London Bridge in England. A man and a woman were killed and three others were injured. “How long, O Lord, how long?”
News video shows just how much material products and a good deal mean to some people as Black Friday shopping ended in a fight between shoppers. “How long, O Lord, how long?”
In a world that grows enough food to feed everyone on the planet and food waste piles up in garbage dumps and composting piles, in this area of Fenton, Lake Fenton and Linden 30% of school children qualify for free or reduced lunch. “How long, O Lord, how long?”
Schools across at least North America regularly engage in active shooter drills and soft targets bring in law enforcement to help them prepare for the unthinkable. “How long, O Lord, how long?”
Is there any hope? Where is God in the midst of all of this? Do we even expect Jesus to return and turn this hurting world upside down as he ushers in the Kingdom of God?
The author of Matthew’s Gospel knew what it was like to live in a time when people seemed to have lost hope. At this point in the Gospel Jesus has been talking about the end times, those times when the Kingdom of God will totally transform the world. The disciples, logically, want to know when it’s all going to happen.
Jesus responds, “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only God.” No one knows. Not even Jesus. Jesus goes on to tell the disciples then and now that it’s essential for us to be ready.
As Jesus weaves the tale we’re told stories about men in a field and women grinding meal. It’s a story that many people have taken very literally. It’s a literal reading of this story that was the foundation of the Left Behind series. Matthew, however, never intended to paint this as a literal story.
What if the author is painting a picture of normal everyday life? What if those who first heard this gospel are being reminded that Jesus shows up in the everyday moments of normal people of his day?
It was a normal day when Jesus showed up with his disciples at the home of his disciple Simon only to find his mother-in-law sick and in bed. Jesus healed her and lifted her back into health. The Kingdom of God had come near and Simon’s mother-in-law had been transformed.
The day that Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was arriving had started out like any other day. People flooded the streets to watch for Jesus and Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to have any chance at all to see him. Standing beneath the tree Jesus called Zacchaeus down out of the tree and invited himself to dinner. The Kingdom of God had come near and Zacchaeus was transformed.
The man possessed with a legion of demons and living chained outside of town at the caves didn’t know anything about Jesus. The demons did and on that normal day they had a conversation with Jesus that ended with the demons being driven out of the man. The Kingdom of God had come near and transformation forever changed this man’s life.
Facing her accusers and certain death by stoning, she met Jesus. After writing something in the sand, Jesus asked her accusers who among them had no sin. That person could throw the first stone. Her accusers, all of them, left after that question was posed. Jesus forgave the woman her sins and sent her away to start again. The Kingdom of God had come near and the woman was transformed as she began again.
Jesus changed things. Jesus transformed people. Eighty years after Jesus’s death, the people needed reminding. Jesus had transformed them as well. Yes, they were still waiting for Jesus’s return. Yes, they still needed to live everyday, normal lives. And they needed to live their ordinary lives in a different way.
Awake. Aware. Ready to experience the presence of God. I think the author of the Gospel knew that when you’re aware of God’s presence in the midst of the ordinary, extraordinary things happen.
We know that too. When we live as transformed people we’re able to see those places in the world where God’s Kingdom is already emerging.
In large cities across this country, including in Detoit, neighborhoods of tiny houses are being built as the homeless are finding dwelling places. Finding comfort and stability, God’s protection is felt and the Kingdom of God is revealed. God answers our question of “how long” with the answer of “right now” and lives are transformed.
Food pantries and soup kitchens open their doors and their kitchens to ensure that everyone has a hot meal to warm their bellies and fuel their bodies. God’s nourishment is provided and the Kingdom of God is revealed. How long, we ask. God answers, it’s already happening as hungry bellies are filled and the hungry are transformed.
Port Huron has a People’s Clinic that offers medical and dental care to those who cannot afford care. God’s healing is offered and the Kingdom of God is revealed. For those who have cried, “how long”, the reality of this kind of immediacy is all the answer they need. Lives are transformed as the sick are healed.
In the ghettos of Saginaw the Episcopal Church goes to the places where violence has shattered the community. They gather to pray and to “re-hallow” that ground. God’s love enfolds all who gather and the Kingdom of God is revealed. God’s transformation replaces our “how long” as together we face down violence that threatens to overcome.
It’s true. God’s Kingdom has not been fully revealed in our midst and we are still waiting and watching for Jesus’s return.
And……and we are living in times where God’s transformation is already taking place.
You and I? We’re being invited into this new reality. God’s reality that replaces our cry of lament, “how long”, with the reality of the transformation that happens when God’s love is let loose in the world.
So we end as we began. Advent is a season of waiting. And watching. How are you with waiting? Where is God in the midst of your waiting?