“The Coming is At Hand”
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
November 27, 2016
Matthew 24:36-44 36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,[a] but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day[b] your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
We begin this new Christian year and Advent with what we understand as “the hope of Christ’s coming” or, more literally, the hope and anticipation of Christmas; the appearance of the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
But in this text this morning from Matthew it is fairly evident that the time, place, and what not is not known. Hence the height of anticipation begins to grow rapidly with phrases such as “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left,” or “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
You see, this is not the “famed” Advent text of the coming birth of the Messiah, it is the Advent of a second kind, the Second coming or in the Greek (Parousia) or “his appearing. It becomes the appearing Gospel text in that we are doing what Karl Barth says, “we are living between the times.” We are living between the Advent birth narrative and Advent of the second coming of Christ as King.
We are deeply rooted in the tradition of the Advent birth narrative, and it’s difficult for us to read this text in a time when we anticipate the fluffy and adorable birth of the Christ child.
That is one of the reasons I like this type of Advent text so much in that it challenges us to live a thoughtful Advent. It slows us down from racing to Target or Amazon of Honey Baked Ham or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. It pains me to say this, but it should slow us down to crawl in order to help us realize that Advent is a reminder of God’s promise to Israel of Immanuel. God comes in human form (flesh) to deliver God’s people from sin and evil. While at the same time Advent calls us to anticipate the day on which this Immanuel will return as a King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Therefore in Matthew we have this wonderful juxtaposition of seeing the promise of the coming of Christ at a time that will be unknown to anyone, at that “unexpected hour.”
Here we find ourselves perplexed at “the time” in which we experience the Advent of Christ. Not so much in a calendar ordeal of “when is Christ coming” either birth or return, but more so in the understanding of “how do we fit into this plan?” You see, Advent is strongly a two-fold season. It’s first about God’s action in our lives and second about our RESPONSE to God’s action in our lives. Krister Stendhal, the noted NT scholar and Lutheran Bishop put it this way, (as he addressed clergy) “we misread our congregations if we think they are most often puzzled about the eternal life of each individual. On the contrary, Stendahl says, contemporary Christians are most often puzzling about whether history has any significance.” For you see this text in Matthew summarizes for us a “profound biblical faith” that God is sovereign over all of human history. Therefore we are profound participants in this Advent journey under God’s direction.
It is the beauty of this text that moves us through history in a way that we seek to understand the importance of “not knowing.” This is a sense of “not knowing” contained within the element of this text that allows us to move through time and history without knowing everything.
The great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who has been credited with the Serenity Prayer lays before us the idea and thought, “to accept the things that we cannot change,” a novel concept when one is waiting on an outcome. This is paramount especially if people are to move forward in their faith journey. In pastoral care, religious formation–one of the greatest desires for people is to trust in the future without controlling or knowing any of the details that are yet to come.
As this Matthew text unfolds it is evident that we need to look back as much as we look forward. Looking back in this text we see that God had great power and there was a cost to that power. In looking back we become keenly aware of what God is able to do, will do, and is doing, thus combining the past, the present, and the future of Advent living.
Therefore, as we move and begin this Advent season we are challenged with the “two fold” action of both looking back at our history, “what has God done in my life?”, as my friend used to remind me, “you need to know your ‘raisen” and then we need to look toward the future to know and anticipate how God is going to use us in the unfolding of God’s Kingdom. As Matthew so fervently puts it in the text this morning, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day, your Lord is coming.” Thus we live in the knowledge that God has come into our lives, God continues to reign in our lives, and God will continue to come in the advent of our lives.
Let us approach the manger with history, understanding, and hope!! Come, Lord Jesus, Come!!
AMEN & AMEN