Matthew 24:36-44 (First Sunday in Advent—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 1, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel reading from Matthew 24:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, 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 when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master 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 hour you do not expect.”
It is officially “count-down” time. The moment the red cranberry sauce is wiped off our chins and cleaned off the tablecloth, Black Friday starts. And on Black Friday comes the count-down of the diminishing days until Christmas. That tick-tock of passing time is supposed to induce us into a buying panic and jump-start our frenzied consumerism. It pretty much works. But the Church has its own countdown to Christmas. It is called the Season of Advent. Instead of being a time of consumer hyper-panic, Advent is a time of preparation for the gift of a God’s Son. This preparation is not about decking the halls or trimming the tree. This preparation is not about baking cookies or wrapping packages. This preparation is about God who comes into the world in human flesh. Advent is an alarm clock, a moment of truth to rouse us out of the stupor of this world and to be ready for Christ’s coming!
As sure as the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem on the first Christmas is the certainty of His coming again on the Last Day. Jesus promised at the Last Supper, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:3) At our Lord’s Ascension, the angel announced and promised, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) Jesus’ coming again is going to happen. So Jesus’ disciples asked him earlier in Matthew 24, “Tell us . . . what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) They knew His coming again was certain and they wanted information provided to them in order that they might be ready for that day.
Our Gospel lesson this morning is Jesus’ answer to their question. But it’s really a non-answer. No one knows that specific day or hour. It will happen as quickly and as unexpectedly as the flood did at the time of Noah. There were no weather forecasts about the flood. Unheralded, the flood came upon the unsuspecting world. People were going about business as usual, ignorant of the catastrophe that was coming. There were no advance warning signs that would show the nearness of that event. And Jesus says that is how it will be with His coming again. People will be going about their business as usual, ignorant of the fact that the Lord of lords and King of kings is coming to judge the living and the dead.
“Jesus, we want to be ready for your coming, so tell us, what are the signs of your coming and the end of the age?” “There will be no sign that shows My coming and the consummation of the age. Your only response until that day is to watch and to be faithful,” Jesus says. That’s not much to go on for preparation and readiness, is it? I mean, Jesus goes on to say, “If the master 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.” So tell us, Jesus, when you are coming so we can be ready!
We have in our minds that “readiness” means “knowing the time.” The game starts at 2 o’clock so I need to be ready to leave at 12:30. The family will be here for dinner at 6 so I have to start cooking at 4:00. Mom said to clean my room by the time she gets home, but I know she won’t be back for a couple hours so I can wait a little bit to get started. We just want to be told when to be ready or to have things ready, and we are good to go. But that’s not being ready all the time. You have until December 24, midnight, to get your Christmas presents. You can get them now, or next week, or wait ‘till 11:43 p.m. on Christmas Eve. But what if you didn’t know when Christmas was going to be. What if Christmas could happen at any time and you had to have your gift ready when it came? If you don’t have a gift ready, your life will become a disaster as you are cast away forever from family and friends as you are thrown in Bah-Humbug Prison because you failed to be ready for Christmas. You would spend forever in this dark, dank cell, isolated away from everyone because you weren’t ready. Would you procrastinate? Would you take your chances that maybe Christmas won’t come today or tomorrow? Or would you be ready every day, with gift in hand?
Jesus doesn’t want us putting off our preparation and readiness for him until the last unknown second, only to be surprised when He comes and we are not ready. Not ready is not good. If we are not ready for Christ’s return, Jesus’ coming will be destructive for us—far worse than any Bah-Humbug Prison—as we are cast away from Him into the fires of hell. Therefore, we must be ready, because Jesus will come at an hour we do not expect. And readiness for Christ’s coming again isn’t a matter of knowing the time.
Then what is readiness for Christ a matter of? It’s a matter of faith and wise and faithful service. What makes a person ready or able to receive Jesus Christ? Faith. Faith is God’s gift to us that enables us to take hold of Jesus as our Savior and to receive from Him the gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life. Moved by His love and compassion, God sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior. It was Jesus who lived a perfect life for us. He kept God’s Law completely and perfectly. It was Jesus who suffered and died on the cross for us in order to purchase with His blood the forgiveness of our sins because we have failed to keep God’s Law perfectly and completely. So that you and I might receive this forgiveness and the eternal life that comes with it, God the Holy Spirit created faith, or trust, in our hearts through the Gospel—the Good News that Jesus died and rose again to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation. This saving faith receives what the Gospel promises—forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This saving faith receives Christ as Savior from sin, death, and the devil. This saving faith, the gift of God, enables us to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead giving us the assurance and guarantee that we are saved. (Rom. 10:9)
If, then, we are saved from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we are indeed ready for His return on the Last Day. Faith in Jesus saves us from the wrath of His judgment against sin on the Last Day because we are forgiven through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The gift of faith makes us ready to receive Jesus with great joy on that day, no matter when it comes, because we know Him as our Savior and Friend. But the gift of saving faith in Christ is not our license to sit around and do nothing. It is, rather, our authorization to care for one another as faithful disciples of Jesus while we await His return.
In the verses following our Gospel lesson, Jesus illustrates how those who live by faith are ready for Him, how they live as His faithful disciples during the delay between His Ascension and His coming again. From Matthew 24:45-46 we read, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” The master stands in for Jesus. The servant stands in for the disciple who has been appointed by Jesus to serve the other followers of Christ. Demonstrating the true readiness of faith is done through the actions the flow from faith—service to our neighbors.
Faith, like a plant, produces fruit. The fruit of faith is love and mercy shown to our fellow human beings through us Christians. Our lives, in response to the gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, are empowered by God the Holy Spirit so that we do the commandments of God—loving Him and loving others. In faith by the power of the Holy Spirit we strive to trust God above all else. We work to let God’s Word be evident in our speech and conduct. We pay attention to His Word as we read it and hear it. In faith by the power of the Holy Spirit we show love and honor to the authorities placed over us in this life. We refrain from hating or injuring others with our thoughts, words, and deeds. In love we give generously from what the Lord has given us to help those in their moments of need, whether we give our time, or clothes, or food, or labor, or shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste or even turkeys! For love, as God tells us, is the fulfilling of His Law. (Rom. 13:10) By faith with the help of the Holy Spirit, we live lives of faith and love in readiness for Jesus’ return.
And the greatest act of love that I can think of is to tell other people about Jesus Christ so that they too will be ready when He comes again on the Last Day. As you and I speak the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection to others, the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel message we share to create saving faith in the hearts of people. The Spirit, through the Gospel, delivers to them the gifts of Christ’s forgiveness and everlasting life. He brings them to faith in and loving service to the Savior so that they, along with you and I, are ready for His return, whenever it might be.
Now it’s back to the count down. Today is December 1, 24 days until Christmas. Will you be ready? I’m sure you will be, but if not, that’s okay too. Because, more importantly, by God’s grace in His gift of saving faith, you are today ready for Jesus when He comes again. You live with trust in Jesus as your Savior, the One who suffered, died, and rose again to win your forgiveness and life eternal. You live with love for others in Jesus’ name. You faithfully serve the Lord with your time, with your gifts, and with your actions, all which show love to God and mercy to your neighbors because they are done with faith in Him who is coming again, even Christ the Lord. Amen.