Sermon for November 27, 2022, First Sunday in Advent

Matthew 24:36-44 (First Sunday in Advent—Series A)

“Watching, Perhaps Today”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 27, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

          A new church year! A new year of being ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory. The traditional Gospel Reading for this First Sunday in Advent is a text about Jesus’ coming, His coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But that was as close to as an announced coming as you might get. A great crowd was following Jesus when He left the city of Jericho, traveling on the road up to Jerusalem. They knew where He was going. No doubt, word of His traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover spread quickly. This was the man who had recently raised Lazarus from the dead after four days! This was the teacher and preacher from Galilee. He was the healer who had just given sight to blind Bartimaeus as He left Jericho! As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, now riding a donkey’s colt, the crowd was waiting in anticipation to see Him, to cheer Him, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.”

          It will not be like this when Jesus comes again on the Last Day. There will be no word of His imminent arrival. There will be no time to plan. Maybe you have heard about or might know a “prepper,” or even be one yourself. A “prepper” is someone with extensive food and emergency supplies always kept ready in case of some catastrophe. Our government has set up “shadow government” facilities and protocols in the event that Washington, DC, is attacked. When, for example, the terror attacks happened in our country on September 11, 2001, some in key military positions were called and given just a few hours to pack and depart for a mission of unknown duration. Yet on the final day, we will not even have that short notice. God’s judgment will overwhelm the unwary, so preoccupied with this world, unmindful of His impending fury. In an instant, Christ “will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess 4:16). There will be no warning, no time for final preparations. The Day of Judgment at Jesus’ return is certain, but unknown and unknowable. Jesus calls us to prepare by being ready, to keep watching.

          Our text then is the alternate Gospel reading for today, from Matthew 24: “But concerning that day and hour, no one—neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son—knows except the Father only. For just as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day on which Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and took them all, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. At that time two men will be in the field. One will be taken and one will be left. The two women griding at the mill—one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore, keep watching, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But you know this, that if the householder had known at what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. On account of this, also you, keep being ready, because at an hour at which you do not suppose, the Son of Man will come.”

          A winter storm warning is posted because a Nor’easter is heading our way. What do you do? I think we all would make some preparations. We’d make sure to have milk, bread, and toilet paper on hand. We’d have fuel for the snowblower and the power generator, just in case. You watch the radar, listen to the forecasters, and wait to see if it happens. That I would call “faithful watching.” You keep an eye on things, prepare, and wait. Contrast that to an afterthought. A winter storm is on the way and you pay little to no attention, maybe because those weather people are never right anyway. Well, that afterthought might prove to be your undoing when the storm comes, and you’re socked with feet of snow like our friends in Buffalo! What are you going to do then?

          No one is able to anticipate the time when God will fully bring to an end this present fallen age. The day of Christ’s coming is unknown and unknowable as to its timing. This does not mean that, since we don’t know the when, that we should not look for His return or ignore it. Jesus’ coming in glory to raise the dead, to judge, and to make a new creation is something that Jesus’ disciples, His Church, should and must watch for daily and faithfully. Since you and I don’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ coming, we keep on watching. Or do we?

          The Rev. Dr. Jeff Gibbs, Professor Emeritus of our Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, always encouraged his students, his congregation, and his fellow Christians with the words, “Perhaps today.” What does that mean? It means that the Lord Jesus is coming again in glory with all His angels. Perhaps today. Jesus the Crucified and Risen Lamb of God is coming to raise the dead, to put an end to death forevermore. Perhaps today. Jesus Christ is coming in power and authority to judge both the living and the dead. Perhaps today. The Lord Christ who spoke this first creation into existence “in the beginning” is coming to destroy this fallen world and to make a brand-new heaven and earth where only righteousness will dwell. Perhaps today.

          The early church lived in the expectancy that the Lord Jesus was going to return at any moment. Some 2000 years later, the Church still awaits her King to come. And this anticipation, this waiting, this hopefulness of the day of the resurrection and the new creation ought not be an afterthought. But that’s what it has become for most of us. Oh sure, during the last weeks of the Church Year and at the beginning of Advent, we hear some Bible readings about Jesus’ return. Then we think about it, a little. But we’ve really got Christmas on our minds: Jesus’ incarnation, His birth among us to be our Savior. But being our Savior means not only taking on our human flesh as true God and true Man, not simply being born in Bethlehem, not only living a perfect life, dying on a cross for the sins of the world and rising again. Being our Savior also includes His Ascension into heaven as true God and true Man and His coming again in the same way that the disciples saw Him go into heaven—bodily! (Acts 1:11).

          For the disciples then, Jesus’ return was a forethought, not an afterthought. They preached and proclaimed Jesus, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins, as if the very world depended on it because this same Jesus was coming back! And the world does depend on that Gospel message today because Jesus is coming again. His return, which is unknown and unknowable as to the day and hour, will happen . . . perhaps today! For us 21st century disciples, this cannot be an afterthought for ourselves or for others to whom we share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming again.

          There was no warning for the inhabitants on earth when the flood came in the days of Noah. (And as an aside, if you think that the story of Noah and the flood is fiction or a fable, Jesus, God Himself, right here in Matthew 24 acknowledges that it really happened.) There is no warning about the moment when the thief breaks into the house. It comes unexpectedly, even with all the alarms and precautions. There is the theme of suddenness and unknowability. But that doesn’t mean we are not ready or unprepared. We are keeping watch for the Lord, perhaps today.

          Now what does this faithful watching and readiness look like? How do we “do it”? Keeping watch and being ready for the Lord’s coming again is a matter of remaining connected to His Word and Sacraments. It’s a matter of knowing and trusting that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary in order to be the world’s Savior. It was through His sacrificial death on a cross that Jesus purchased and won eternal life and salvation from death and hell for everyone. That forgiveness and eternal life are gifts freely given by God the Holy Spirit by the Means of Grace: the Gospel Word, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The Word of the Gospel gives us Jesus by telling us about Him and what He has done for the world, for you, with His death and resurrection. It is that Gospel Word that promises His coming again to raise our bodies from the dust of death, to change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, and to make for His faithful people a new heaven and earth where we will be together with God the Father, Son, and Spirit forevermore. Through the water and Word in Baptism, we receive forgiveness of sins and the new life of faith as in that Sacrament we are intimately connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We die to sin and rise to newness of life to await in faith the day of His coming when He will make all things new. And in the Sacrament of the Altar, the Risen Lord Christ gives us to eat His true body with the bread and to drink His true blood with wine for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our Baptismal faith so that we are empowered by the Spirit to faithfully look forward to, and be well prepared for, the day of the Lord’s coming. Far from being an afterthought, the Holy Supper is indeed a foretaste of the feast to come in God’s new creation when Jesus’ comes again.

          The story is told of a grandmother looking out the front-room window for the family to arrive for dinner on Christmas Day. She is not going to be nearly as ready as the grandmom basting the turkey in the kitchen and only now and then listening for the car coming into the driveway. We can’t always be physically looking heavenward for the personal appearing of our God and Savior Jesus. But by grace, by means of Christ’s Gospel and His Sacraments, you and I are prepared and ready for His coming as we keep watching through our expectant faith that says, “Perhaps today my Lord will come.”

          And that is really the prayer of God’s people in Christ Jesus throughout the ages since St. John first penned it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Revelation 22, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Christ’s coming is what we do look forward to in faith. It’s no accident that the Christian Church confesses in her Creeds that we believe Jesus “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” We who believe in “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” look forward to that day as a day of joy and gladness.

          As we keep faithfully waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ – perhaps today – we pray earnestly the prayer of all the faithful, “By Your grace, O Lord, we are ready. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.” Amen.

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