December 1, 2013 - Matthew 24.36-44

“Redemption Drawing Near”

Matthew 24:36-44

December 1, 2013

 

36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But 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. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

 

The Christmas season is a time that is characterized by anticipation.  Both children and adults alike wait with great anticipation the day that Christmas will finally get here.  I saw a Norman Rockwell painting (I think it was Rockwell) of a child standing on tiptoe peering out the window of his bedroom, trying to see into the night sky for what might be coming.  Seems like that’s what we all do with Christmas; stand on our tiptoes to see what is coming.

Tom Long tells the story of a crusty old curmudgeon in a Sunday School class waving his finger in the air at his class mates.  Someone had asked him “If there is so much you don’t like at church, then why do you keep coming?”  He responded by pointing his finger in the air and saying “I’ll tell you why I keep coming back to church.  Here, more than any other place, I get the feeling that something is about to happen.”[1]  The feeling that something is about to happen, like being on your tiptoes looking for what is about to come.

That is precisely the feeling that I think we ought to have on this day, coming into Advent.  Advent is about the comings of Christ: his first coming as a child, his return to earth at a later date, and every time he shows up in between.  Advent means coming – not Christmas as some think.  To celebrate Advent is to celebrate the coming of God into our midst.

One of the earliest characteristics of the Christian church was the way it literally lived on tiptoe, waiting for the return of Jesus.  Literally, as soon as Jesus ascended to heaven, people started asking when he was coming back.  “He said he would.  Think it will be today?  I sure hope so.”  They were convinced that they stood at the pivotal point in history.  Something was about to happen, and they were up on their tiptoes waiting. 

In fact, the large majority of the New Testament text was written in this mindset, against this historical backdrop.  They were waiting for his return.  As time began to march on, they began to adjust to the idea of waiting for Christ to return, and that it might take longer than they thought.  That’s how we got the gospels.  As the first hand witnesses of Jesus’ life began to get older and pass away (or be killed), they began to say to each other, perhaps we ought to write this story down instead of just telling it to each other. 

Usually when we talk about the coming of Christ we think in terms of Gabriel blowing his trumpet, the sky splitting in twain, Angels having it out with devils and all sorts of apocalyptic, eschatological images.  But in this text today, Jesus gives us a very different image of Jesus’ return.  No trumpets, no war, no fanfare.  Here Jesus says that he is going to return like a “thief in the night.”  I’m sure you have heard that before, but have we ever stopped to think about what that means?  To hear people like Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsay and Benny Hinn talk, you’d think that Jesus had put an announcement in the paper regarding when, where and how his return will take place.  But Jesus said it will be like a thief coming at night.  In other words – no one will see it coming.  It is the very nature of a burglar NOT to prepare those who are about to be burgled.  No one is supposed to know it is about to happen.  No one will know.  In fact, Jesus says at one point, even he doesn’t know.  Now if Jesus doesn’t know, how can Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsay and the rest even think they know?  Well, the answer is self evident, but I won’t get into that.

Like the first generation of Christians, we wait for Jesus.  The same thing happened to them that happens to us regarding waiting for his return.  You can only stand on your tiptoes for so long before your muscles start to get tired and tighten up.[2]  The days turned into years, and they became discouraged, wondering if Jesus was really going to return.  I’m sure that their ministry began to waver also.  I mean, if the church really sees itself standing on the edge of the end, then it can afford to give away all that it has to the poor, it can endure the weight of the cross for all its worth, because the time is short.  The church can reach out to the lepers and the marginalized if we feel like something is about to happen.  But if we lose the feeling of urgency, if we drop down from our tiptoes, then we become just another well-meaning agency.  At that point, all that is left for us to do is just go to another meeting, take another set of minutes we’ll never use, sing the same hymns to ourselves again, and just keep the office copier running.  It is real easy to slide into that mindset – too easy.  God’s enemy likes it a lot when we slide like that – we are much less effective when we are drowsy.

But the early church actually increased their zeal for waiting.  Why?  It was not despite the fact that Jesus had not yet returned, but because he had not yet returned that they stepped it up a notch.  Jesus said “you don’t know when!”  That means we can’t afford to become indifferent, because we really don’t know when.

Look at the metaphor Jesus uses here about the watchman.  He says to warn the watchman.  Why would you do that?  Because he doesn’t know, and precisely because he has gotten drowsy.  You don’t need to wake up the watchman unless he’s sleeping. 

The thing is, if we lose our energy to stand on tiptoe, we miss all the times that Jesus does show up.  We talk about Jesus second coming, but that is really his last coming into the world.  Jesus shows up all the time, thank you very much.  We act like God and Jesus can only show up in the ways WE determine.  Please.  We like to gather here every Sunday morning, the praise team sings stuff, we greet each other, and we think that’s God’s cue to show up.  But folks, God’s coming and going in our midst is completely out of our control.  God is God.  God is free to do as God pleases, and we have nothing to say about it.  Any of us that claim to be Christians must be prepared for the intrusion of God into our lives at any minute.[3]  The sad fact is that most of us miss a whole bunch of moments that God has shown up because we have come down off our tiptoes, and we just weren’t paying attention.  Be prepared to be surprised.  It happens all through the Bible.

Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  Paul and Silas in prison.  Hagar in the wilderness.  David, Nathan and Bathsheba

Sometimes we forget that we live and breathe on God’s terms, not on ours.  Especially as Christians, we live on God’s terms, not ours.  We often forget that we exist to get ourselves in line with God’s timing, God’s plan and not our own.  I was listening to a Christian rap song on the radio the other day, and the rapper said, “God I know you are on my side.”  Well, I appreciate her effort to be a good Christian artist, but her song has some seriously flawed theology.  She didn’t intend for it to be that way, but it is.  What she said was “God is on my side.”  What she should have been concerned with was “I am on God’s side.”  There is a very important difference in those statements.  The difference is who is in charge and who do we recognize as God. 

I remember in a worship service I attended when a man was praying for the President.  (And understand, I really appreciate and applaud laypeople who take part in the service.)  He prayed that the President would know that God is on his side.  He had it reversed.  He didn’t mean to, but he did.  We should pray that our President is on God’s side, not for God to get on the President’s side.  It makes all the difference – because if it is all left up to us, we have no hope.  But if we acknowledge that it is all left up to God, then we have more hope that we can possibly know!

We live a life of fantastic hope.  The gospel of Christ offers the world the kind of hope that is beyond what we are able to imagine.  It is a hope on God’s terms, not ours, and the fact that it is coming should always keep us on our tiptoes.

I was watching a rerun of CSI recently, where the main character, this Crime Scene Investigator is talking to a Priest in a church.  They are talking about justice, and what new technology has done to help convict the right people of the crimes they have committed.  Gil Grissom, the CSI, says to the Priest, “Fifteen years ago we didn’t have DNA technology available to us.  Someday we will have something even better to convict the right people.”

The Priest says to Grissom, “Someday we won’t need jails.”  WOW!  That is the hope of the gospel!  Someday we won’t even need jails!  The gospel is so powerful that when God’s Kingdom finally comes, in all of its glory, the world is going to be changed so radically that we won’t even need jails anymore.  Hallelujah!

During Advent we should be praying that Jesus will keep showing up time and time again.  “Come Lord Jesus,” our prayers should ring out.  Every time we do something in the name of Jesus, Christ will show up, if only just for a second.  Every time we help a family with groceries, or clothing, or housing, we do not do it because we are under the delusion that what a few groceries, clothes, or homes are going to end human need.  We do it because today, we live in the light of God’s tomorrow, when everyone will feast like kings, everyone will be clothed in garments of light, and we will have our own rooms in our father’s house.[4]  “Come Lord Jesus.”  Every time you forgive someone in the face of bitterness or revenge, give words of love when hatred is expected, or sacrifice yourself for the sake of someone else, we live in the light of God’s future kingdom.  “Come Lord Jesus.”  Every time we worship and rise to our feet and sing “Come Thou Long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people Free…” we are praying for, expecting something to happen, someone to show up.  If we mean it when we sing it, we should all feel ourselves getting up on our tiptoes.  “Come Lord Jesus.”[5]

The future of the church of Jesus Christ will be seen first by those on tiptoe.  We anguish so much about what the future will hold.  What will the future hold?  Brothers and Sisters, hear this:  the future of this church is brighter than any of you can imagine.  Why?  The best days of this church are not behind us, they are not in the 70’s and 80’s, despite what some might think or feel.  The best days of this church are ahead of us.  The best days of this church are ahead of us, not because of some program we are about to start, and not because the economy might rebound one day, and not because of any new members we might have or might get. The best days of this church are ahead of us because some of you are standing on your tiptoes, constantly looking for God.  When we as a church, can learn to always be ready to see Jesus, always be on our tiptoes, always be willing to serve God as God chooses, on God’s terms and not ours, then we will see the greatest day for the gospel that this church has ever seen.  That is the future of this church.

This is Advent.  This is the season of visitations, of God becoming a human and bursting in on what we are going through down here.  Stay awake.  Be ready to be surprised.  It could be today!  God may show up in a real way that you aren’t ready for!  Jesus may return!  Jesus loves to come to us, just when we have turned our backs, like a thief in the night.  We had better stay on our tiptoes.

Amen.

 

[1] Long, Tom; Something Is About To Happen: Sermons for Advent and Christmas, CSS Publishing Company, Lima, Ohio, 1987, p.9.

[2] Ibid, p.10.

[3] Willimon, William; Pulpit Resource, October, November, December, 2001, p. 38.

[4] Long, p.14.

[5] Long, P. 14.

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