To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
Sermon based on Matthew 24:36-44
Whether its books, television shows or movies, many people enjoy the drama and suspense often associated with a mystery. This morning in our gospel lesson we read of one of the great mysteries of the New Testament, the return of Christ. Today is the first of four Sundays in the season of Advent. Advent means “coming.” Advent is not so much a countdown to the coming of Christmas as it is a time to ponder and prepare for the visible coming of Christ in His glory. We are told that there is a day coming when Christ will again return, this time to begin his reign in human history. Countless theologians, writers and preachers have tried to identify the time as to when the Second Advent will take place. Jesus emphasized to his disciples that no one will know the time of this event. It will take us all by surprise, much like the great flood of Noah that Jesus refers to in this passage that came and shocked a population that had made fun of him. In the face of such mystery, Jesus provided valuable counsel to His followers and offered some practical steps in anticipation of His return. Not only are these good actions in anticipation of Christ’s coming, but they are also actions that can help us live better lives as His followers today.
This morning I would to share three special steps that can improve our celebration of Advent.
In verse 42 Jesus says the following:
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
As this verse instructs, our first step is to watch for His return. In thinking of watching for someone to return my thoughts these days often turn towards our dachshund, Cape. In our home he has a bed set up that looks outside a window to our front yard. When left at home Cape most days stays there sleeping in that bed. However upon hearing a car drive up his head will often lift up in anticipation for the return of a family member. Perhaps we are familiar with this scenario of having a pet anxiously await our return. Perhaps we have been in a situation of waiting for a loved one to arrive home whether a spouse from a business trip or a child returning home from college. As the expected time approaches when we expect arrival there is a tendency to start looking at the clock or one’s watch and wait impatiently. Our ears suddenly become attuned to the sound of a car in the neighborhood and we wonder whether or not it’s entering into the driveway of our home. This is the kind of idea that Jesus is trying to communicate in this passage. Jesus says, “Keep awake” implying that we are to live in expectation of that great day. I have often wondered if we lived our daily lives in a sense of anticipation that the One who loves us most, the One who gave His life for us, is about to return, would we live our daily lives any differently?
I believe that in many cases we would live our lives differently. We might learn to slow down our pace a little more, take more time to spend with family, friends and hopefully spend more time in prayer and devotion. Someone once said that life is a constant Advent season: we are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete, and to fulfill. Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfillment are all part of our Advent experience. Our world is not as just, not as loving, not as whole as we know it can and should be. But the coming of Christ should give us reason to live in hope: that light will shatter the darkness, that we can be liberated from our fears and prejudices, that we are never alone or abandoned. When we live in expectation, we become more open to God’s leading in our lives. The first step we must follow is to keep watch and when we do this it leads us to the second step.
In verse 43 Jesus says the following:
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.
Our second step is for us to prepare for His return. This brief parable that Jesus shares in this verse is not too difficult for us to understand or relate to in our own time. We are more focused on security and safety as a society. People carry sprays to fend off would be attackers; we put alarms in our automobiles, we install elaborate and expensive security systems in our homes and even in our churches. We do this because we fear those who might steal things from us. Imagine for a moment receiving a phone call at night and the person on the other line tells you that a thief is in route to your home. Few of us would probably venture back to sleep or whatever activity we were doing. We would likely call the police, make sure doors and windows were secured and prepare for the potential thief.
In the same way we might prepare for such an event, Jesus encourages us to prepare for the event of His return. There is an old story of a king of bygone days and his ‘clown’ or ‘jester’, who sometimes said very foolish things and sometimes made very wise observations. One day the jester had said something so foolish that the king, handing him a staff, said to him, ‘Take this, and keep it till you find a bigger fool than yourself.’ Some years later, the king was very ill and lay on his deathbed. His family and his servants also stood round his bedside. The king, addressing them, said, ‘I am about to leave you. I am going on a very long journey, and I shall not return again to this place: so I have called you all to say “Goodbye”.’ Then his jester stepped forward and, addressing the king, said, ‘Your Majesty, may I ask a question? When you have journeyed abroad visiting your people, staying with your nobles, or paying diplomatic visits to other courts, your heralds and servants have always gone before you, making preparations for you. May I ask what preparations your Majesty has made for this long journey that he is about to take?’ ‘Alas!’ replied the king, ‘I have made no preparations.’ ‘Then,’ said the jester, ‘take this staff with you, for now I have found a bigger fool than myself.’ To avoid being foolish, we must prepare and be prepared for Christ’s return.
When we watch and prepare for His coming, we will be led to the final step. In verse 44 Jesus says:
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
As this verse shares with us, we must be ready for His return. If we practice a spirit of expectation and a life style of preparation, we will display an attitude of readiness. Perhaps we are familiar with the movie called The Bucket List. This comedy and drama was a film directed by Rob Reiner and starred Academy Award winners Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Freeman’s character is named Carter Chambers; a blue-collar mechanic while Nicholson’s character is named Edward Cole, a billionaire who earned his fortune buying hospitals. Ironically they meet for the first time in the hospital after both have been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Although Nicholson’s character is reluctant to share a room with Freeman’s character they become friends as they undergo their respective treatments. When their characters learn they have around six months to a year to live, Morgan’s character composes a “bucket list” of things he would like to do before he passes. After throwing away this list, Nicholson’s character discovers it on the floor and offers to finance these endeavors, and even encourages him to add new things to the list like skydiving. The pair begins an around the world vacation that includes skydiving, driving a Shelby Mustang, climbing the Pyramids, and countless other adventures. I recall in one scene as they are overlooking the Pyramids they confide in each other about faith and family. Freeman’s character shares that in order to enter the Egyptian heavens people were required to answer two questions. These questions were:
- Did you live a life filled with joy?
- Did your life bring joy to others?
As we think about our own faith that hopefully brings us joy, how would we prepare our bucket list? The season of Advent, reminds us that only God knows for certain when Christ will return, and that only God knows when we will enter the Church Triumphant. As we prepare for Christ’s return, we should be ready for this time by striving to get our spiritual house in order. Perhaps we might begin to share our faith with some special friends and relatives; we might become more aware of whether our thoughts and actions are honoring God. Likewise, we do not know as verse 44 shares, when the Second Advent may arrive. We do know however, that we are to be ready for that day in every area of our lives. In the earlier verses of this passage, Jesus talked about people in Noah’s day, who were doing good things those typical, everyday activities of life. However, somehow in their lives the people allowed secondary activities to redirect their thoughts and priorities away from the most important thing: faithfulness and obedience to God.
As we continue upon our journey in Advent over the coming weeks, leading up to the celebration of Christmas day, let us remember what each of us is called to do. Together, let us celebrate this Advent Season in which we watch for His return, prepare for His return and be ready for His return. In this spirit of readiness we will be prepared to serve God’s Kingdom faithfully.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
November 27, 2016