First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent

Matthew 24:36-44

The holy gospel according to Matthew. 

Glory to you, O Lord. 

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

The gospel of the Lord. 

Praise to you, O Christ. 

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

There’s a skit that’s often done at church camp that’s called, “Jesus Comes to Visit”. In the skit, a homeowner gets a phone call from Jesus who says that he is coming by to visit. The person then goes into a panic trying to get ready for the visit, tidying up the house, dusting, getting the Bible out and opened to proper verse and the like. 

While they are busy doing that, they keep getting interrupted by other people coming to the door who are in need of something. One is hungry, one has a broke down car, one needs  medical help or something. The homeowner shoos them all away because they are too busy getting ready for Jesus’ visit. 

After the third person gets shooed off the homeowner gets another phone call from Jesus. The homeowner quickly asks how soon Jesus will be there as they are almost ready. Jesus tells them that he has already, in fact, visited three times and he wasn’t even invited in. When the person asks when, Jesus tells them that he was in the three people that came by and then tells the them to look up Matthew 25:45 which states: Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church calendar, where we anticipate the birth of Jesus on Christmas. In our readings, instead of some feel good  verses about the Virgin Mary or shepherds, as you might expect, we get some strongly worded warnings about being ready for the the second coming of Jesus.

Matthew tells us that no one knows the day or hour of the final day when Jesus will come again except the Father in heaven. He also tells us we need to stay awake and be ready because it will be at an unexpected hour.

My questions for you to ponder today is this. How can we be ready. What do we need to do to be ready?

In the skit, the homeowner was trying to be ready. She was working hard to get her house in order, blowing the dust off the Bible and open to a good page and make everything look nice. 

If we actually think about getting ready for his return, isn’t that our first reaction? We want to make sure we look good? We think to ourselves, I need to learn some scripture and attend some Bible study. I need to be more regular in my church attendance. I should pray more. Or do some other activity that we think will make us look more ready than we really are.

But here’s the kicker.God isn’t all that impressed by how ready we appear to be.

Many years ago I worked full time, year round at Lutheran Memorial Camp. I lived in a house at the entrance to camp with around seven other full time staff. Jon, one of the past summer staff had a thing for one of my co-workers and he would drive the 35 miles from Columbus to the camp multiple times a week to spend time with her and us. It quickly reached the point where he would just walk in the house as if he lived there also. He was like one of us. He knew us at our best and at our worst.

One Sunday we all went to worship together and pretty much filled a pew. The pastor used the following illustration in his sermon. He said “there are various levels of guests that come and visit. Some are very important like maybe your boss and you really get things shined and polished to impress them. Others are good friends who only come occasionally like family at holidays and while you clean up, you don’t go crazy at it. Then there are others that come over all the time. We’ll call them John. You do nothing to get ready for them because they know who you really are and how you live.” All of us in the pew turned and looked at Jon and cracked up quietly laughing because that fit him to a T. We still laugh about it today when we get together.

Jesus is like Jon in this respect. He knows us at our best and at our worst. He knows what we’ve done and why and he knows what we haven’t done and why. He knows us well enough that he isn’t dazzled or disappointed by our feeble attempts to impress him by attempting to be “Good Christians”.

If we attempting to be good Christians isn’t what it means to be ready, what are our other options? I think there are lots of clues throughout the New Testament. A couple that jump out to me are in Mark 1:15 where Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Another is in Matthew 6:33 where he says, ”But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

That, at least gives us some direction. The Kingdom of God is at hand and we need to strive for it. So what does the kingdom of God look like? Isaiah says It is a place where people will come, will stream to, to learn how to walk in God’s paths. What paths did Jesus walk in? He walked the path of a servant. He went out of his way to help those whom polite religious society had cast aside. Jesus called the sick and lame to himself and healed them. He took time to be with children  when he was busy. He ate with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He washed the feet of the one who would go on to betray him.

I think to be ready, we need to live like citizens of the Kingdom of God walking the same paths that Jesus walked. We need to love our neighbors as ourselves because Jesus has already loved us to the cross and back.There are so many opportunities in our lives to do that if we open our eyes to them and think of ourselves as already being citizens of God’s Kingdom in this world instead of merely hoping to be after death takes us out of this world. Maybe, as Isaiah said, we could even beat our swords, spears, and other implements of war and destruction into plows and pruning hooks.

It’s not a bad thing to get our house in order and to attempt to be better Christians by developing our disciplines, whether it be more regular prayer, reading scripture more, participating in studies or whatever. But I think when when we meet Jesus face to face and he says “Well done, good and faithful servant,” he will be talking about how well we did at loving and caring for the same people he did and less about if we can recite all the books of the Bible. I Samuel 16:7 says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Actually, if we concentrate on walking the path of Jesus, all those religious disciplines will start coming naturally to us without much effort. We’ll read the Bible and study scripture not because we’re trying to impress God or anyone else but because we want to get to know Jesus better and be better at following that path. We’ll pray more because  we’ll recognize that we need his help walking and staying on that path or because we want to thank him for where that path has led us. We’ll worship regularly because we’ll recognize that we need fed spiritually and that we need the support of others following the same path. 

In the skit, the homeowner was trying to get ready for Jesus’ visit by getting their house in order and going over some verses quickly. The homeowner was working on their outward appearance and they ignored the opportunities laid in their lap. By doing so, they missed out on meeting Jesus three different times. They weren’t ready.

We don’t know when he is coming. It may be tomorrow. It may be in my lifetime or not. It may not be in my grandson’s lifetime. But he is coming and that day is nearer today than it was yesterday. If we are walking in the same path that he walked, keeping our eyes open to opportunities and seeking his guidance along the way, we’ll be ready, whenever that day comes.

Amen, come Lord Jesus.