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Advent 1A Sermon
Isaiah 2: 1-5, Matthew 24: 36-44
December
1, 2019

 

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Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!

Matthew 24:36-44

‘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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

If I was to sum up the theme for the scripture on this first Sunday of Advent, I would quote either Douglas MacArthur on the Philippine beach – “I shall return” - or Arnold Schwartzenegger’s terminator – “I’ll be back.” As Jesus is talking with his disciples about this promise to return, telling them that no one can know when it will happen, he likens himself to a thief breaking into your home in the night. Not quite what we expect, is it? Jesus Christ likening himself to someone busting down your door to rob you or do you harm? Of course it isn’t Jesus’ intention to harm upon his return – it is to usher in God’s holy presence in all its fullness – but his point is to say that it will be a surprise to everyone … not because we are necessarily engaging in evil deeds, but because we are falling into a “spiritual sleepiness” that comes with the mundane routine of everyday life.

Matthew’s Gospel was written about 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Part of the intent of the Gospel is to reassert to a sleepy Christian community that the end times began with Jesus being raised from the dead. Fifty years may have passed without a glorious return, but that doesn’t mean that the promise is any less valid or true. One might say that it is time to re-shape the life of the church from waking up every morning checking the skies for a figure floating gently toward the earth, to a life of being the church “for the long run.” And to be sure, as we prepare to enter 2020, the challenge to fight spiritual sleepiness is even more important since nearly 2,000 years have passed without that majestic return happening … yet!

Each year Advent begins with scripture similar to the ones we heard today, encouraging us to be actively waiting to be encountered by the risen Lord. Jesus talks about how things were in the times of Noah – words that have mis-informed many who believe in a Rapture Theology where faithful Christians are beamed up a la Star Trek before the great turmoil of life begins. There are many problems with this non-Biblical theology, beginning with the fact that it is just not God’s modus operendi to whisk people out of harm’s way. God instead accompanies those who suffer because of the sinfulness and greed that exists in the world. We would prefer to be zapped out of here before some great tribulation, but we know that is just not God’s way of doing things.
In addition, those who are “left behind” in the flood were Noah and his family – the faithful ones, to go on with life and rebuild God’s creation. There is nothing about faithful people disappearing and evil people remaining. I think Jesus is just talking about the randomness of life – as we go about eating, drinking, marrying, preparing food, etc. there will be random intrusions into our lives, and they won’t be results of our actions or choices. No one, no matter how good or evil, would have chosen to have that great flood deluge the face of the earth! But events like that happen, and if we allow ourselves to become spiritually sluggish then it can overwhelm us … cause us to give up and forget about how we been living in the end times since Jesus’ resurrection. So, we wait with active anticipation of Jesus’ presence whenever our routine lives are interrupted.

I experienced this first-hand on Tuesday morning when I was preparing to lead our weekly study on these very same lessons. While reading and preparing, I got a call from my brother. I fully expected him to want to arrange our next siblings’ lunch or wish our family a happy thanksgiving. Instead he let me know that our Aunt Selma – our dad’s younger sister and my godmother – was getting close to death, and he wondered if I had a chance to go with him and our sister to see her before she died. Knowing what I was doing at that very moment and what was on my plate for the rest of the day, I said I couldn’t do it Tuesday, but possibly Wednesday. Surprisingly, about 45 minutes later he texted me to tell me that she already passed, taking away the decision of what to put on hold to try to visit with her. Selma Kelly was a beautiful Christian woman in every way – a widow since 1982, she loved to sing and worship and serve our Lord. News of her passing intruded into my regular Tuesday routine and brought tears to my eyes. I know that because of Jesus’ resurrection, Selma’s eternal salvation is now a more peaceful, joy-filled reality for her. Even in her mid-80s, I still feel simultaneously sad and joyful. She was certainly in it for the long run, and her witness will continue to inspire me as I remember her in the weeks to come. I still chuckle when a church lector says, “The first lesson is taken from …” because once when I was younger she was worshiping with us and the reader said those words; she leaned over to me and whispered, “I wonder where they took it!!” And she gave me a wink. I know that, as Paul promised the Romans, that her salvation continued to be nearer and nearer to her with every passing day, and that now the wait is over, and we can rejoice. The next intrusion comes with her memorial service, planned for 11:00 a.m. Saturday December 21 – the morning of our final practice for the Christmas program the next day. I guess the crew will have to get along without me that day.

Waiting is not easy, especially when the wait is long and filled with routine, mundane chores of life. Staying spiritually awake and alert can be a challenge. The key is what Isaiah told the people of Israel in our first reading – “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” We are called to walk in the light of the Lord even during these dark months of our wintertime. Jesus’ light shines whenever swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks – in other words, whenever instruments of hatred, ward, greed and destruction are converted into tools for life, sustenance, unity and peace. Praying and working for these things alongside of the required daily necessities of life are ways that we do keep spiritually awake and alert and looking out for the coming of Jesus.
I recently read the story of an artist and activist in a town in Mexico known for their high number of gun deaths. Pedro Reyes collected 1,527 guns for his project, melted each one down into small shovel heads, and used each one to plant a tree – the 1,527 trees are modern day fruits of Isaiah’s call to beat our swords into plowshares and our swords into pruning hooks. It is our calling as a church to find a way to do what Reyes did in our own community – that while we wait for the fulfillment of Jesus’ return, we walk in the light of the Lord – turning away from death and toward life and sustenance. It has been a long wait … it may be a longer wait still … that is why we are to fight spiritual sleepiness and expect the random intrusions that break into our lives so that we can respond to them with love toward those who experience suffering and death around us.

I know full well that some of you may be waiting for this sermon to be over. Well, wait no more – it is! Amen!