Message for Advent 1 on Matthew 24:36-44, Romans 13:11-14 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. You can view a video of this sermon by going to our YouTube page and watching the worship video here.
And here it is, one of the Bible passages Christians have used to terrorize people for centuries. Everywhere else you go this weekend; you hear Christmas carols and holiday cheer. Not so much at church—I know it’s a rude awakening for those who are new here.
The season of Advent gets us ready for Jesus’ to come—it would seem it is for the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, and that is part of it, but it is really about preparing us for the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. We become aware of how much the world needs a Savior, and we feel more deeply, the disconnect between the world as it is, and the world as it should be—the world we envision as God’s kingdom. So, Advent begins with an apocalyptic passage about the end time when Jesus will return and set it all straight. (I know we heard this just a couple weeks ago from Luke—lucky us—but Jesus gave me something new to say!)
Even though Jesus clearly tells us that no one knows the hour or the day of his return, it’s human nature to try and figure it out anyway. We are so uncomfortable with mystery, with living in the gray. We have grown accustomed to data analytics, artificial intelligence, long-range forecasting, 538 poll aggregators, Doppler radar, storm trackers and so on —all of which feed into our control-freak nature, that to step into the mystery of faith, into a relationship with God who does not give us all the answers—well, that proves difficult if not downright impossible.
We might take a cue from Jesus himself, who seems comfortable with this mystery; he, himself is not privy to the answers either. And for all of our imaginings about judgement and who is in and who is out, the truth of the matter is, this passage does not identify punishment nor reward. In Noah’s time, it was not good to be left behind and swept away; but to first century ears, it was much better to be left behind than to be taken by the Romans--when one could be imprisoned, and possibly tortured or worse. The passage is purposely ambiguous—why? Because About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father!
So, what are we do to?
• We embrace not knowing (take a deep breath)
• we accept we are not in control (relax your shoulders)
• we lean into the gray of our relationship with God where we do not have all the answers (unclench your jaw and your hands)
• we sink into mystery (relax your hips and your feet. When you relax all this main muscles the rest of your body follows)
As we do this, Jesus calls us to pay attention, just like we when read a mystery novel, or meet someone new and get to know them. We keep alert, we remain vigilant, watching for the details, looking for the signs of God’s presence and power that will keep showing up when we least expect them, giving us clues to God’s complete presence and love for us in Jesus.
For even in the mystery among questions that do not and will not have answers, we do have rock solid assurance of that which is most important: We live in the time of resurrection and the defeat of death—Jesus has already conquered our most feared unknown—death itself—so we already know that whether we are left here or there, whether in this life or the next, whether next week or the next millennia, we are with Christ Jesus, raised from the dead, whom God sent to save us.
This truth gives us new ways of living in the mystery of what has not yet been resolved in this life. Romans tells us to “wake up sleepy head! Put on the armor of light!”—look for resurrection, watch for life, be vigilant in noticing the power of Jesus’ victory over this present age in all of your circumstances!”
When I went into prayer and meditation and asked the Lord what he wanted me to say to you to today, I heard exactly this: Resurrection is around us all the time, every day—we just do not see it because we expect to see bad news, destruction, and death. We experience what we expect to experience. We see what we expect to see.
Psychologists and scientists have studied this for decades. It is called “motivated perception”—and studies show that what we see is biased, selective, and malleable. Our thoughts, wishes and preferences affect what we see and perceive. Well, be biased toward resurrection! Be selective about looking for the life of Christ! Be malleable when it comes to seeking the good, the noble, the Christlike, the signs of hope, and renewal and life! Change the channel in your brain and attitude to the Resurrection-Jesus Station! Tune in to RJS—this is better than all the other alphabet soup out there—MSNBC, FOX, CNN, CBS and so on!
Jesus calls us, as disciples, to be people with great expectations—to be people who expect to see and experience resurrection— to prefer, wish, think, and be motivated to see Jesus at work in the world. Jesus calls us to look for and participate in instances of new life, healing, forgiving, transforming, comforting, feeding, clothing, praying, housing, and offering hope in all circumstances. Our job is to look for Jesus everywhere, to watch for him, to be vigilant in seeking him—to train our eyes, our minds, our brains, and our attitude toward the expectation of seeing and experiencing Jesus breaking into our everyday life and situations.
Did you know that in Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrive at the tomb empty-handed? They do not have spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body. They believe Jesus who announced that he would rise after 3 days. They are not going to see the dead but the living—they are showing up expecting resurrection! And they are the only ones who actually get a front row seat to the earthquake, the angel, the empty tomb, and the risen Lord on the road!
Where has new life and resurrection broken into your life recently? And if you did not call it resurrection, can you see it that way, now?
- Maybe it was a conversation over Thanksgiving, with a loved one in-person, or who lives far away
- or being able to travel to be with people you rarely see;
- maybe it was a moment in nature when you felt peaceful, and at one with God,
- perhaps it was a connection with a stranger while out shopping
- maybe it was cuddling with your pet in a moment of blissful hibernation
- or the attention of the healthcare workers attending to someone you love,
- or the love and generosity of an unexpected gift--
After Paul and I discussed the opportunity for him to work in a position at his own church, I was driving home and started praying about what I was going to do about an Administrative Assistant coming up to the holidays, and the Holy Spirit immediately said to me, “hire your son, Daniel.” That’s the honest truth. I did not think of it myself, even though the option was right in front of me, living in my own house. Now I know it was a moment of resurrection!
Since the ransomware wiped our office drive, we have had on-going computer issues, and this week, Daniel has solved two of them—the email scam and the fact that my emails were not being received by church office computer. If you have ever found it impossible to get anything done during one of your busiest seasons because of computer problems and then had some of it fixed, you know it’s an experience of new life and resurrection!
We are here together because we have great expectations of experiencing resurrection—in each other, in the grace of forgiveness, in bread and wine, in music, in the children, in conversation, in community!
Jesus’ resurrection is around us all the time, every day. How and when Jesus’ resurrection will show up in your life and my life this week remains a mystery.
Your calling is to watch for it, recognize it, and then to share it! Every day, we will have Advent posts on St. Luke’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter—please respond to these posts, sharing where you see Jesus’ resurrection and new life breaking into your daily experience!
We prepare for Jesus’ second coming by expecting to see the new life of Christ everywhere. Jesus may come back when we least expect him—but when we are looking to see his presence and power every day, we will be ready when he shows up!