Be Alert – Advent 1 2019

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 plowshares,
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.

Sermon Text

Throughout the Gospels, Christ constantly returns to two words when teaching us about his eventual Second Coming – Be Alert. The coming of Christ is always associated with this command that we be watchful so that we are not unprepared when Christ arrives. If we are not careful this concept of “Being Alert” does not become too vague to be useful. Or else so uncertain that we wrap ourselves in worry and look for whatever sounds good, losing ourselves without even knowing it.

The season of Advent is a time to look forward to Christ’s return. It looks forward to this return of Christ through the historical image of Christ’s birth just over two thousand years ago. The moment that the fullness of deity took on the smallest form of humanity. We do not use these four weeks to celebrate the birth of Christ. We are not yet to Christmas as much as we would like it to be here. Now we come to a time to wait, to prepare ourselves in silence. The birth-pangs are beginning, but they cannot be felt just yet. The silence that we inhabit now gives our heart space to reach out and offer up prayers heard only by God, carrying the ancient prayer of our church – “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”

Advent is not simply a recollection of what was. Christ was born once, Christ lived physically among us once, and Christ ascended once. If Advent is simply a reminder of this history, then we have no part in it. If Advent is us waiting for something that has already happened, then we wait for nothing. There must be more to Advent, to our lives as Christians than chasing after what already has been. There must be more for us, a future and a present for us to participate in.

We have entered into four weeks that invite us to look forward and within. Forward to the return of Christ and within to sort out what barriers we have put up in our life. We are charged to be alert in the face of distraction. To look beyond our daily worries that distract us from Hope. To put away our love of money and personal gain so we may enjoy Christ’s presence with us. We are invited to stop being selective in our histories so that we can see Christ’s movements throughout time.

The call of John the Baptist still comes out from the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” We can respond to this call by removing barriers in our lives, making sure there is no hurdle between us and Christ. The knowledge that at any moment we may meet Christ should lead us into a more considered way of life, should shape all our words and actions.

Christ’s return is not just a final end. We do not sit quietly in anticipation of Christ’s return. We do not gather just to remember what we’ve already seen. We are living people! We face every day knowing that God is working among us and that Christ is always knocking at the door, ready to be among us. The door to our heart, the door to our mind, and even the door to our homes. The doors even of this Church.

Christ asks us to be alert and is clear that this is not some arbitrary state of being. We do not wait by praying the right prayers or thinking the right thoughts. Christ asks us to wait actively, to be sure that we are not found sitting on our hands but are prepared. That we are working in God’s work. Christ always tells us how to wait by telling us how to love.

Following our Gospel reading Christ gives several examples of prepared people. There is a story about brides waiting for a husband, some bring enough oil to last longer than they expected and some bring too little. Those who prepared for the long dark are applauded for their planning. Then Jesus tells of people who are given large sums of money, some invest it well and produce more and one sits by and does nothing. Those who work, no matter the increase they produced are lauded and the one who did nothing is condemned. And lest we misunderstand what these parables tell us about waiting for Christ, a final message is made.

Christ describes those who are alert at his return as sheep and those who are not as goats. The sheep are told – you fed me when I was hungry, you clothed me when I was naked, you visited me in prison. In short – you met all my needs. The goats are told they did nothing to meet Christ’s needs. Both groups ask the same question, “Christ we have been waiting for you, but until this we did not see you. How could we have helped you? The answer is simple – Every time you helped one of the least of these, anyone who is in terrible need – you have helped me. The difference between the ready and alert and the blind and idle are those who saw Christ in those around them. The good servants met Christ whenever he arrived, no matter what he looked like, no matter when and where he knocked on their door.

To teach ourselves to be ready we should participate in an exercise I saw online that I think might be helpful. Anytime you see someone in need, or you read a headline, read that headline and look at that person as, “Jesus, the Son of God.” Here’s what I mean

As you drive down the street and see a homeless man begging on the median, read the sign they have, “Jesus, the Son of God – broke, cold, and out of work.” When we read the news:

  • “Jesus, the son of God, unable to pay for insulin dies at age 27,”
  • “Everyday Jesus, the son of God, is sent to an informal camp. He is taken directly to the encampment and often sleeps outside until he finds a tent,”
  • “Jesus the Son of God, – 11 years old was shot and killed during a party in Cleveland, Ohio,”
  • “Jesus, the Son of God is homeless despite service to country,”
  • “Jesus the son of God goes to bed hungry at night,” “Jesus the Son of God…”

Until we see Christ in the face of those around us, we can never claim to be prepared to see his face in his Triumphant Return. Therefore, as we now prepare to partake of Christ’s Feast of Grace. Let us learn to extend this grace to others. The day is coming when War will cease when God bends all swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. The day is coming when disease will end and pain will be a far off memory. The day is coming when there will be no question that God is with us, that we have Emmanuel. Until that day though, Christ has only two physical presences on Earth – the Church that is his body and those in need that are his Face. Let the body acknowledge its face and let us welcome those in need and love them, as Christ first welcomed and loved us. – Amen.

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