1st Sunday In Advent
1st Advent 1.22 “A Good Trick To Learn…” Matt. 24:36-44
Today we begin a new church year. Happy new year! We get a jump on the world by a month or so because our year doesn’t run on the sun in the sky’s movements, but on the Son of God’s movements. So, we are guided not by astronomy, or astrology, or “Science!” but by the Word of God. Thus, our calendar looks different. Our hopes, expectations, our notion of the Good Life—all look quite different than the world’s…
Our Gospel today is the end of Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ question when the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the end of the world would be (to Jesus’ apostles, those were one and the same event and they were actually not wrong about that—remember: the real temple is the Body of Jesus and we heard last week that the death of Jesus on the cross is the real end of the world and beginning of a new one).
After giving them many signs of the End—wars, rumors of wars, pandemics, pestilence, hurricanes, floods, rising seas, famines, general disturbance of the world’s smooth running, persecution of the church, hatred of Jesus and his disciples, false prophets and false Christs arising and drawing many away from the church, fear of the troubles people see coming on the world that makes everyone kinda crazy, and the Son of Man coming with power and great glory on the clouds (all of which, Jesus says will happen before his first apostles have drawn their last earthly breath, basically, by 70 AD)—Jesus finally answers the question as to how to predict the exact Day when it all goes down…
He says “You can’t predict it! No one knows, not the angels, just the Father knows.” He says it will be like the days of Noah: everyone was carrying on with evil (as usual ;-), fat, dumb, happy when suddenly: flood, baby! And it swept everyone away except Noah and his family, 8 souls in all who rode it out in the ark—kinda like a cruise ship but with slightly different amusements for the passengers and a floating menagerie of animals to attend. Still, I imagine all on board were funderstruck… 😉
“Watch therefore,” Jesus says, “for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this: if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
One of my favorite lines from Lord of the Rings is when Gandalf the wizard is sending the hobbits off towards Mordor, down some dangerous path while he attends to more pressing business and they ask Gandalf when they will see him again. And Gandalf says…
“Expect me when you see me! Look for me at unexpected times.”
I love those lines. I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy aloud to my son when he was quite young. We both loved it and those lines were favorites of ours. I’m sure Tolkien had our Gospel in mind when he wrote them. But, how can I expect you when I’m seeing you? Do I live always expecting to be surprised?.
As Luther would say: “what does this mean?” Or as Ian McKellen (Gandalf himself 😉 asked in a different TV show, “Hmm… how would I do that?”
It’s a good trick. And in view of the seriousness of what we’re watching for—the end of the world and final judgment—I think you also might want to learn the trick yourself, how to watch for Jesus at unexpected times, even while sleeping. The ESV translation of that verse “stay away” instead of “watch” is simply wrong. The Greek γρηγορεῖτε is simply “keep watch” like a guard on duty. It is not suggesting that we forever forgo sleep, but that we always keep a watch (even when sleeping!) for our Lord Jesus. You’re curious, now!
“OK, Pastor! This is as really good trick! To keep watch, to be on guard, even when I’m sleeping. I’m looking forward hearing how you think we’ll pull this off!”
And I am looking forward to showing you, and to seeing the shock and awe and the lightbulb of awareness come on when I pull this particular rabbit out of my hat.
The answer is really right in front of your face—like the duck-rabbit drawing of Wittgenstein. You’ve seen these: a little line drawing that, looked at one way, is a rabbit; and then it flips and you see it is also a duck.
To see it, you really probably need to have the Lord’s entire End Times discourse in your head. But I’ve given you a nice summary of it at the outset so you should have figured it out already. But I’ll point out a couple key things: the persecution of the church, the waning love of most of the world for God and his word, the generally increasing disorderly state of earthly affairs, the fear of nearly everyone for the future and for their lives—Jesus said would all be fulfilled in the 1st century and simply continue being fulfilled in every century afterwards.
And have you not noticed the last 2 years the hysteria over the pandemic, democracy, climate change? Everyone is losing their minds for fear of what’s coming. And did you not notice how heavily the church was scapegoated as a place of contagion, shut down, drastically limited, how thinned our ranks have become, while the big box grocery, hardware, car, and bike stores—to say nothing of Big Tech and Big Pharma—ran full tilt?
Has it escaped your notice that billions still follow the Man with the Big White Hat, the Pope in Rome who continues to insist that he is Christ’s stand-in on earth who must be obeyed unquestioningly, insisting that it is obedience to him and his institution that saves one—rather than simply faith in the Word, Christ Jesus? Or any of the mega-church pastors like J.D. Greer, Tim Keller, et. al. who basically make the same claims though with far smaller, but still large, followings? Those are what “false Christs” and “false prophets” look like (!) because none of them preach Christ, and him crucified, alone as salvation, but give themselves, their works and especially membership in their institutions pride of place in salvation.
And did you not notice that Jesus says the end of the world, his coming on the clouds with power and glory is one of the things that definitely will happen before the last person hearing those words, live in concert, had drawn their last earthly breath? The End of the World was Good Friday; Easter is the beginning of the new creation, the 8th day that has no sunset…
Faith grasps the Word of Jesus and sees that the End’s already come. We were drowned with the evil world of Noah’s day when we were baptized! Because Baptism is the antitype of the Flood! Our citizenship, our life, our treasure, is in heaven with Jesus and has come to us by his Gospel, already!
Don’t you see? The End of the World came on Friday April 6, 30 AD! The the dying embers of the old world still flicker before our eyes, outwardly. But faith lives eyes on Jesus and the heaven that is our real home in which we dwell hearing his word, receiving his sacrament, engaged in adoration of the Christ, our Master.
There is no unexpected time for Xns! By word, sacrament, worship, we’re always already living in the age to come with Jesus. The Holy Spirit, by whom we live, is watching even when we’re sleeping. So, by faith, as Xt’s gift, we’re…
Always ready, always watching. What a great trick! And by word and sacrament, the Spirit does it in you, now. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.