1st Sunday in Advent
December 1, 2019
“Are You Ready?”
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you all in the name of our Triune Advent God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The text that engages us is the Gospel lesson from St. Matthew.
Dear fellow redeemed brothers and sisters in Christ,
So, how are you doing as far as getting ready for Christmas? Did you spend lots of time shopping on Thanksgiving or on Friday? But Thanksgiving is over and now there’s so much to do to get ready for Christmas, right? There are the cards to send, the gifts to buy, the decorations to put up, the gatherings to plan, and so on. On this first week in Advent in our Gospel lesson, Jesus is also urging you to get ready, but in a much different way for a much different event. This time Christ is not talking about his first Advent, his coming to Bethlehem. What we need to be concerned with, and what Jesus is addressing, is his second Advent, his second coming at the end of time. As a new church year begins, our focus is on getting ready for the coming of Christ. This is more than getting ready with cards and parties and shopping and decorations. It is seeing the first coming of Christ as a reminder that he comes to us today in Word and Sacraments, and that prepares us for the end of the age.
Our Gospel lesson is taken from a large section of teaching that Jesus provides to his disciples. Jesus told the disciples as they left the temple that the time was coming when that very same temple (70 AD) would be destroyed. Arriving at the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked when this would be and what was the sign of the end of the age? (24:3). In response Jesus spoke of things that will happen to remind them of the end both of the temple and the age. With this teaching, Jesus is not giving out secret codes, a timeline, or hints regarding the time of his coming. Instead, Jesus is calling his church, his people, to live in constant readiness because his coming will be at an hour when we do not expect him.
But that is not how everyone understands this text. Matthew 24:40-41 are some of the biblical verses on which much of the “rapture” theory is based. This is a belief that Christ will actually have two returns. The first return is a secret “rapture” in which believers are instantly taken away to spare them hardship before the end of the world. Many are “left behind;” one in the field and one at the mill are “taken” while their partners are not. However, these verses have nothing to do with a secret “rapture,” but everything to do with vigilance prior to the coming of Christ! We are instructed to watch because we don’t know the day or the hour when he will return.
If you ask people if they’re getting ready for Christmas, you’re bound to get various answers. But would you say that you are ready right now to meet the Lord when he returns at the end of time should it be today? Do your daily activities and decisions and priorities in your life reflect your state of readiness?
Jesus did tell us that he was coming back to take us to be with him, but that was 2000 years ago, and he hasn’t come back yet. That must mean that there’s plenty of time, right? Don’t be too sure about that. We are a people of sinful procrastination; we put things off until it is convenient or necessary for us to give it our attention. We’ve convinced ourselves that we are busy people, we’ve got a lot to do. We’ll find the time later to think more about getting ready.
Well, that’s exactly how the people of Noah’s day thought. Jesus uses the illustration of those people who were busy eating and drinking and marrying and they “knew nothing” about the flood until they were completely washed away by an event they didn’t even expect. Jesus doesn’t point out that these people were evil or wicked, but that they were caught up in the routines of life and ignored the warnings of Noah and the big honkin’ boat in his front yard! Constant vigilance is vital. We must be ready and ready NOW, not tomorrow for tomorrow never truly comes. Even as the flood caught the people of Noah’s day unaware, so the coming of the Son of Man will shock an unbelieving world. There is no time to put off our preparation; the time is now.
There is an old fable in which 3 apprentice devils are going to be sent to earth to test their skills. Satan called in each one to interview them on their strategy. The first one told Satan, “I will tell them there is no God.” Satan rejected that strategy explaining that everyone knows there is a God. The second said, “I will convince people that there is no Hell.” Satan also rejected that strategy because everyone knows that Hell exists. The third approached Satan and said, “I will convince people that there is no hurry to believe.” “You will win many,” Satan complimented him.
So then, how do you prepare for the unexpected? How do you get ready for something that you cannot foresee? Primarily, we prepare by knowing that it is your Lord that is coming. It was your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Born as a flesh and blood man and yet still fully divine so that he could pay the penalty for our sin. The promised seed of the woman, through the line of Abraham, through the line of David, comes the promised Messiah. You and I are a part of the fulfillment of God’s promise; sharers in the deliverance brought to us by the Christ-child born all those years ago; you are the reason Christmas happened in the first place.
As recipients of the Savior, you have been blessed beyond imagination: blessed with numerous physical blessings which we remembered last week on Thanksgiving, blessed with pardon from sin, blessed with victory over Satan, blessed with hope for eternal life. Believing that Jesus came to live and die for you is the best preparation for Christmas and for his second coming you can do!
Today is the beginning of Advent. We now wait in eager, joyful, and slightly restrained expectation of the celebration of the coming of Christ to the manger stall. But this celebration is also a reminder that Jesus will also come again someday. The call to “watch and be ready” is a call to put our lives, our hope, our faith in the hands of your gracious and one-day-returning God. Our prayer of this new church year is the same as every year: “Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly,” because we’re ready. Right?