36 No one knows the day or hour. The angels in heaven don’t know, and the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows. 37 When the Son of Man appears, things will be just as they were when Noah lived. 38 People were eating, drinking, and getting married right up to the day that the flood came and Noah went into the big boat. 39 They didn’t know anything was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man appears.
40 Two men will be in the same field, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. 41 Two women will be together grinding grain, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. 42 So be on your guard! You don’t know when your Lord will come. 43 Homeowners never know when a thief is coming, and they are always on guard to keep one from breaking in. 44 Always be ready! You don’t know when the Son of Man will come.
As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, now you’re reminded that Jesus could show up at anytime.
When I was a kid, that used to worry me a lot. I knew Jesus would show up just as I was taking a swing at my sister or playing with the kittens instead of gathering eggs. It would be just my luck. Jesus would come riding in and, with a glance, he’d know I wasn’t ready for his Kingdom and he’d ride on, picking up my sister on the back of his horse, because she was perfect.
I had kind of a cartoonish view of the second coming, based on the few times I’d heard any apocalyptic scripture read in church. In truth, we were raised with a more controlled vision of the Second Coming. We all hoped to avoid it—- by dying first. Greeting Jesus straight from the casket seemed a lot less terrifying than being surrounded by stampeding heavenly horses.
Perhaps the most terrifying part is being unprepared.
We’ve just come off the Thanksgiving holiday, which, for many of us, required getting ready for company, getting to the grocery store, getting a turkey thawed, getting gas in the car. And now, we have to get ready for Christmas. I have to admit that I don’t get as ready as I used to. I don’t make fruitcake, I don’t make twelve kinds of cookies, and I don’t unpack all my decorations. But I do buy lots of presents. If I don’t have those presents ready on time, Christmas just wouldn’t be right.
Now, you might think that a preacher would not be so hung up on decorations and presents. I should just think about Baby Jesus and the Shepherds and the Wisemen and Peace on Earth, right? I shouldn’t be giving into the pagan traditions of evergreen trees and gift-giving. A preacher should only have a tasteful nativity set sitting on the dining room buffet. And an Advent wreath, of course.
If we really celebrated Christmas like the first Christmas, we’d gather in a barn, knee deep in straw. And we’d probably be hungry, and chilly, and a little frightened.
A little frightened. That’s really what we have in common with that first Christmas. Like Mary and Joseph, we face an uncertain future. At this moment, we are safe, surrounded by the love of Jesus that manifests itself every time we gather in these four walls. But when we return to the tasks and routines of life outside our church, we can only prepare so much. We know that we can prepare to feed ourselves, to care for ourselves, to protect ourselves. We do as much as we can. But each of us carries an uncertainty, a “what-if” within us, knowing that the world holds as much evil as good, and that we are not immune from illness, from financial disaster, from threats, from injustice.
Don’t be afraid. Forty-six times the Bible tells us, “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not.” “Be not afraid.” The ink dried on those words thousands of years ago, but they are still true for us. For us Christians, where there is fear, there is faith.
Faith does not prevent disease; faith does not prevent stock market crashes or factory closures. Faith does not prevent divorce or drug abuse. Faith gives us the strength to survive, to overcome, to recover.
Faith gives us hope.
Since this is the first day of the year, of the liturgical year, think back over this past year. Did you have any surprises? Were you caught off guard? Were you disappointed once or twice? Did something turn out better than you expected? Did someone new come into your life? Did someone leave? Did bad news bring about good deeds? What gifts were you given? What did you do that you never thought you’d do?
As this new season begins, of what are you afraid? What might happen?
I am hear to remind you that we’ve have been give the antidote to fear: we have been given hope.
We have been given hope in the form of a Spiritual Being who walks with us in the darkest times. We have been given hope in the form of this community of faith, a community of people who walk with you in the darkest times. We have been given hope that a world filled with evil and cruelty can also be filled with love and peace and kindness.
I’m no longer worried that Jesus might show up at any time. The sooner the better. And the kingdom Jesus has promised is coming about every day. Every time you stand up to a bully, every time you bring cheer to a bad day, every time you reach a little further to include one more person in your circle of friends, you are building the Kingdom of God.
A month ago, on a sunny November day, we got a text from our son. He and Greta might have to head to the hospital sooner than expected. Could someone come stay with Charlie, our five-year-old grandson, in case they had to leave suddenly to deliver their new baby? In ten minutes, Bim and I had a suitcase packed. It stayed that way for three weeks, just in case. We had our suitcase packed, ready to go, because there was a baby on the way.
This first Sunday in Advent, 2016, we are anticipating the arrival of a baby. We already know his gender, his name, and his life story. A baby boy was born to Mary and Joseph more than two thousand years ago. They named him Jesus.
We didn’t get to hold that baby, that little Jesus. We didn’t watch him grow up next door or worry with his mother about what would happen to him. None of us sat on a hillside listening to him teach; none of us watched him cure leprosy or blindness. None of us watched him die a humiliating death.
Yet, we still know that Jesus. We know him very well. He even calls us his brothers and sisters. He walks with us in the cold of poverty and the heat of injustice. We are prepared for anything and every thing because we have Jesus.
On a secular level, this doesn’t make any sense. We can’t prove that Jesus has already come, that we have prepared for him by opening our hearts to him. We’re going to sing an old hymn in a bit that reflects the apocalyptic beliefs of a Second Coming. Soon and vey soon, we are going to see the King. Truthfully, we see the King every day, in the small and large kindnesses we share with our family, with friends, with strangers.
When you see evil, anger, retaliation, discrimination, loneliness, depression, don’t turn your back. Grab Jesus by the hand and with him giving you courage, give good for evil, give peace for anger, give forgiveness for retaliation, offer understanding for discrimination, friendliness for loneliness and companionship for depression.
You are prepared for the Second Coming. Your bag is already packed with the wondrous love of God, the healing power of Christ Jesus, and the bold courage of the Holy Spirit, go with you today and always. You are fully prepared. Amen.