November 27, 2016 – The 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A
© 2016 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
When I opened my eyes on the morning of November 3, I knew three things: 1) despite my worries, the world had not come to an end; 2) I had an early-morning flight to catch and needed to get moving; and 3) I had to search for a new slogan to get me through the winter because overnight “maybe next year” had become “this year.” Like many Cubs fans who watched the end of Game 7, I had to check my newsfeed to make sure I hadn’t been dreaming. “Did it really happen?” I wondered as a big grin spread across my face. Yes it had. And, despite many predictions, the second coming of Jesus Christ had not occurred during the rain delay between the ninth and tenth innings as Cleveland and Chicago dueled to see which franchise would end its championship drought.
When you get your hopes up for something year after year after year, it’s hard to believe that it will ever come true. For one hundred eight years, Cubs fans had dreamt about next year. In a very real way, I had been waiting for this victory even longer than I had been alive. When it finally came, it took me and many other fans several days to soak it all in. It just so happened that I had a meeting scheduled in Chicago for the day after the World Series—one scheduled long before anyone knew that the Cubs would make it to the Series let alone eke out a win in Game 7. My flight got there early enough for me to scoot down to Wrigley Field. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people dressed in Cubbie blue, just wandering around the stadium with smiles on their faces, taking selfies and scribbling their names with colored chalk on the bricks of the outfield wall. We didn’t know what else to do. Even though the Cubs had been in first place all season, one hundred eight years of waiting had made this feel unexpected and unreal. Sometimes when you wait that long, you begin to wonder whether it’s even possible.
As we begin the season of Advent—a season of waiting and watching for the coming of Christ—Jesus himself tells us that, no matter how long we have to wait, we are to believe that he is coming. This morning, however, the challenge for us is sorting through this gospel lesson carefully enough to see that those words come not as a message of fear but as a promise of hope. And, in order to hear that, we have to listen to this gospel passage not as twenty-first century Christians, who are used to getting whatever we want whenever we want it, but as first-century disciples, who were willing to risk their lives to follow Jesus and who banked everything on the belief that Jesus would come back at any moment to save them.
Jesus said, “For as in the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Everyone knew the story of the Flood—how Noah had built a tremendous ark while all his neighbors laughed. The people of the earth kept doing what they had always been doing—“eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”—because there was no sign of rain. In fact, at that point in the bible, it had never rained, but Noah built the ark anyway. And, then, when no one other than Noah and his family saw it coming, the Lord opened up the skies and made it rain until the whole earth was flooded and all the wickedness was washed away. That sounds scary—the thought of flood waters catching everyone by surprise—but remember that, if you’re one of the people who have a seat on the boat, it’s not that scary after all.
For those who know God’s good news of love and hope and promise that is told in the person of Jesus Christ, the end may come as a surprise, but it isn’t supposed to be scary. Surprises might take our breath away, but they aren’t always frightening. I don’t really like the thought of a surprise birthday party, but I don’t live in fear of one. Sure, when the lights switch on and all your friends and family yell out, “Surprise!” it will probably catch you off guard, but those people are there to celebrate with you, to laugh with you, and to show their love for you. There’s a reason that people don’t wear ski masks to a surprise party: they want to surprise you, but they want that surprise to be one of warmth and love.
So it is with the coming of the Son of Man. We may not see it coming, but that doesn’t mean that it never will, and it definitely doesn’t mean that we should fear it. Sometimes it feels like the deck is stacked against us. Sometimes it seems like God will never come and fix all that is broken in the world. But that doesn’t mean that God has forgotten us. The hope that Jesus gave to the first Christians—to those who faced persecution and death because of their faith—was an invitation to believe that, even though things may feel like they are going completely wrong, God will come and make everything right. And our hope is the same as theirs. We don’t know when that will happen. We can’t know when that will happen. But we must know—we must believe—that, in God’s perfect time and God’s perfect plan, he will come and save us from all that threatens us. One day, peace will reign. One day, love will win. That’s what it means to wait and watch for the coming of the Son of Man.
Anyone who uses the coming of Christ as a scare tactic hasn’t met the same loving Jesus that I know. Those who tell stories about the end of the world as a way to scare people into believing in Jesus are preaching the wrong gospel—one of fear and not hope. And those of us who buy what they are selling—who confuse the uncertainty of time for an uncertainty of content—have forgotten what Jesus really says. We may not know when it will happen, but we do know that, when Jesus comes again, he is coming to take us to himself so that where he is we may be also.
Do not be afraid; Jesus is coming. Do not lose hope; Jesus is coming. Even when it seems like nothing can save us—that nothing can right this wayward ship—we know that Jesus is coming. When he tells us to “keep watch” and “be ready,” Jesus isn’t asking us to abandon this life or to prepare a “bug out bag” because we think that a zombie apocalypse is headed our way. As he says, “Two will be working in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two will be grinding meal; one will be taken, and one will be left.” In other words, God shows up right in the middle of our ordinary lives. God will rescue us even when we least expect it. And that is something to look forward to.
This season of Advent, join me in keeping watch for the coming of Christ. Prepare your hearts and minds for the coming of the Son of Man. That doesn’t mean living each day in fear that you’ll be caught off-guard; it means living your life as if all the people who love you the best will suddenly jump out from around the corner and give you a big hug. It means knowing, that at any moment, Jesus himself will come and save you. If the thought of what lies ahead gives you fear, rest easy. Don’t confuse the not knowing when for a not knowing what. We know what lies ahead of us. We know that God has good things in store for us. May we wait and watch as if our salvation is coming at any minute.