Matthew 24: 36-44, November 27th, 2022
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
First week of Advent – Hope – “Light Purple Candle”
“Hear now these words, as written in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter twenty-four, verses thirty-six, thru forty-four.”
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
“Having heard the words attributed to the teachings of Jesus, let us consider how we shall apply them to our time of preparation during Advent.”
Thanksgiving turkey is now but a leftover. Perhaps the last turkey sandwich or the fixings of a hot stew. Whatever the fate of those leftovers, it is now time to focus on a new season. The Advent Season. With the themes of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy, leading up to the bright shinning Light of Christ. The heaviest travel days of Thanksgiving gives way to the busiest season of shopping, planning and celebrations; all in the name of Christmas! A season of hustle and bustle for sure. And a season of giving and caring for the needs of others. A time of gifting, for our children, grandchildren, and our extended families. Including our pet groomer, the haircutter, our favorite waiter, or waitress. Gifting the lawn crew and all those that serve us throughout the year. No extra cash? Then a simple gesture of good cheer and or kindness is in order. Yes, indeed! The season has now changed. It is official!
As we get ready for our annual celebration of Jesus’ birth, we begin with a discussion surrounding the concept of hope! Children begin to hint at what presents they might gleen from under the tree, regardless of the ‘authenticity’ of the jolly old fellow in the red suit and long white beard. Yes, hope abounds in every corner. From a desire to get their first red wagon or tricycle to the desire for their spouse to buy that new SUV, to hopes that dad will buy them their first motorized bike! But, considering that most of us are adults and gathered here in this place of worship, we may wish to take our thoughts of hope to higher levels. Not that the gaiety of gift giving is not all well and good! Not only is it good for the economy – but it is also good for the soul. And an attitude of good cheer can ‘stimulate’ our underused laughter muscles, thus gaining a broader smile!
Arland J. Hultgren, Professor of New Testament studies at Luther Seminary, wrote in 2013 of hope. “The hope we have is not personal only, and it certainly is not simply private. It is a communal hope.” A hope shared is like dropping a pebble in a still calm pond; its ripple effect can travel on and on. We all have things in common, whether we wish to acknowledge this or not. Look at your own private list of hopes, wants and of course needs. Consider that everyone you know has a list as well. Neighbors that you only wave to have a list too! What about the woman at the checkout counter, ringing up her purchases? She too has a list. And the young lad that bags your groceries, or the young teenager, the one with braces that can tell you were every item in the store is! We all have a list. Let us agree to that!
It is Advent. Surely, we don’t need to talk about the hungry, the homeless and those that need clothing! The man Jesus once was quoting as saying, ‘we will always have the poor and the needy.’ Meaning of course the homeless, the hungry and the naked. Yes, I expanded the thought, but you can check in the gospel of Matthew, its close. And surely this is what Jesus was speaking of. Therefore, the professor has widened our scope of who hope needs to touch. As we reach out to others let us consider the possibility the ripple effect will touch someone we know, without our knowing. The vastness of those who may receive ‘new hope’ from our own attitude adjustment in this joyful, hopeful season is infinite! Let us not pass up any opportunity that comes our way – or crosses our paths.
We all know that from each day forward till the winter solstice, on December 21st or 22nd, the daylight hours grow shorter. Even the pagans celebrated this occurrence way back in the first Century for sure. Why can we say that? Because that is when early Christians picked a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus; a date near the winter solstice when many pagans and believers could celebrate – without fear and condemnation! No, we don’t know for sure the date of Jesus birth. There were few records of that nature kept so long ago. The date is our tradition now. A tradition which Christians have had since the First Century after Baby Jesus’ birth. And we all have numerous traditions which we honor, as a church and as families as well as individuals. The daylight each day – is growing shorter. The number of days till our Christmas celebrations – are growing shorter. By the time we get to Christmas Eve we will have run out of time and daylight to get all that is needed to be done before Christmas morning. As our traditions have us very, very busy on Christmas morning. And, oh by the way, Christmas morning is a Sunday this year!
Yes, we do need to get ready. Yes, most of us have a lot to get done! Thankfully, we had some volunteers who were able to get the decorations and lights up in the sanctuary for today’s service. Even setting up the Advent candles is a task. Those few things that you may not see – can still become part of our festive celebration. There truly is a lot of hope! Our scripture lesson today is all about getting ready. And falling in line with the origin of our traditional understanding of Christmas Day being on the 25th of December – we are not sure of the day and hour. Our scripture focuses on this regarding the promised second coming of Christ – we do not know the day or the year this will occur. The scripture is written more as a warning than a gentle reminder to be hopeful and joyful, with a message of good cheer. The writer, like ourselves knew that Jesus had already been born. His birth, his ministry, with all the signs and miracles of his divinity: as the Son of God and Man, were numerous and well know back then. The writing gives many examples. We might consider updating the possibilities. We may be in the middle of a text – or a zoom meeting with loved ones – or we may be watching a candle lighting service via the internet; via a broadcast from a church like us. We need to be ready – we really don’t know when Jesus will come back!
Let us consider another point. It is highly questionable whether humankind would welcome Jesus back during this time in history or not! As we read the scriptures, the gospel accounts of Jesus’ first appearance here on earth, the Son of Man, the Son of God was a disappointment to most. Sorry but true. When we look to the continued gun violence upon the innocent, here in America, we know we need to be saved, but it is hard to say our Savior would be welcomed in every aspect of government, or special interest group and the like – across the land. Then there are the enemies of the Jesus we worship. Seems highly likely they have survived throughout the ages. More sophisticated for sure. Like the ‘sleeper cells’ we talked about after the detestation surrounding the 911 events. We know they are truly terrorists.
The good new is there is still hope! It is only the first Sunday in Advent! There is still time to prepare. There is still time to put our lives in order and right any wrongs we have left open. Even as we prepare for our Advent journey, we ought to keep one eye on the possibility that the Risen Christ Child will come knocking at our door. Isn’t this why we get so excited about Christmas? The whole birth story, the attention that the scriptures pay to the baby’s birth. Sure, catches our attention! Why else would we be doing this ritual every year if we didn’t believe that the one man, named Jesus, had a tremendous impact on how we perceive the Living God! Of course, it matters. The birth story matters. The miracles at the hand of the man Jesus. The teachings that we believe came directly from the words of Jesus during his short three-year ministry. It matters!
Oh yes! The three years of Jesus’ ministry are worthy of the attention. His birth, life, and his death. They are worthy of the effort to prepare for the possibility that Jesus will come back. Of course, it is unlikely we will recognize him, considering all we humans put him through the first time. We don’t even have any assurance that the pictures we have of Jesus capture what he looked like. Consider the likely hood that a virtually homeless man, which Jesus was, posed for a portrait. He traveled around the region without the aid of a motorized car or van. Jesus walked the streets and often camped in the woods near and around Jerusalem, over two thousand years ago, when the idea of paved roads was unheard of. No electricity either! Yet, after all this time, we still honor him and all that we believe about him!
Rev. David Lose, talks to us of the light which shines in the darkness. “As the days grow shorter and the darkness grows, we light Advent candles each week to remind us that we do not face the darkness alone but that, indeed, the light of the world has come, shining on in the darkness to illumine our lives and lead us forth not in fear but courage…and even joy.” This is the ‘Hope” which Advent speaks of. We pray, we hope, and we all want him to come back; unless we rather not be saved and like living in the shadows were the truth is seldom heard. Sadly, we must conclude that there are still those who would show up at Jesus’ mock trail and cry out: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Let us prepare properly for the celebration of our loving God. Who loves us, the children of God, loves us so much that he would send his only begotten Son to us! Let us, carry the light of Christ in our hearts and allow it to shine through us – as we interact with our neighbors. All our neighbors are welcome to participate in this journey, a journey of preparation. A time of self-reflection to see how we can follow more of the teachings of Christ. A time where we can set right our wrongs. A time when we can offer God’s love to those around us. Giving all who journey with us – New Hope!