December 1, 2019
Sunday Between November 27 and December 3 Inclusive
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Matthew 24:36-44, The Message or Matthew 24:36-44, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Merry Christmas Everyone! Oops. I forgot. According to the Lectionary we're not supposed to sing carols or get all Christmassy until after the sun goes down on December 24.
So just to get us the mood for celebrating Jesus' birth, we're gonna start with a few words from Jesus just before his death.
Now I know there are sound liturgical and theological reasons for doing this. I also know there are excellent pastoral reasons for not doing this. And while it may be too late this year, check out my reasons for not following the lectionary with suggested alternate texts and candle lighting services.
But for those staying with the Lectionary, it will probably be necessary to preface your sermon with something like:
"Advent" means "arrival." And so the Season of Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for the arrival of Jesus. But not just preparation and anticipation for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. We are also reminded in this Season of Advent to get ready for the arrival of Jesus on that day when our prayer - "Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven" - is finally realized.
We are awaiting the arrival of December 25 to celebrate the past - the birth of Jesus - and also the arrival of a future that has already been prepared for us, and is on its way, but whose date no one knows.
If you have a Red Letter edition of the Bible (where everything Jesus says is printed in red) you'll see that the lesson today comes from 3 Chapters of last teachings from Jesus before his betrayal, arrest, torture and brutal execution.
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh (See footnote below.) provide some helpful background.
First, is that these final words of Jesus follow a pattern in many cultures where those near death are also nearer to the life to come. What to us is an impenetrable boundary is opening for them. And so they are more able to sense what lies beyond and ahead and can tell those being left behind what to expect for the future and how to deal with what will happen.
Second, is that these final words of Jesus follow a pattern in many cultures where those near death give their "last will and testament." Jesus testifies about his trust in God - past, present, and future. And he continues to pass on his one earthly possession - wisdom.
Third, is that these final words of Jesus follow a pattern in many cultures where leaders near death attend to the impending catastrophic loss of relationship that their death will bring.
At the time of Jesus, relationships were everything. Relationships defined who a person was in society; defined where one lived; defined what work one did; defined where food, shelter, family, and safety came from.
Those who followed Jesus - who attached themselves to him - gave up life-defining given relationships of blood-family and birth place. They followed Jesus, and Jesus became THE relationship that defined who they were. But who will they be after Jesus is gone?
Jesus addresses these 3 concerns in the whole of Chapter 24.
And in this passage Jesus stresses once again that though there will be many signs, many trials, no one knows precisely the day or the hour of the arrival of the Son of Man.
So what should we do while we are waiting for the Messiah?
Should we just give up on the whole idea? Just give up waiting altogether? After all, it's already been 2,000 years. Why bother?
Well that is just the point. Why bother? What actual difference does it make to live your life waiting for Jesus to return, as opposed to not even thinking about that?
Jesus suggests that on the surface of things it makes no difference. Two men will be working side by side in a field; two women will be working side by side at home. They look identical. But one will be taken and one will not. Why? Because even while doing ordinary, daily chores one was waiting for the arrival of the Son of Man and one wasn't.
Why does waiting while also living make a difference?
Jesus uses the example of an owner of a house - how he would have acted differently if he had known that a thief was coming in the night?
I like to use the example of emigration. We should live as those who have applied to emigrate to a new country called The Kingdom of God. We haven't heard yet when our visa will be approved - no one seems to know the day or the hour. But in the meantime, we want to be ready, and so we are already learning the language and practicing the habits and customs of that new land. While we are still citizens of our current country, we also live like citizens of the age to come.
This is what Advent is. In anticipation of Jesus arriving, we practice now how we expect to live then.
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (see link below), pages 120-122, 342-343, 361-363, 373-374, 414.
Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV)
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.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)
36 "But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven's angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.
37 "The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah's. 38 Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. 39 They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.
"The Son of Man's Arrival will be like that: 40 Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; 41 two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. 42 So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. 43 But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. 44 Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.