(Matthew 24: 36-44)
It seems as if the one issue that consumes us the most this time of the year is how many shopping days are there until Christmas. I noticed store employees were taking down the Halloween decorations and other related items as other employees were putting out the Christmas decorations. We blew right by Thanksgiving with barely a notice. I guess it may be that there isn’t a big demand for Thanksgiving decorations and there certainly isn’t any candy handed out or gifts given. We all know the day traditionally set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ but the one thing we don’t know is the date of his return which should be of much more importance to us as Christians, unless you’re not planning on being around on that day.
And it’s not knowing the time or the day of his return that Jesus is talking about in our scripture reading for today. Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives talking privately with his disciples regarding all that will occur prior to his return. They were troubled and asked what would be the sign or signs that would signal his return and the end of the present age. Jesus told them there would be ones who would come trying to deceive them and the people. There would be reports of war and wars. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other and there will be famine and earthquakes in all sorts of places. These, he says, are just some of the things signaling the beginnings of the suffering associated with the end. He says there will be persecutions and many believers will fall away and there would be many betrayals with people hating and turning on one another. False christs and false prophets will appear offering great signs and wonders in order to deceive them for their own benefit. Don’t believe it he tells them. But, he says, the Human One will come appearing in the sky with power and great splendor. He will send his angels with the sound of a great trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from the four corners of the earth, from one end of the sky to the other. But, he says, nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.
Isn’t it any wonder that we’d much rather celebrate Jesus’ birth with gifts, pageants with cute children and live animals, caroling in the neighborhood, and watching feel-good Hallmark movies? I mean all that stuff that is supposed to happen before his second coming sounds pretty terrifying as if it was scripted by horror novelist Stephen King, and I, for one, would really rather not be around to see and experience it. I’ve seen enough war, plenty of earthquakes, and famine in my lifetime already, and don’t even get me started on false prophets. I guess I’d much rather be one of those Christians who has lived a full and rich life and going on before, missing all of the tribulation stuff. Wake me when it’s over.
Jesus says, As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that. Jesus is not saying that there is anything wrong with eating, drinking, or getting married, living life to its fullest. He’s merely pointing to the unexpected nature of his return as life will be going on as normal as people go through their daily routines. He says that at the time of his coming there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill, and one will be taken and the other will be left. He says: Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. At this point, the disciples are probably asking the same question you are. Why one and not the other? I think what he is trying to say is that one person was prepared while the other was indifferent to the Messiah’s return. It’s not that they didn’t believe. They just had more important things, in their minds, to do. They were wrapped up in their day to day lives and not taking the time to prepare themselves for the coming of the Human One, the King. They were living as if either no judgment was coming, or it wasn’t coming during their lifetime. Jesus continues by saying: But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. Therefore you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know.
It kind of makes you think about the state of Christianity today. Is the comfort zone of Christians in the United States growing to where there will be no time for the end of times? Have we gotten so comfortable in our routine to the point where we are just going through the motions when it comes to how we do church? Is our version of doing church merely meeting on Sunday mornings, listening to self-affirming sermons designed to make us feel good, not doing anything that actually advances the kingdom, and not making sure we have done all that is expected of us up to His return? Have we become complacent because we’ve been saved and think there is nothing else required of us? Remember who Jesus was talking to. He was talking to his disciples who already knew all about him and the fact that nobody gets to the Father unless they come through the Son. He’s telling them, and us, that there is work to be done and there is no time to waste.
In a way, it is good that we don’t know the exact date and time when Christ will return. Because if we knew the precise date, we might be tempted to be lazy in our work for Christ, to procrastinate and put things we know we should already be doing off. Worse yet, we might even be tempted to keep right on sinning thinking we could turn to God at the last minute. But heaven is not our only goal, we have work to do here, and we must keep on doing it right up to our own death or we see the unmistakable return of the Savior, whichever comes first.
Christ’s second coming will be swift and sudden and there will be no opportunity for last-minute repentance or bargaining. The choices we have already made will determine our eternal destiny. So, while it’s okay to keep track of how many shopping days are left until Christmas, and how much time you have to make that last minute purchase in hopes it will arrive on time, we cannot put off until tomorrow what we should already be doing today in anticipation of His long-awaited return.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God, how we praise you for the birth of your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who came into the world to live amongst us teaching us your ways so that we might better live lives that are pleasing to you. May we use this time to reflect upon what it is that you would have us do as we prepare for your Son’s return where he will take the throne of righteousness and rule with love and mercy. And on that day of his triumphant return may we be caught in the act of doing your work and your will leading others to you and glorifying your name. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.