A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent
Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB
Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (Matthew 23:43)
Earlier this year I had a smart phone stolen from my car. I don’t blame the thieves, really, even though it was an expensive and annoying experience. No, I blame myself. The phone was in the glovebox of my car, the car was unlocked, and the door of my garage had been left open If that sounds careless and naïve to you, it should. I had read all the police warnings and PSAs about not leaving valuables in my car, but at the time I lived in a quiet, safe neighbourhood, and I never thought thieves would walk up my driveway and rob my house. To add insult to injury, I could have protected my phone by downloading some tracking software that I had read about. However, that precaution seemed like a lot of work, and I had put off looking into it. And so it was that thieves came unexpectedly in the night, while I slept, and because I had not made good use of the time, I lost something that was valuable to me.
So today, as we come to the season of Advent, I am rather sensitive to Jesus’ rather creepy teaching in today’s gospel that His coming again will be like a thief in the night. However, the point of today’s gospel isn’t that Jesus is sneaky. The thief metaphor simply means that Jesus’ coming will unexpected and disastrous to those who are not ready. What does not being ready mean? Consider the imagery of Noah’s flood that Jesus uses a few lines earlier. The flood was God’s judgement on those humans who lived sinful lives, and who never believed that there would be consequences for the choices they made in their lives. Only Noah and his family were considered to be righteous, and so they were spared. So, the flood reference, I think, is Jesus reminding his followers that he will come again as a judge, something he makes quite explicit shortly thereafter:
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”. (Matt 25:31-32)
A preacher I am very fond of, Fleming Rutledge, makes the very wise point that Jesus says these things to his disciples just before his trial and execution, and finds a particular significance in the contrast between these words and this occasion.
“Here is a man who owns nothing; who has no bank account, no resumé or portfolio, no job or house, no title or rank, a man who is about to be judged guilty and not fit to live by the highest religious and political tribunals of his time, and he is saying that he is going to come again, personally, at the end of the world, to determine the fate of all human beings who have ever been born. It should make our brains crunch just to think about it. This man Jesus is about to go on trial for his life before the judges of this world, yet he is telling us that he himself is actually the Judge. We need to pause in awe before this contradiction.” (“Jesus Will Show” from Help My Unbelief, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000, p. 219).
Rutledge goes on to make the point that when this day comes, we, who have just prayed to God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hid”, will be there too. The season of Advent points us, not only to Christmas Day, but to Judgement Day.
This morning we hear about judgement falling on us unexpectedly, coming like a thief in the night. The image of the Noah’s neighbours in the Flood story caught unprepared. It all sounds anxious and ominous rather than being the celebratory and joyous anticipation of Christmas that our hearts want Advent to be. Indeed, in the history of the Church, Advent has been regarded as a penitential season, rather like a second Lent. But we who are followers of Jesus should hear nothing today that makes us apprehensive or uncertain. Last week we celebrated the Reign and the Kingship of Christ. We know that one of a king’s traditional roles is to be a judge and make judgements, and we know that our King is a good, righteous king. One of the traditional Advent scriptures, from Isaiah 11, talks about the Messiah coming as a judge who will hear the poor who have had no one to help them.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins. (Isaiah 11:3-5)
We shouldn’t have to fear this judge. We are followers of Jesus, baptized and marked as his. Yes, we are sinners, but we are sinners of his redeeming, and at our judgement, we can throw ourselves on the mercy and atonement of Christ with total confidence. But as followers of Christ, are are also accountable. We have been called to a way of living and to a way of being as his disciples. We have work to do. My sermon title is Making Good Use of the Time and this is the theme of several of Christ’s parables. The stories of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, or the Three Servants and the Talents, are about judgement but also about preparedness. What if, today, we resolved not to fear the coming of this king and judge, whenever that might be, but rather what if welcomed him as a rescuer of the world and what if we throw ourselves into his work?
Today we saw a video about something called the Advent Conspiracy. The video suggests a way of preparing for Christmas that is so counter-cultural, so Christian, that it deserves to be called a conspiracy. The video calls us away presents and into presence. It calls us away from things and into relationship. In our second reading, Paul talks about relationships of love with our neighbour that are one and the same as our relationship with Christ. Paul says that loving is all that we owe one another, and all that we owe God. So what if, this Advent, we were to join with Paul in this conspiracy of love? Perhaps we could conspire to let go of some of the junk and business around Christmas and resolved simply to love one another and to love God? Perhaps we could embraced time with our families and with our neighbours? Perhaps we could conspire to rethink how we use whatever wealth we may have been blessed with? The Advent Conspiracy video raises some themes and ideas that we will revisit over the next three Sundays of Advent. I hope you become co-conspirators with me, as we all ask ourselves, how can we make good use of this time that has been given to us?