A sermon delivered by Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min., on November 27, 2022, Advent 1, Year A
Gather around and let me tell you a Christmas story! It’s from Matthew 24:36-44. Listen carefully!
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. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and 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. 41Two 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. 43But 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.44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
How’s that for a scripture text to get you ready for Christmas! It seems a little odd to begin this season of preparation by looking at what many people call, The Rapture, but this is where we start our journey. Episcopal priest and author, Fleming Rutledge, reminds us that this season of Advent forces us to look at God through the lenses of the past, the present, and the future. She reminds us, that “Advent calls for a life lived on the edge all the time, shaped by the cross not only on Good Friday but whoever and whenever we are, proclaiming his death to the be the turn of the ages “until he comes again.””  The first Sunday in Advent begins by looking into the imminent future when Jesus comes again in judgment.
Alas, people in Church today really don’t like to talk about God’s judgment; it sounds so harsh and very un-good-newsy. But beloved, we need to pause and remember that when the season of Advent asks us to remember the coming judgment of God, it’s always on the Sunday when the Church lights the candle of hope! For some reason, we have translated ‘judgment’ to mean ‘condemnation’ thereby losing all concept of hope. Think about it: Who is hopeful for being condemned?
Rutledge writes, “The Christian hope is founded on the promise of God that all things will be made new according to his righteousness. All references to judgment in the Bible should be understood in the context of God’s righteousness – not just his being righteous but his ‘making right’ all that has been wrong.” Consequently, Advent is the season of the church year we remind ourselves that Immanuel, God-with-us, whom we celebrate on Christmas Day is the one and the same Divine Logos who stands at both the beginning of time as well as its end. Advent is a time for us to honestly remember that all of God’s creation, all our concept of time, is lovingly embraced and encircled by the loving arms of Christ and for that, we are hopeful.
Stephen Covey made famous the line that in order to live a successful and productive life, we need to begin our planning with the end in mind. We are to begin remembering that our lives, our time, are moving to history’s denouement when God will make all things new and redeem all that is full of sorrow, brokenness, and pain and replace them with faith, hope, and love. English playwright, critic, and poet, W. H. Auden, refers to Advent, as this time of waiting, The Time Being, when you and I are awaiting the return of the Child Immanuel. He writes, “The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.”
This Time Being is what Jesus is speaking of today in Matthew 24. We tend to forget that when Jesus is speaking of the future time of judgment, he uses it as a foil for his disciples to reflect upon their lives at the moment, in the current Time Being.
So, Jesus talks about the days of Noah before the great flood when people were eating and drinking, getting married, and living life when, after ignoring Noah’s call to prepare for the coming flood, were all swept away. Eating, drinking, and getting married are mentioned to remind us that in the midst of our everyday life, at a time least expected, God returns and shouts, “Honey, I’m home!”
Jesus then goes on to share how men and women will be about their everyday routines of going to work and doing their chores when suddenly, “one will be taken and the other will be left.” Those people who are taken to appear before the judgment seat of Christ are not judged by whether a person believed the right things about God with correct doctrine but each person will be measured by the standard of how well we loved God and our neighbor as we have loved ourselves. It’s the rubric Jesus set in John 15. The rapture, as it is popularly called and so grossly misunderstood, is not so much about personal piety as it is about our personal and social ethics; in other words, are we loving others as God is loving us?
One commentator wrote, “Believers are judged not so much by how well they are prepared to enter heaven but by how much they have been attending to the concerns of others in the community. Along those lines, discipleship is not an event or a phase but a constant state of being prepared and committed to fellow humans.” Once again, we are reminded of Auden’s understanding of our Time Being. How are we living our lives with love and justice in our time of simply being ourselves in our everyday hum-drum of eating, drinking, getting married, working the farm, or preparing food for dinner?
Our focus this month in spiritual formation is called, Advent in Plain Sight. We have study guides available for you if you would like them as well as daily devotionals for each day in Advent written by your fellow brothers and sisters of First Pres. Advent in Plain Sight is designed for us to look at everyday objects and note how they remind us of what this season is about. So, for example, at Wednesday Night Live, we will be looking at items such as a belt, a tree, and even a tear and see how these everyday items can become icons, i.e. signs pointing to deeper advent reality of Jesus coming into the world. As I was thinking about this morning’s message, the item, icon that our scripture lifts up as an everyday reminder to prepare for Jesus’ coming is a plain old alarm clock. An alarm clock. A loud, obnoxious alarm clock.
Years ago, someone gave me a giant Harley Davidson wall clock. Each hour was represented by a picture of a different type of vintage Harley motorcycle. The beauty of this magnificent clock is that a loud revving motorcycle engine would be the chime for each hour! All day long, Harleys were roaring through the entire office area. Personally, I loved it but my other colleagues – well, not so much. I knew it was time to get rid of it when during one emotional pastoral counseling session as this woman was pouring her heart out about her husband’s affair and their impending divorce, the hour ‘chimed’ at the worst possible moment of her story.
Twice in three verses, Jesus reminds the disciples to keep awake. Stay alert and ready. Set your alarm to get yourself out of bed because the Lord is coming at an hour we do not know or expect. Dale Bruner, a retired professor at Whitworth University says two Protestant Reformers remind Christian disciples to be awake. John Calvin said, “Jesus wished them (the disciples) to be so uncertain of his coming that from day to day they should be intently waiting.” Bruner then cites Martin Luther who quipped that Christians should live as if Jesus died this morning, risen this afternoon, and was coming this evening.
Jesus is asking us to wake up and stay alert. He is asking us to be ready for the time he comes in judgment. He is telling us he is coming again and as such it gives us hope. Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense who had a way with words tried to say the same thing Jesus was saying at an intelligence briefing during the Iraq War. He said, “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Personally, I think Jesus said it better. Jesus says, “Church, don’t you dare hit the snooze button because God is coming. This you know. You just don’t know when. So, wake up and be alert!”
Beloved, this is a text of great hope. God is coming again and will welcome us home for good. Yes, there will be judgment but not condemnation. There will be a review of how we spent our Time Being awake. Are our Advent preparations getting caught up in the gross commercialization of the season, or are we preparing for our Lord’s return with lives full of justice and mercy to those we rub shoulders with every single day? In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So be it.
© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the 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.
 Fleming Rutledge, Advent. The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 7.
 Ibid, 23.
 W.H. Auden, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. See https://www.thepoetryhour.com/poems/for-the-time-being-a-christmas-oratorio. Accessed 11/23/2022.
 John 15:12-17: 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other. (NIV)
 Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship: Year A, Volume 1, Advent through Epiphany by Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, et al.