“In the Days to Come,” Advent 1

Matthew 24:36-44: 36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For 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. 40Then 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. 42Keep 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.

Corey and I put up our Christmas tree last Sunday after church, breaking our tradition of waiting until after Thanksgiving to put it up.  But, I figured since Thanksgiving falls later this year, that it would be great to go ahead and get everything decorated and placed before the hectic schedule of December and Advent begins.  In this way, it felt that Christmas came early at our house!  It was a weird feeling to have everything in place before we had even celebrated Thanksgiving.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it…but I think that we will wait until after Thanksgiving from here on out to put up our Christmas tree?  Why?  Because there is a sense that we never want to rush into the Christmas season without getting a chance to really anticipate and prepare for it all and what it all means.  In order to fully appreciate something, sometimes we have to wait and practice our patience.  Sometimes we have to stop worrying about our busy schedules and make time to prepare ourselves, our hearts, our homes, our lives for the true meaning of Christmas- not to rush into it, but to appreciate the waiting for what it is- taking the time to take it all in- taking the time to wait and listen for God.

I’m the first to admit that patience and waiting are a real challenge.  I was reminded of this just the other day when I was the first in line on the website to purchase tickets to see Ghost, the musical, which is coming to Indianapolis in March.  Ever since I first saw the show in New York City a few years ago, I have been anxiously waiting to see it again once I learned it was going on tour.  I’ve been following the social networking sites and tour schedule, and finally, this past Monday, it was time to get online and purchase the tickets.  As soon as I purchased them, I texted Corey and said  (in my most whiny texting voice), “I want to go NOW!”  to which he gently reminded me that I have to have patience and wait over the next 4 months.  Reluctantly, I agreed that I should calm down if I wanted any sense of sanity for the next few months!

But it’s the same thing with Christmas, isn’t it?  We start our countdowns months in advance, we prepare our shopping lists, the items we must set out to decorate, we plan our menus, holiday schedules, and organize people and families to get together.  Not to mention that stores are now putting out Halloween and Christmas decorations side by side- talk about being ridiculous!  And once the season is here it seems that we are always running around without stopping- it’s a dead on sprint from Thanksgiving to Christmas- so much so that we forget that this is really a time not to get lost in the hustle and bustle, but to actually keep awake and pay attention to the glimpses of God in our lives.  In this text today, Jesus reminds his hearers that no one knows when the Son of Man will come into this world- we might be so busy that we will miss it- so we must keep awake and keep watch.  We are to go about our daily lives, yes, but to go about them with a sense of awareness of God coming into our midst.  The danger of this time of year is that we get so busy and so caught up in everything that we don’t recognize Christ, even when he might be right in front of us.  He might be right in front of us saying, “Here I am!  Don’t forget what this season is really about!”

Even as we sit here in worship throughout Advent, we will feel a sense of excitement and anticipation where we will ask ourselves, “What does the coming of God mean?  How will my life change when the day of the Lord dawns?”  This season of Advent is an invitation to live in the tension between the already and the not yet.  We acknowledge what God is already doing in our lives, but we await those days to come where we seek a deeper meaning for what the birth of Christ means in our life of faith.  Today’s text is a challenge for us to slow down, to prepare, and look forward to the days to come, knowing that the true joy awaits us in the future- but we are not there just yet.

This phrase, “in the days to come” is a just that- a mystery- we never know when, how, of where God will show up, so we must keep awake and pay attention to the signs and wonders around us, big and small, silent or loud, clear or not so clear.  We are to be in tune to what God is doing and how God is at work.  In this, Jesus tells us we must keep awake, because we do not know the day or the hour.

When Jesus tells us to keep awake, is he telling us to be insomniac Christians?  Is he telling us that we must ignore our sleepiness and wear ourselves out by watching and waiting?  Are we to be one of the millions of Americans who suffer from insomnia?  It seems that already our lack of sleep is taking a toll.  We live in a world where social media, TV shows, daily stress, and even the foods we eat can easily keep us up at all hours of the night.  Our work, our health, our lives with our families, our well-being depends on how much sleep we get each night.  So why in the world is Jesus telling us to “keep awake”?  Ok, so he is not actually telling us that we are to go without much needed sleep- but he is reminding us to keep awake in our spiritual lives.  To keep awake in this way, I believe that Jesus would give us this advice that I believe is especially essential to the way we go about our busy days during this Advent season.

-We must avoid sleep walking- we should not go about our days living like zombies, not acknowledging anyone around us, and not paying attention to the needs of others.  We should be fully in tune with what is going on around us as to not miss an opportunity to share the love of Christ with someone else, whether through words, thoughts, or actions.  If we sleep walk through the season, we will miss God’s glimpses of light in our midst.

-We must avoid closing down our spirits- this time of year is difficult for many people.  Some grieve over the loss of someone they love, some are reminded of painful memories of Christmases past, some simply cannot get into the spirit and meaning of this season, many are too busy to acknowledge that there is more to this time than simply gifts, food, parties, and decorations.  So we must avoid the closing down of our spirits- we do this by keeping our hearts open to God’s presence within us, by opening our Bibles to the stories of God and the birth of Jesus, we do this by taking quality time to spend with our loved ones or to help someone in need.  We open our spirits to the new journeys that unfold before us and invite us further into relationship with Jesus Christ.

-And finally, we keep awake and await “the days to come” by preparing room in our hearts and lives for Jesus.  Advent is a time of waiting, anticipation, and preparation.  It is a time when we ask how we might be changed by the presence of Christ and what the coming of the Lord means for our personal lives.  If we are too caught up in busying ourselves with petty matters, we might miss the day of the Lord that dawns right in front of us.  We might miss the chance to praise the God who loves us so much that that love took human form and came to be among us, even though we may not make time for him.  We prepare our hearts that we might understand the depth of God’s love, that we might stop and really think about what it means that God came to be a part of our messy lives, this messy world- he came to be a part of our joys and sorrows, our sins and mistakes, our chaos and disorder- he came that the pieces might be put back together again.  He came that there might be peace.  He came that we would slow down and silence ourselves, even for a moment, to hear his coming, to open our hearts as Mary opened her womb, to be fully awake and aware of God’s presence in our lives, to prepare ourselves for that day for which we have been waiting, hoping, and praying.

I invite you this Advent season to slow down, to find moments of stillness in the crazy world out there, and to listen for God’s coming into our midst.  I invite you to search your heart, to open your senses, and think about how your life is affected by the coming of Christ this Advent season.  As we await with great anticipation, we are also reminded to live in the tension of the “already, but not yet” and to keep awake for those God moments- to be reminded that we await the days to come, as in our reading from Isaiah, “In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains…many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk his paths.”  May we take the time to journey together to the mountain of the Lord this Advent season.  Amen.

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