[Jesus said to his disciples:] "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 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, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 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 24:36-44

Pastor Marc's sermon on the First Sunday of Advent (December 1, 2019) on Matthew 24:36-44. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


One of the things I struggle with is light - because I am one of those people who make their children pose seventeen different ways while trying to capture the exact picture that I want. This picture taking process goes about as well as you’d expect - yet I continue to ask my family to “move just a little” as I figure out how to use the light around them. We know that the light in a photo matters to the story we want to tell. And depending on the location, time of day, the season, and the weather - the light itself can change. That, I think, is what makes light hard. We know that it matters, that its part of the story we want to tell, but we don’t always know how to find or even use the best possible light. 

Yet the best light is out there. And in the words of photographer Bryan Peterson, this light “often occurs at those times of the day when you would rather be sleeping or sitting down with family or friends for dinner.” We call this special time the golden hour and it’s, “always disruptive to your ‘normal’ schedule.” Now, if you are rooted to a 9 to 6 kind of day, then the golden hour on this December morning started around dawn - right when we were deciding whether to get out of our warm bed or not. The golden hour will also come right around sunset - which, during this time of year, has already come and gone by the time we get to our car at the end of the work day. The golden hour is a kind of transitional moment; a sort of boundary between night and day; where the low-angled light of the sun reveals the world’s textures, shadows, and depth. When we use that light, the photos we take tell a fuller and more nuanced story because the warm and vivid light of the golden hour enhances what’s already there. The light in that moment creates shadows and contrasts that let us see a deeper kind of truth. We get to see exactly what that photo is all about. Yet the image that is created with the golden hour light is also an image of home - because for us to take it, we had to disrupt our usual lives. And by living through that disruption, we get to see that part of the world and part of our life in a new way. 

Today’s reading from the gospel according to Matthew is, culturally, a bit out of place this time of year. Many of us have already put up our Christmas tree and covered our front yards with a tad too many decorative inflatables. Over the last few days, we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving by wearing elastic pants to every meal and embraced consumerism by kicking off our Black Friday shopping last Wednesday. We tell ourselves that we are moving towards Christmas. Yet the Bible readings we hear on the first Sunday of Advent point us further - right to the end of the world. Now, the end of the world we’re talking about is what we call Jesus’ second coming - when God’s work of reconciling all of creation back to God will finally be complete. The second coming shows up at the end of the second paragraph in the Apostles’ Creed and at the start of the Lord’s Prayer - when we ask for God’s kingdom to truly come. In other words, the second coming is when God’s future becomes our present. And the what and when of that future has been bugging the followers of Jesus for a very long time. Back in Matthew 24:3, the disciples asked Jesus what the end of the world would look like - and when exactly would it come? So Jesus responded with two full chapters filled with his preaching and teaching. Yet his answer was purposefully not complete. He had no problem telling his disciples what the end of the world might look like - yet he didn’t say when it would come. That truth - his not knowing - probably made Jesus’ followers a bit nervous because Jesus, as God’s Son, should know what the rest of the Trinity is doing. But I think Jesus knew how his words would make us feel. And he wanted us to stay in that moment because he kept speaking in an anxiety-inducing kind of way. He started talking about the story of Noah, noting how Noah spent years building the ark, yet everyone around him lived as if everything was alright. The flood that came seemed sudden because the people didn’t notice what God was already up to in the world. After the story of Noah, Jesus kept talking; using a metaphor to reinforce that sense of a crisis. Two groups of two would have their lives suddenly disrupted and they would become two groups of one. Those taken would be like the ones swept away by the flood while the ones who were left would be like Noah, called to live as if God was doing something. Jesus dug deep into that calling by describing what it would be like if we knew when a thief was going to break into our homes. And instead of letting those who followed him know when that disruption in their lives would come, Jesus told them to just be ready - and to live as if Jesus’ second coming would be here soon. Jesus didn’t want those who followed him to wait until some future date to start living as if his life, death, and resurrection mattered. He wanted us to live that way now. Because, in the Bible, the end of the world isn’t only about tomorrow; the end of the world is also about how we live our lives today. And so on this first Sunday of Advent we look forward to Jesus’ second coming because we know his first coming mattered. But that first moment for us will always be bigger than just Christmas morning. Because it also includes those moments when Jesus first came to us - in our baptism, in our faith, and when we realized we are not alone. The unexpected hour of Jesus’ coming isn’t only designed to keep us feeling anxious. It’s also there to serve as a reminder - that there have been disruptive moments in our own pasts that feed our hope. Because it was then when we saw ourselves as part of Christ’s true body - and we discover saw how he lived, died, and rose so that we could live anew. 

And so Jesus’ call to each of us is about remembering that we live in a world that he’s already been on. He’s already touched this ground. He’s already experienced the joys and pain of life. And he, like all of us, has had his heart broken by the disruptions we don’t always see coming. Yet even when the shadow of the night tried to cover and hide God’s light on the Cross, the next morning’s dawn did come. And it was then, as the Resurrection broke through, that a new golden hour was given to each of us. We, through the light of Christ, get to see all of the world’s textures, its hurts, its shadows, and its joys honest and vivid colors. Yet this light also lets us see how God’s love always breaks through. It might take us seventeen tries of shifting our vision to see what God is actually doing. Yet that’s okay. Because when we look for what God is doing in the world - for the ways God’s love shines through - that’s how we keep awake and how we let everyone know that Jesus matters. The doesn’t mean we’ll always get it right or that we will always use Christ’s light exactly the way we’re supposed to. Yet we still try. Because we are called to live today in a way that trusts that our future, and the world’s future, will end up in God.