As it is so often, the end of Thanksgiving seems to signal the start of the Christmas season. I am sure that we’re not unique in our marking of this long holiday weekend by taking down all the fall decor and putting up all of the Christmas items. We turn on the classic cartoon movies that Chris loves so much (like Frosty, Rudolph, and Charlie Brown) as well as engage in an after hours viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. To say that my beloved loves Christmas is a bit of an understatement. I just let him indulge and watch his eyes light up as he plots and plans the best place for lights, trees, decorations, and on and on. And like any family, our conversation as we decorate the tree naturally turns to the rapture.
What? That’s not the way it is for you? You and your family don’t dive into Thanksgiving leftovers, test strings of lights, pour over the black Friday ads, all while living in fear that Jesus will return at any minute? I am sure most of your holiday to-do lists look like this: wrap gifts, mix sugar cookies for baking later, donate to charity, stay on guard, watch and wait for Jesus’ return. It does seem a little strange then, that as our thoughts, hearts, minds, and actions turn towards merriment, celebration, and some (hopefully) happy memories, that our gospel would speak of the rapture. We want the cute little baby in a manger story, we want the Wise Men, we want “the hopes and fears of all the years…” but instead we get “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (24:44)
Advent comes from a Latin word that means arrival. Yes, we mark these four weeks in advent as the preparation of our hearts and spirits for the arrival of the birth of a child. The baby born into this world to save this world. However, this story in Matthew isn’t the only time that Jesus prepares us, warns us, cautions us, (however you want to word it) that he will return again. Advent isn’t just a season leading up to Christmas. Advent, that is, the arrival, and the way of life surrounding the pending arrival and return of Christ is something we should mark and prepare for every day.
Please understand, my goal isn’t to scare you. I don’t want you to leave here and immediately contact your life insurance agent to up your policy. I don’t want you to sell all of your possessions. I don’t want you to call up our friends at Snell-Zornig (or wherever) tomorrow and make an appointment to talk about your funeral. Now, all of these things are lovely to do. Make sure your life insurance is up to date, get rid of the stuff you don’t need, and yes, as a gift to me and your family, please pre-plan your funeral. But don’t live your life on pins and needles. And please, please, please, don’t become one of those “doomsday preppers” that is more prepared for a zombie apocalypse than the return of Christ.
We are told from the very first sentence of this reading today that “no one knows” except for God when Jesus will return again. And then we hear some interesting examples of what has gone on before God has sent us signs in the past. We hear about the time of Noah and how people were doing normal, everyday things like eating, drinking, and getting married all up until the point where a flood came and destroyed everyone and everything. Then we hear about how farmers will be in a field and women will be grinding meal, also everyday things, and one of the pair will get snatched up; raptured, if you will.
What the writer of the gospel wants the community in Matthew as well as our present community to understand is that watching and waiting for the Lord is important. Yes, we should be prepared. Yes, we should be ready. Yes, we should understand that it can happen at any minute. However, this watching and waiting should not come at the expense of debilitating the rest of our lives or our work. In the examples given, people were carrying on with their normal lives, their normal activities, even their normal celebrations when signs of God’s return happened.
Matthew’s Gospel is all about the community that has heard the story of Jesus and encouraging them to continue the work of Jesus, all while still being aware and prepared. This is why, at the end of Matthew, we get one of my favorite verses to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Continue the work of Jesus. Make sure people know the stories. Make sure everyone knows about this savior of the world who was born in a manger, stood with those on the margins, taught, fed, and hung on a cross so that we may all be saved. Friends, there are still those in this world that don’t know this story in its entirety.
There is this common assumption (at least in the United States) that everyone knows about Jesus. It is also the goal of many churches to reach out to the “un-churched.” And I’m all for that. However, I don’t believe we have a lot of un-churched still living around us. I think we have a lot of “under-churched” people living around us. If you were to take the time to go door to door and ask people if they know about Jesus, they would probably answer yes. But, what he did, what he stood for, some of his miracles, etc…might get you a blank face. One of the best ways that we can be prepared for the return of Christ is to live a life that points to this preparedness and second coming.
The people in the examples given in our gospel lesson today weren’t anxiously awaiting behind locked doors for Christ to return. They were living their lives. They were going about their business. They were living! For us to speak of Christ’s return is to live our everyday lives as an example of what is looks like to be prepared for that. “Okay, great” you may be thinking “but what does that look like for me, right here, right now?” This means that you aren’t afraid to offer prayer to those around you, even if they are your enemy. This means you don’t hesitate to offer forgiveness, even to those who have disappointed you. Waiting for Christ means you not only tell others that Christ is the bread of life, but you bring them to the table with you. Being prepared for Christ’s return means that when there’s not enough room at the table we don’t turn people away, we build a longer, bigger table. It means we side with protection, not persecution; feasting, not famines; justice, not judgement; safety, not self-interests; and interactions, not avoidance.
The easiest way for us to prepare, watch, and wait is to do what Christ has been calling Christian disciples to do for thousands of years: make more disciples. Feed people. Heal people. Care for people. Love people. Help others be prepared for Christ’s return by telling your story. Tell others what difference Christ has made for you. Tell others why God is a priority for you. Bring others to church with you. Tell people about grace (trust me, not everyone knows). We don’t know the time, we don’t know the day, we don’t even know if it will be in this century, but we do know that Christ will return. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:5) and like moths to a flame, others will flock to the light of Christ that shines through us. Watch and wait, brothers and sisters. Watch and let your light so shine!