Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“An Unexpected Hour”
Rev. Art Ritter
December 1, 2019
“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.
I recall my fourth grade teacher. A least one time each day she would walk to the door and announce, “I am going down the hall for a few minutes. When I get back, I want to see everyone at their desks doing their assignment. Is that clear?” I wasn’t ever certain where she went “down the hall” and at the time it really didn’t matter. Perhaps she needed a rest room break or a cup of coffee or a cigarette. But it probably wasn’t something that was supposed to happen and certainly would not be something a teacher would do today. As soon as the door closed and she entered the hallway, the action began. Everyone in my classroom started running around. Student began throwing things at one another. My friends and I engaged in a game of garbage can basketball. We had a good time but we were usually quite smart about it. We were careful not to disturb anything on our teacher’s desk and usually one of my classmates would stand near the door, peering out into the hallway to see if the teacher from across the hall could hear us and then report when our teacher was returning from down the hall.
There was one classmate who refused to participate in the hijinks. Her name was Lora and she was a bit of the teacher’s pet. When our teacher left the room, Lora never left her seat. She never closed her books. But worst of all, Lora would remind us that we were supposed to behave. When we asked her to be the scout at the door, Lora refused. She simply said, “We wouldn’t need to keep watch at the door if everyone stayed at their desk and did what we were supposed to be doing. If we all were doing our assignments, nobody would be getting into trouble.” That was so mature of Lora!
I think about those elementary school days when I hear the Scripture passage for the First Sunday of Advent. The author of Matthew writes about being ready for the return of Jesus. This readiness does not consist of doing spectacular and challenging things. It is measured in simple faithfulness, it is in staying at our desks and finding the presence of Jesus in our daily routine, in the next moment.
The First Sunday of Advent always includes these difficult and almost frightening lessons. “About that day and hour, no one knows. Two people will be in the field and one will be taken and one will be left. Like a thief in the night, the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” This stuff is about the second coming of Jesus. It hints at something that is found in the “Left Behind” books and movie scripts that speak of the rapture and of the faithful disappearing and others on Earth abandoned. It speaks to our anxiety about whether or not we’ve done enough or been good enough to earn our favor with God. It has always seemed to me to be an odd way of preparing for Christmas.
Neil Plantinga of Calvin Theological Seminary writes that we live between the first coming of Jesus and his second coming and most of us feel a lot better about the first one. That is because the first coming is about a baby and we know about babies and we have figured out how to manage Christmas so the little Lord Jesus is asleep on the hay. But the second coming is different – full of urgency, of endings and beginnings, and everything changing. It is something we don’t understand so we can’t manage it or domesticate it. “We don’t know how many more shopping days are left until the Son of Man returns.” And it is this second coming, this return to the classroom from down the hall that we fear.
But the author of Matthew was not concerned about reading signs and creating timetables for Jesus’ return. Instead of worrying of being stuck in the past or worrying about the future, Matthew wrote about Jesus preparing his disciples for his absence in their present circumstance. It is time to wake up, Jesus said. No matter where I am, this is your best chance to discover what abundant life is all about. This is your best opportunity to help others by living in my love. This is the best time to live the kind of life I want you to live. Do not wait until you are more comfortable or knowledgeable or self-satisfied. You will stop looking for me then. The time is now. I am coming even today. Be prepared to live with me and for me now.
Keith Herron writes that back in Kentucky, there is a legend of a cold day in February of 1809 when a rural mail carrier made his weekly trip through Hardin County. A local man met him at a crossroad and inquired about the goings on in the outside world. The mail carrier reported that there was talk about a National Bank being created in Washington and about how it looked as though there might be trouble brewing again between the new United States and their former mother country of England. Then the mail carrier turned the conversation around. He asked the local man, “Tell me, what is happening in these parts?” The local man thought a moment and answered, “Nothing ever happens here. There was a baby born last night to Nancy Hanks and Tom Lincoln, but shucks – nothing much ever happens around here.”
We are not left behind. We are not left alone. We are not to look for signs of the end of the world by the advent of God’s world in Jesus the Christ. We live through Advent watching and waiting for the hand of God to be born and to live faithfully for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Thomas Long writes, “We are to persevere in our struggles, because at any moment we might be surprised by the presence of God. We may not know what to expect from God, but we always know what we can count on.” God’s day will arrive soon. In the meantime, we are to strive to live faithfully as we watch and wait and to seek places within our words and actions where Christ can come again.