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Matthew 24:36-44

Happy New Year! As we ring in the new Christian year during this season of Advent and turn our attention to the arrival of our Savior Jesus Christ, our lections remind us that the work of conformity to Jesus Christ is not yet complete. As we shake ourselves from our tryptophan trances we come to recognize with God’s people from the book of Isaiah that there is still a mountain to be climbed. There are still swords to beat into plowshares. There are still spears that need to be forged into pruning hooks. Our psalm reminds us that even standing thankfully in gates of the house of the Lord in no way means that peace reigns there yet. Praying for the peace of Jerusalem reminds us that God’s work is not yet complete in this world. Granted salvation is nearer now than ever before. “The night is far gone and the day in near,” but Paul reminds us that there are still works of darkness to lay aside, still armor to put on and Christ-like lives to live honorably. A day is coming when Christ will arrive and our eyes will behold him. A day is coming when peace will rule in places where terror and war were commonplace. A day is coming when the night is all gone and we will be fully united through Jesus to God’s glorious light.

Just on the other side of our Thanksgiving revelries, Advent reminds us that the best is yet come. At the beginning of the Christian year, we are pointed to the end; to the second coming of Jesus. We are reminded that our feasting and comforts are tenuous, temporary and mere shadows of the joys that are yet to come. Those in Matthew’s community had grown weary of waiting. The temple that they used to go up to like the mountain of God to worship, had been destroyed. Jerusalem was not at peace and their prayers for peace had seemed to go unanswered. For those in Matthew’s community swords and spears had been used to persecute, torture and kill. In the face of such travesties, the love of some had grown cold and other paths may have seemed more appealing. Matthew’s people had walked through times that were so hard that some of them were left willing to cling to anything that remotely looked like a rescuer. Matthew reminds the sore, the suffering and the numb that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew promises that…

they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt. 24:30-31, NRSV) 

It must have been welcome news to hear that the Son of Man was coming. It must have filled Mathew’s hearers with such expectation to hear that their summer was near and that Jesus was near and at the very gates. Matthew reminds his hearers that though the coming of Jesus is near it is not yet. Not only that, it is not for them to know the exact time of his arrival. Such knowledge belongs to the Father and is not meant for humans in the here and now.

In fact for the Mathean community (and for us) things are going to go on the way they usually do.  Matthew calls his hearers to remember Noah and the fact that on the day the flood began, life was going on pretty much as usual for people.  So it will be for those awaiting the coming of Jesus.  Jesus will come again on a day when you go work like every other day.  “One will be taken one will be left.”  John Wesley notes, “One is taken – Into God’s immediate protection: and one is left – To share the common calamities. Our Lord speaks as having the whole transaction present before his eyes.”[1] In the midst of the ordinary, Jesus will arrive and gather the faithful one to his presence leaving the other in the middle of the daily grind.  

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.

For those enduring the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century, the idiom of the thief in the night carried with it shades of warning and comfort. It is implied in our text that the thief comes to steal away something valuable and that the solution is for the homeowner to stay awake and alert, not allowing the thief to steal. The thief in the night idiom was also wedding language used to describe the time when the groom would come and steal away his bride to be married and begin their life together. Matthew’s hearers needed to remain awake and alert so that the faith and hope they had through Jesus was not stolen away by false messiah’s and painful circumstances. Matthew’s hearers needed to remain awake with expectation that Jesus would come and like the bridegroom thief stealing them away for a new life of joy in a kingdom set right and made whole.

At the beginning of this new Christian year, we need ears to hear both the warnings and the wonders of this text.  We need our eyes open and alert, for as Gregory the Great reminds us, “To watch is to keep the eyes open, and looking out for the true light, to do and to observe that which one believes, to cast away the darkness of sloth and negligence.”[2]  As followers so Jesus we must not allow our consumerist comforts to leave us so full that we fall asleep spiritually, satisfied with our temporary pain relieving messiahs.  We must not allow our feasting to rob us of expectation.  The advent of our Lord Jesus challenges us to open our eyes to his true light that shines even in the midst of the ordinary and the mundane; the dark and the tragic.  We must recognize that waking up to the coming of Jesus is about more than just offering critiques and corrections from the sidelines.  To be awake to Jesus coming means actively casting away the dark deeds of sin that deaden us.  To be awake to Jesus coming means doing what we believe by taking up those virtues which we have avoided in our sins of omission.  Be awake and ascend the mountain of the Lord that he might teach us his ways so that we can walk in his paths.  Be awake and do the works of peace that come as we walk in the Light of Jesus Christ.  Be awake and stand in the gates and offer prayers for peace.  Be awake and put on the very life of Jesus as armor against all evil and despair.  Be awake and be ready for our Lord Jesus Christ is coming at an unexpected hour. [1] The Notes of John Wesley – [2] Aurea Catena, Gregory The Great –