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Wake Up: The Time is Now
Matthew 24:36-44…Advent 1A
Rev. Deb Mechler
Do you like surprises? Most of us love them, especially when we get to surprise someone else. Somehow it seems to make the anticipation of the party and the actual event more fun.
But we don’t like unpleasant surprises. Getting a terrible diagnosis or an unexpected phone call during the night are most dreaded in our minds. They change our lives unexpectedly and permanently. We do what we can to avoid these surprises, using caution in our travel and keeping ourselves as healthy as possible.
Jesus said that his return will be a surprise. God is keeping the date a secret. And Jesus warned his disciples that they should be ready no matter when it will happen. Keep watch, he says. Be ready.
We can take that several different ways. One way would be to always be on the lookout, focusing all our attention on the skies so we might be the first to spot him coming on the clouds. Some people do that, and spend a lot of time trying to determine exactly when Jesus will return, even though he said that it would be at an unexpected time.
In a previous job, I did a lot of traveling by air. It was back in the 80’s, when people were still allowed to come to the gate to meet the people coming off the plane. As I returned from one of my trips, I was struck by the looks on the people’s faces as we came through the door. Everybody was looking for somebody. They weren’t reading or doing crossword puzzles as they might have been doing ten minutes earlier. Everybody was looking at the line of passengers expectantly, excited to see the ones they were waiting for.
I remember thinking to myself that that is how we should be waiting for Jesus. Eager for his return, expectant. But as I talked with a friend about this, he corrected me. He said that we shouldn’t spend all our lives looking up at the sky. That would keep us from doing all the tasks God has called us to do. It would keep us from paying attention to the people we love, so we would neglect the people around us or miss the details of our daily lives.
Further study actually supports this conclusion. The phrase “therefore you must also be ready…” is more accurately translated “On account of this you are becoming prepared.” That is not just the way I prefer to read it; it is a difference in verb tenses, the passive tense vs. the active tense.
It changes the way we think about that day of Jesus’ return. He doesn’t warn us to be ready as though being off guard will get you doomed for eternity. Instead, he encourages us that God is making us ready as we follow Jesus in the here and now.
All we have is the present, after all. If you’re familiar with the movie “Rent,” you’ve heard the song that says we have 525,600 minutes in each year. There is a danger of taking that idea too far, of acting as though there is no future, so anything goes for now. Jesus reminds us that the people living in the days of Noah made that mistake. They behaved as though their actions didn’t matter at all, as if momentary pleasures were all they lived for. They used their time only to satisfy their lusts.
How should we spend our time? How do we live each day in awareness that God is always forming us and making us ready for the fullness of life with God in eternity?
It’s helpful to recognize how both the past and the future affect our lives today. As we mark the beginning of the Advent season this weekend, we acknowledge that we are living between two advents: two thousand years ago with Jesus’ incarnation as a human infant, and the time when he will return. His life, his death and his resurrection form the gospel around which we live our lives and identify ourselves as his followers. His promised return gives us hope.
But the time we live in between is not just a void. It is not a sort of holding pattern where we do the best we can to have faith and improve the world. There is an advent in each day. Jesus comes to us every single day in the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is with us this morning as we celebrate the Eucharist. His coming among us right now is just as real and significant as his coming in Palestine and his return in the clouds. Those events seem more dramatic, more worthy of our attention. But Jesus comes to us today, right now.
Jesus is calling us to live fully every day, not to put our spiritual awareness on autopilot. A friend of mine used to work for Winnebago in Forest City, where they make RVs. He said that when he was working there, more than one person complained to the company because they couldn’t put their RV on cruise control and go to the back to use the bathroom. They expected it to work like autopilot on an airplane.
We might not be so naïve, but we face other hazards. These days we are warned not to drive distracted. Don’t use your cell phone or try to switch discs in your CD player while you’re driving. Sometimes we do that, though. Could we be accused of doing the same thing in the spiritual aspects of our lives? Do we pretty much expect things to keep moving along in our faith as long as we keep our hands off the steering wheel? Do we fail to recognize God’s presence in our lives, to Jesus’ advent in each day?
It is a consistent theme throughout the Scriptures, the call to pay attention to what God is doing. Look around you and see how Jesus comes into your life every day. He is not only a constant, abiding presence in the Holy Spirit; he also shows up in thousands of ways that you can see, ways that are new or unexpected. We need to wake up and look at our lives with fresh eyes. To see how Jesus is involved in every day, how God is at work all around us.
How do you do that during the Advent season? It can be hard to switch from the distractions of all the Christmas preparations and events, but as God’s people, it is our calling to keep the focus on God in every season. We feel that keenly when we get over stimulated and disillusioned, and our spirits whisper to us to keep Jesus at the center of it all, what we call the “real meaning of Christmas.”
I encourage you to take a few moments each day spending time in God’s presence. Ask yourself what you may have noticed in the past 24 hours, experiences of God’s goodness or of a deeper yearning for God’s presence and power. Yes, even disturbing experiences can draw you closer to God.
Here’s an example: Jesus comes to us in the people who need our help. He said as much, remember? He talked about the sheep and the goats who will be sorted at the time he returns, and he said that the line you end up in depends on how you treat people who are hungry, lonely, destitute and so on. He said that our treatment of people is our treatment of him, dollar for dollar, mile for mile, teardrop by teardrop. He comes to us in the needs of his people.
He comes to us in many other ways: In the beauty of the world he created and is still creating. In the laughter of the children he loves. In the sweetness of a sugar cookie on your taste buds or a Christmas song in your ear. In the Scriptures where he speaks so compellingly. In the bread and the cup that we bless and consume.
He comes in all these wonderful experiences. But he also comes to us in the hard times. He shares our despair when we are wounded. He cries with us when the news is dreadful. He stands with us when fear and pain rock our world. In the intensity of our grief when we miss those we love during the holidays. He keeps his promise to be with us always.
In every situation, every day of our lives, we need to pay attention to see Jesus. Recognize both his abiding presence and the surprises he brings to our lives. He gives life to us as we acknowledge the sadness and the beauty that are vividly presented to us every single day. He shows us the gift of a simple meal. He points out the loneliness in a fellow shopper’s eyes. He created the light and the snow and the children and the music that lift our hearts during the Advent season. He is here!
We live during the in-between time, but we do not have to live an in-between life. As we pay attention to the events of each day, we wake up to the wonder of Jesus’ presence in every moment. Now is the time to live as his beloved disciples. Now is the time to see Jesus.