Raise your hand if you grew up Presbyterian?
Raise your hand if, for you, Advent was a countdown to remembering the birth of Christ.
Raise your hand, if, for you, Advent was a time to prepare for Jesus’s second coming.
Our gospel reading this morning is a traditional scripture for the first week of Advent. The first week of Advent’s Gospel passage deals with the second coming of Jesus, or the end times. This passage is a section of scripture where Jesus is answering questions his disciples had around a strong reprimand of the Pharisees in the previous chapter—specifically around the end times and the destruction of the temple.
36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so, too, will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. 45 “Who, then, is the faithful and wise slave whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” (Matthew 24:36-46, NRSV)
I did not grow up Presbyterian. I have vague memories of maybe an Advent wreath in church, and maybe an advent calendar—but I always thought it was all about remembering Jesus’s birth 2000 years ago—and, of course, counting down until Santa came. It wasn’t until the last decade or so and I was at a church that did Revelation as their Advent sermon series that I realized Advent was about remembering that Jesus will come again and living lives so that we can be prepared for that.
Advent is about how to live in the “not yet”—the time between Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension and the full realization of that power here and now. Jesus is coming again, but not yet. It is the hopeful anticipation as we wait for God’s time—a time where God’s promises are fulfilled for our world.
As I have been thinking about preaching this text over the last few weeks, it has been clear that we are living in a time where God’s will is not yet being done on earth as it is in heaven. There have been three highly publicized mass shootings…the one in Colorado Springs at the LGBTQIA bar, the UVA shooting of the football players, and the shooting at the Walmart. I also read an article about how many people are expected to starve to death worldwide as a result of the war in Ukraine. The estimates were from 8,000 to 19,000 people a day, as of September 2022. When I start down the path of how so many desperately need food, clean water, jobs, mental health services, are living in war zones, or with the effects of violence, human trafficking, and so many other global issues, it seems that the pain is almost too much to bear. I have to wonder why God hasn’t fixed things yet.
When we hear in Revelation that when God’s reign is fully realized here on earth—there will be plenty of food and water, no more tears, peace, healing and wholeness; and I want that now. What do we do until God brings that about?
This passage brought to mind three different ways of being until Christ comes again, and God’s vision for creation is fully realized in perfection and completion.
Wait. Watch. Work.
First, we wait.
We recognize the current status quo is not the ideal. There is too much wrong in the world. Things have been wrong for a long time. Even when Matthew was written, things were really bad. How would the original recipients of Matthew have heard these words? Most experts think it was written about 80 AD. The people in the early church had been waiting for decades for Jesus to return. They thought it would be weeks, or maybe months for Jesus to come back. No one thought it would be decades—much less over 2000 years.
The circumstances for Christians, who until this time had largely been a Jewish sect, were not good. They experienced significant and serious persecution by the Romans. As the emperors gained more power, and in an effort to control wider groups of people, the imperial cult grew. For polytheistic cultures, it was fine to add another god to worship—but for the Jews and the Christians, it was problematic to worship the emperor, resulting in their persecution. It impacted every aspect of their lives—social, economic, political, and religious. Most of us have heard the horror stories of their being tortured to entertain people in the Roman coliseum, but it was a wider practice than that. The early Christians were waiting for Jesus to come again to free them from this oppression. The writer of Matthew wanted them to know that Jesus would indeed come back and challenged them to actively wait. They are told that no one knows the day or hour Jesus will come—not the heavenly angels, and not the Son. Only the Father. Like no one knew when the floods would come in Noah’s time—no one knows when the Son of Man will come again. He will come—maybe when working in the field, or maybe when grinding wheat—but he will come. He is saying to anticipate Jesus’s return in all aspects of life—a waiting based on hope of a Savior.
Watch. While we wait, we are also called to watch. We are encouraged to watch like a homeowner watches for a thief in the night. We are called to watch for God’s work in our world now and for the ways that evil and sin are at work. We are called to watch for how God wants us to intervene and act on God’s behalf. When we watch, we can see joy, laughter, and peace in situations that should be devastating. We see people being selfless, and giving, and loving. We see prayers answered, people healed, and lives restored. When we watch, we can see that God is indeed active and visible in our world now. We need to actively watch for what God is doing around us.
We are also called to watch for how things come to steal the peace and joy that God has for us. We are called to watch like a homeowner would watch for a thief. We are called to watch for systems of injustice and oppression.
Watching is also an active choice. For example, how many people watched either football or soccer this weekend? Maybe you ate in a restaurant with TVs on the wall. I have noticed there are two different kinds of people in the world. Some go to eat and talk with dinner companions. Some go to watch the game. John and I helped my parents move this past week. Their TV wasn’t hooked up yet so we went to the lobby area to watch some soccer. There was little conversation—it was all about the soccer. The game wasn’t on in the background while we did other things. We watched the soccer game.
Work. Finally, while we wait and watch, we are called to work. Empowered by our waiting and watching. We are called to work to fulfill God’s will in the here and now. Our reading this morning ended with, “Happy are those servants whom the master finds fulfilling their responsibilities when he comes.” He then shares four parables of how to live as we wait and watch. The final one he gives is in Matthew 25.
In the final parable, Jesus now gives a great explanation of what we should be doing. Jesus says when the Son of Man returns, he will judge all of the nations. He will separate people like a shepherd separates sheep and goats—sheep on right, goats on left. Then he will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
This is the work that God has called us to do while we wait and watch. We are here in this time and this place for a reason. We are here to wait and watch. We are here to work to encourage the good in the world. We are to work to bring joy and peace and justice and righteousness. We are to work to come alongside and feed the hungry, bring clean water to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger. People should look at us and see what we are doing.
I am so thankful to be at FPCA with others who are waiting, watching, and working. We are actively working to offer welcome and hospitality for our unhoused neighbors at our Saturday Sanctuary. We are working with other organizations in Asheville and Buncombe County to not only provide blankets and sleeping bags, but to address the shortage of low income housing and the systems that keep people from being able to have adequate shelter. I am thankful for how we are coming alongside refugees and helping them to become self-sufficient with jobs and drivers’ licenses, and the skills needed to succeed in their new home. I am thankful for the people who are showing the love of Christ each week with our children and youth and equipping them to share the love of God with others. I am so thankful for the Child Care Center here at FPCA, which offers excellent early education for children through age 5—with income qualified scholarships for those who are unable to afford it—allowing even low income parents to have child care so they can provide for their families.
I don’t know how God is calling you to work. It could be in one of these ways mentioned—it could be in a different way altogether. It could be helping a neighbor with food. Inviting a widow for a meal. Driving one of our Afghan neighbors.
As you leave this morning–remember God is at work in our world—so wait with hopeful anticipation. Watch what God is doing, and see where you are called to step in and help. Then work. Work for God’s will in our world as we wait through the “not yet.”