Pastor Eric Schroeder - Advent 1 - Sunday, December 1, 2019

Text: Matthew 24:36-44

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Which is easier: to get ready, or to stay ready? I suppose it depends on the circumstances, doesn’t it? Now that December is upon us, we hear and see reminders all around us to get ready for Christmas. We pull the decorations out of storage, we shop for the gifts that we will be giving this year, and we take care of whatever other preparations we need to make. We make a plan to check the tasks off of our lists one by one, and we tell ourselves we won’t wait until the last minute this year.

Getting ready can be stressful at times, but once we finish each task, we have the satisfaction of feeling just a bit more prepared, and we can move on to the next step. Once the decorations are up, they’re up. Once the cookies are baked, they are ready to be eaten. Once the presents are bought and wrapped, they are ready to be handed out and opened. You put in the time and the work to get ready for Christmas, and it isn’t that difficult to stay ready.

Now that we have come to the start of Advent, we have entered a season of preparation. And it isn’t just a matter of getting ready for Christmas; it’s also an encouragement to stay ready for the glorious return of our Lord. Today’s gospel reading serves as a powerful reminder in the words of Jesus himself. It’s part of a conversation that takes place during holy week, so even as Jesus is preparing to finish his saving work and ascend into heaven, he is already thinking ahead—to the return trip that he will make on the last day. Listen again to what he tells his disciples and us. 36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

That might be worth a timeout there already. We might wonder how the Son of God can be sure he is coming back if he doesn’t know when—and doesn’t he know everything? But remember, when he humbled himself to save us, Jesus voluntarily set aside the full use of his eternal power and glory for a time, and it seems here that he also had temporarily given up some of his unlimited knowledge—most notably, the timing of Judgment Day.  At any rate, don’t miss the point. Whether Jesus knows the time of Judgment or not, he isn’t going to tell us. Instead, he continues the encouragement with an illustration from history.

37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

I suppose you can’t stay ready if you never get ready. Isn’t that the warning Jesus gives here? As Noah and his family were building the ark according to God’s direction, everyone else was going about life as usual. They weren’t ready, because they weren’t expecting a flood, and so they all died, swept away in God’s judgment upon a wicked world. When Jesus comes back, it won’t be much different. Those who aren’t ready won’t have time to get ready; instead, judgment will sweep them away—this time not in water, but into eternal fire.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Let’s be clear; Jesus is not a thief. However, the point of the comparison is that just like a robber doesn’t announce when and where he will strike, so the time of Christ’s coming will be unexpected. No matter how many people might try to figure it out, the time of judgment will come unpredictably. Again, those who aren’t ready won’t have time to get ready, because it will be too late.

What does this mean for us? That’s the big question. Should we start getting ready now? Should we stop everything else so that we can spend all our time preparing? Here’s the bad news: none of us are able to prepare ourselves to meet God. We can’t. We are on the wrong side of righteousness. Here’s how God described the condition of sinful mankind before the flood: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (Gen. 6:5).”  Here’s how God describes the condition of sinful mankind after the flood: “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (Rom. 8:7-8).”  Eerily similar, don’t you think? Both Scriptures describe a world full of people ripe for judgment. The really bad news is that those words from both Old and New Testament are fitting words of God’s condemnation on the hearts and minds we were all born with.

“But we’ve changed!” we might say. As we mature, we might learn to hide our sinful hearts better and keep everyone else from seeing them. We learn to think before we speak, we act differently in public (at school or at work) than we might in the privacy of our homes, and we figure out how to get along with people rather than just do whatever we feel like. But God isn’t merely going to judge our public lives; he is going to judge our hearts—the same sinful hearts that are so often angry, jealous, impure, selfish and rude—at times downright filthy—the hearts that far too often reveal themselves despite our efforts to hide.  We might hide our hearts from people, but we can’t change them, and in the end, we can’t hide them from God. We have no way to get ready for judgment—and if we can’t get ready, we certainly cannot stay ready for Jesus’ return.

But what we can’t do, God did for us when he sent his Son. Isn’t that the whole message of our entire faith? Once again, what we cannot do, God did for us by sending his Son. We couldn’t keep God’s law, but Jesus did for us. We couldn’t pay for our sins, but Jesus paid for the sins of the world on the cross and proved it by his resurrection. We couldn’t change our hearts, but he sent his Holy Spirit to give us new life at our baptism in a flood of forgiveness, a new heart clothed in Christ, and the power to fight against temptation ever since. We couldn’t erase our past, but God promises us an eternal future all thanks to his undeserved love for us in Christ. We can’t make ourselves ready for Jesus’ return. But God has prepared us, and he continues to strengthen our faith through his Word and through his Holy Supper.

This, friends, is the beauty of the Advent season—how it all fits together. It’s the time of year when we are getting ready for Christmas, at the same time as we are growing in readiness for Christ’s return. Today Jesus encourages us not to get ready, but to stay ready. Not to start watching for him, but to keep watching. How do we stay ready? By doing what God has prepared for us here and now: gathering around God’s Word, confessing our sins, and rejoicing in our forgiveness, encouraging one another as we come to the Lord’s table and proclaim his death until he comes.

Our readiness doesn’t only depend on being here in church, though. We take these blessings with us as we go, and we put them to work in our lives. As we prepare our homes for Christmas, let’s keep our hearts ready for his return. Let every Christmas tree serve as an evergreen arrow up, reminding us to keep our focus heavenward, aimed at the eternal life that is already ours. Let every gift remind us of God’s most precious gift to us in his Son. Let every Christmas treat remind us how sweet and satisfying it is to know that God keeps every promise he makes. Let every task on our lists remind us that Jesus has completed his work of redemption for the world, and that includes you and me.

And let every day counting down on the calendar remind us that Christmas may not come if Jesus comes back first. We rest in readiness even as we are active and watchful for his return. We are fully confident that God’s timing may be unexpected, but it will be perfect, just like everything else he does. And we use the time we have, seeking to know him better, because we know him best in Christ. May God carry us through this Advent season in a spirit of repentance, rejoicing, readiness, and renewal, all for the glory of Jesus’ saving name. AMEN.