|Text: Matthew 24:36-44
"No one knows, however, when that day and hour will comeóneither the angels in heaven nor the Son; the Father alone knows. The coming of the Son of Man will be like what happened in the time of Noah. In the days before the flood people ate and drank, men and women married, up to the very day Noah went into the boat; yet they did not realize what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man comes. At that time two men will be working in a field: one will be taken away, the other will be left behind. Two women will be at a mill grinding meal: one will be taken away, the other will be left behind. Watch out, then, because you do not know what day your Lord will come. If the owner of a house knew the time when the thief would come, you can be sure that he would stay awake and not let the thief break into his house. So then, you also must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him."
Some time ago, the National Geographic showed through colour photos and drawings the swift and terrible destruction that wiped out the Roman Cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in A.D. 79. The explosion of Mount Vesuvius was so sudden, the residents were killed while going about their routine daily tasks: men and women were at the market selling and buying, the rich in their luxurious baths, slaves at work and soldiers standing guard. They died amid volcanic ash and superheated gasses. Even family pets suffered the same quick and final fate. It takes little imagination to picture the panic of that terrible day.
The saddest part is that these people didnít have to die. Scientists confirm what ancient Roman writers record Ė weeks of rumblings and shakings preceded the actual explosion. Even an ominous plume of smoke was clearly visible from the mountain days before the eruption. If only they had been able to read and respond to the warning that Mt Vesuvius gave. People went about shopping, making money, enjoying a holiday and getting a job ignoring the signs that destruction was about to rain down on them.
It was like that in Noahís time. The people ignored what Noah was saying about God's anger because of the wickedness that had taken control of the world. They disregarded Noahís warning about a flood. They took no notice of the huge boat that the old man and his sons were building. Like the people of Pompeii, they went on making business deals, eating and drinking, reading the daily paper, washing dishes, going to work, hanging out the washing, mowing the lawn, buying things to fill their homes. They had disregarded the signs and they were caught unprepared when the "vast body of water beneath the earth burst open, all the floodgates of the sky opened and rain fell on the earth for forty days and nights" (Genesis 7:11). And like the people of Pompeii who perished under the ash and lava of Mt Vesuvius, the people of Noahís day perished in the flood because they ignored the signs.
If you are driving along and you notice one of the red lights glowing on your dashboard, especially the one with the oil can symbol on it, you would be a fool to keep on driving and to ignore the warning. Likewise, it would be foolish to ignore a warning that a burglar was going to break into your house that night. You would take extra measures to protect your property. And since you donít know exactly when the burglar will try to break in, it would be wise to be on guard at all times.
By now, I would guess that you have understood what Jesus is talking about in todayís Gospel reading. Simply he is saying, "Be ready!" The signs are there - he is coming back. When exactly that will be we donít know, but be assured he will return. Jesus concludes saying, "So then, you also must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him" (Matt 24:44).
We know that the Christians of the early church, perhaps at the time when Matthew was writing his gospel, expected Jesus to return during their lifetime. They expected Jesus to return at any moment, raise the dead and establish his kingdom. But 2,000 years have now gone by and still no sign of Jesus on the horizon. It follows then that since he is taking so long to come back we can relax because he wonít appear for another 2,000 years. Itís too easy for us to be really casual about Christís return and fail to take it seriously. In fact, most people only think of Christís return once a year on the first couple of Sundays in Advent.
But the fact that so much time has gone by and Christ hasnít returned ought to make us even more watchful and prepared for his Second Coming. Like the people of Pompeii, the signs are clear. To ignore them is folly. Paul encouraged his readers saying, "The time has come for you to wake up from your sleep. For the moment when we will be saved is closer now than it was when we first believed. The night is nearly over, day is almost here" (Rom 13:11,12). Again and again throughout the New Testament, we are urged to be ready for Jesusí return. He will come back and we need to be ready. His return might be sooner than we expect and if we arenít ready then his coming will catch us out.
A fable is told about three apprentice devils who were talking with Satan about their plans to destroy all of humanity. The first apprentice suggested that they would succeed by telling people there was no God. Satan rejected that suggestion because he realized that most people believed in God or at least a "higher power" and would not be convinced otherwise.
The second apprentice suggested they could succeed by telling people that sin and evil are okay, but Satan rejected this suggestion too because he knew that most people could not be convinced that there is nothing wrong with sin.
Finally, the third apprentice said, "Let us destroy all of humanity by telling them there is no hurry!" The fable concludes that Satan loved that suggestion because he knew that people would believe there was no hurry, and they would destroyed by the thousands.
There is some truth in this fable. Jesus tells us that many people will not be ready for his return. Two men are working side by side, one is ready the other is not. Two women shopping in the supermarket, one is ready the other is not. If Christ was to come back this afternoon, I hate to think of how many would be unprepared and how many would be condemned and perish because they ignored the signs Ė a situation not unlike the time of Noah, or the city of Pompeii.
All of us prepared ourselves to come to this service this morning, if we didnít, we would all be sitting here in our pyjamas, hair uncombed, barefoot Ė not a pretty sight. We all know how to prepare ourselves for worship, but how do we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ?
The New Testament tells us that the whole of
life is a preparation for the coming of Jesus. Getting ready starts with what
God does for us.
He adopts us into his family at our baptism.
He gives us faith and the Holy Spirit.
He calls us to turn away from our sinful ways and harmful attitudes and behaviour.
He points us to the cross and assures us that we are his forgiven children.
He speaks to us through his Word and reminds us of his love for us.
But for all that God does for us, our sinful
nature still takes control of our lives,
we make bad decisions,
the choices we make are not always in line with what God wants us to do,
we forget who we are Ė God's children Ė and say, do and think things that we know are opposite to the way God wants us to live.
And so we find Peter telling us, "Your
lives should be holy and dedicated to God as you wait for the Day of the GodÖ.
Do your best to be pure and faultless in God's sight and to be at peace with
him" (2 Peter 3:11,14).
Paul tells us in todayís reading from Romans, "The night is nearly over, day is almost here. Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light. Let us conduct ourselves properly, as people who live in the light of day." He encourages us to let Jesus be as close to us as the clothes we wear, let our Spirit-given faith take control of our lives and not give into our sin and our selfish desires (Rom 13:12-14).
Living in an awareness that Christ could return at any moment urges us to get our priorities right. We may not have the rest of our life to get things straightened out. We may not have all years ahead of us that we think we have to make time for Christ in our lives. The Advent season reminds us that the hour of Christís return might be sooner than we think. A "Loose-eran" couple once told me, "We really want to come to church but we just donít have the time Ė on a weekend there is the shopping to be done, the washing and the gardening and when we get a moment we just want to put our feet up. You see, pastor, we just donít have the time." Thatís fine, but what will happen when time runs out. How prepared will they be for the return of Christ?
The message for us all is "watch out" and have another look at the god you are worshipping. Where do your true loyalties lie? What is the most important thing or person in your life? How much emphasis do you put on material things? Don't be fooled by a quick answer - Satan loves us to brush aside important questions with a quick answer. Satan does not want us to be prepared for the coming of Christ. He wants us to love the things of this life more than anything else.
A part of "being ready" for Christís return is to get straight what are the important things of this life and what are not. We all have running battles convincing ourselves that this or that is essential when itís not. We all have to battle against those things, including family, sport, hobbies, work, leisure activities that somehow crowd out Jesus from our lives. We battle against those things and people that crowd our lives with so much that we donít have room to read his Word or pray, or join with our fellow Christian and worship together thus weakening Ė slowly crushing our relationship with God.
Christ will return whether in six months, six
decades, or six hundred years. Advent reminds us to regard these days as the
last days and to be constantly ready, waiting for his return, waiting as if this
day is our last.
Advent reminds us that our whole life ought to be a time of preparing for his return. God is at work in us giving us faith, forgiveness and hope, urging us to work for the Lord as if this was going to be the last opportunity to carry out his work.
With peace, and joy, and love, come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd December, 2001