Isaiah 2:1-5

Matthew 24:36-44

I really don’t want to spend too much time worrying about the apocalyptic language Jesus uses here, but it seems like it matters. Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of preparation for Christ’s coming. And the Christian church has always been preparing, not so much for Christmas as for a future coming of Christ. The “second coming” Jesus is talking about in this challenging passage from Matthew. So there I’ve lost probably 90% of you, and if I do this right, I’ll lose the other 10% before I’m done. Happy Holidays? As Russell Rathbun put it: “Nothing raises my holiday spirits like the anticipated threat of Jesus kidnapping someone at work and then breaking into my house and robbing me. And the fun part is, it will all be a surprise! Yeah.”

The trouble is, Jesus really says this in Matthew. We can always get historical-critical and argue that Jesus wouldn’t have said such a thing, or that he’s just off-base here, but Matthew at least means something important by it. The coming of Christ will be like the flood in Noah’s time, when people were going about their daily tasks, and suddenly they were swept away.

This time around, there will be two different people, side by side, doing the same work, and one will be swept away while the other will remain to see Christ. Yikes. Now, we need a quick aside here: I’m not sure that Jesus is referring to a singular historical event that will take (or has taken) place. Matthew may have thought so, Jesus himself may have thought so, but it doesn’t look like that was necessarily God’s plan. I also don’t think that God’s plans necessarily invalidate what Jesus is saying. So. Back to the sermon.

Two people, side by side, apparently more or less identical, and Jesus’ coming strikes them very differently. Jesus tells us to watch out, literally to be awake, because he’s not coming at a time (or, perhaps, in a way) that we can predict. Stay awake or you’ll miss this. And that’s what happens to the one in each of these pairs: they miss the coming of Christ. You could say they sleep through it, or they’re not looking, or they’re just too occupied with one set of concerns that they don’t notice the great transformation that Jesus brings about. They miss something that happens right in front of them. They get “swept away,” because they were never really there to begin with.

It’s like when David and Marcia’s holiday guests arrived on Thursday. They had hurried home after work on Wednesday, driving as fast as they could in the snow, to get everything ready. David vacuumed and dusted while Marcia mashed the potatoes and put the stuffing together; Marcia moved on to clean the bathrooms while David took care of the pies (that’s his specialty). They spruced things up, decorated, made the guest beds, and shoveled and shoveled. They worked all night and into the next morning. Marcia put the turkey in the oven, set the timer, and they laid down for a nap. Well, they woke up this morning to find a pile of dirty dishes and a note on the dining room table: “Thanks for everything. I hope you can join us next year.” They’d slept through the whole event! Their guests came, and they missed it.

That’s how it was for those people Jesus talked about: God’s Anointed One arrived in the world like a flood, pervasive and inexorable, and they didn’t necessarily see it. The guests arrived, regardless of how prepared their hosts were, and David and Marcia weren’t truly there to welcome them. The realm of heaven, the reality of God’s righteous peace, will show up – does show up – in the world, and it’s crucial that we remain awake and get on board with it.

Awake to what? On board with what? The Christ, descending from heaven? “Rank on rank the six-winged seraphs” and all that jazz? Yes, but we know what we know about that. The Church from the beginning has proclaimed that Christ, who died and was raised from death, would yet come again. But the Church has always also proclaimed that this coming isn’t what we expect it to be. Christ is coming, but just like the first time, he’s coming in the last place we’d look for God’s presence. Jesus was born in a barn, anonymous and unimportant, because that’s the last place we’d think to seek the Judge and Ruler of the universe. He comes back in the marginalized and the insignificant, the poor, hungry, and homeless, because it’s by looking there that we come awake to God’s reality, heaven in the stuff of earth.

So I think that’s what Jesus means when he talks about staying awake. There’s a reality of love, peace, and righteousness that can exist, that does exist, in the world around us, if only we can be aware of it. If only we open a space for the realm of heaven to take root in our lives. Jesus is coming, and we’re invited to be here for it. Truly here. Aware and open to the revelation of God in our lives and our world. Intent on letting our lives bless the lives around us. Awake and alive to the fulfillment of God’s promise for all people in Jesus’ love.

So with the Church throughout ages we haven’t known, we affirm our faith. The words are printed in your bulletin, but the meaning is something we can only live. “This is the mystery of our faith: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.