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Sermon — November 27, 2022
First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44
Good morning church!
Greetings to you this First Sunday of Advent,
the first Sunday of the liturgical year in the church—
I know some of you are church calendar nerds like me,
and appreciate that acknowledgement!
If you’ve ever been driving on I-95
going either North or South through New Jersey,
you’ve probably noticed those billboards:
“Where will you spend eternity? avoidsatan.com”
“Jesus: When you accept Him you accept Me…God”
or my personal favorite:
“Where are you going? Heaven, or hell?”
And on one side of that billboard there are pretty clouds,
and on the other side there are bright flames.
All of this is to say,
these billboards are almost threatening in their nature,
they could scare folks into calling the number on the billboard.
So one time while I was driving I did, in fact, call the number,
and the people on the other line
were actually quite pleasant,
and while they were there to offer comfort to people in need
and resources to those who where seeking recovery for addiction,
there was this preoccupation—almost obsession—
with the fact that, according to them,
Jesus was coming back…real soon,
and not in a way that was going to be fun for most of us.
Maybe you remember, that back in 2012,
there were predictions that the world was going to end.
And maybe you remember that,
like every prediction of the end of the world before that one,
it was wrong.
If you don’t remember, that’s okay, we’re still here—it didn’t happen.
But on November 24, 2012,
one of the dates that the world was “supposed to” end,
I was on my way up to Emanuel Lutheran Church in Pleasantville
for the fall board meeting
of Pinecrest Lutheran Leadership Ministries,
a youth and young adult ministry in our synod.
On the whole car ride up, the radio was playing songs like,
“It’s The End of The World As We Know It,” and
“I’ll Stop the World and Melt With You.”
And Pastor Paul Egensteiner, who is now our bishop,
but at the time was the pastor at Emanuel
and the director of Pinecrest,
he began our meeting by simply saying,
“well…we’re still here.”
Because the world had not yet ended.
Jesus tells us, “About that day and hour no one knows,
neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
And in a way, that’s comforting;
that we don’t know when things will end,
because anyone claiming to is wrong.
But on the other hand, it’s quite terrifying;
that we don’t know when things will end,
so it might just…happen.
Except Jesus is not one who tends to be running around
and scaring people.
Jesus is not like those billboards on I-90,
or doomsday predictors that spring up ever now and again,
scaring folks into submission or some sort of false belief
just to say he gained some followers.
No, Jesus brings good news.
Has anyone ever read the book series, “Left Behind,”
or watched the movie series?
If you have, I’m so sorry. If you haven’t, don’t!
The Left Behind series, like those billboards on I-95,
are books and movies that claim some sort of truth,
but really scare folks into being afraid of the rapture,
or this idea that Jesus is going to wisk people away,
like some UFO in a sci-fi movie,
and leave the rest of everyone else to suffer.
Except that can’t be further from what Jesus is saying right here,
but the Left Behind series has infiltrated
so much of Christian culture
that some people are scared
into believing that version of the story
instead of the version actually here in the book.
Jesus uses the story of Noah and the ark as an allegory,
saying just like the not-so-good parts of the world
were washed away, that’s what it will be like
when God redeems the world.
And no one will know when it happens,
mainly because it’s happening all the time:
when people are in the field working;
when people are grinding meal;
or how about when people are doing dishes,
or when people are driving their car.
It could be at any moment
that God is washing away those parts of us
that are less-than desirable or warm or kind,
and putting a new spirit in us with which to love our neighbor.
It could be every moment, each day,
when God is bringing an end to the sin that holds us captive.
For me, it’s a lot of moments where I need reminding
of a God who so loved me and loves those around me
that changes my heart to try and love the same way.
Luther calls this a daily dying and rising,
where the part of us that is curved in on itself
is opened up to share the love we receive from God
with our neighbor.
Or even as Jesus suggests with that Noah allegory,
a daily washing,
where each day our baptism takes hold of us
and washes away the not-so-good parts,
just like in that story of Noah’s ark,
where the good parts of ourselves are left to live.
That sounds much more like the words of Jesus that we’re used to
than a billboard on the side of the road
causing us to fear some sort of retribution or punishment
for not getting things right all the time.
When we put God’s starting point at a place of grace,
we’re able to paint a very different picture of Jesus’ words,
even when the words he says sound way out there at first.
With grace as a starting point, or even a source code of how God operates
(as some people have put it),
the good news practically unravels to bring us home again.
All of that grace is what offers us hope this Advent season.
It’s what Jesus doesn’t want us to miss when he says,
Again, oftentimes this “keep awake” language
has been understood as a semi-threatening,
make sure you’re paying attention, or else,
but that, too, couldn’t be farther from what Jesus means.
Jesus beckons us to stay awake
so that we don’t miss what God is up to in our midst:
stay awake, so we might be aware what God is doing for us;
keep awake, because it’s in darkness
that God tends to begin good work;
wake up, because God it at work
and you’re not going to want to miss it.
This Advent, I invite you into an awareness of how God shows up:
in this place, in this world, in your life.
Where is the Advent, the arrival of God, the showing up of the Holy Spirit
happening in your life?
What newness is God creating?
What ending is happening to make way for beginnings?
Wake from sleep!
Emmanuel—God with us—shall come to you, dear people.