It’s Advent! I’ve been waiting for it for a while. Waiting for Advent — what a funny concept. Advent is all about waiting — waiting for Christmas to come with its annual celebration of our Savior’s birth, waiting for His return at the end of time. The second is actually more the focus of Advent, not so much the first. We (and the retailers who make their living off us) usually think ahead to Christmas, but for us who live after Christ has taken on human flesh and lived, died, and rose again, His second coming is eminently more practical as a focus. I tried to bring that out in the sermon.
Whichever way a person cares to go about it, the end of one church year and the start of another always seem to run bleed over into one another. There’s a definite swing towards the end of the church year where the focus turns to Christ’s return, and that focus continues right on into Advent. Some people bemoan this and offer various fixes for it (some more successful than others), but I think that’s by design. We should always be watching for Christ’s return. If you read the New Testament, they expected Him to return on any day. We need to be reminded of Christ’s return because our flesh and the influence of the world (its gravity, if you will) conspire to pull us away from Him. It’s good to be reminded, so we stay on track. The Epistle from this past Sunday gave us similar direction. May Jesus bless your Advent anticipation!
“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.
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.” (matthew 24.37-44 niv)
I don’t know too many people who are good with deadlines. I’m sure you exist, and if you’re out there, congratulations, but for the rest of us, deadlines are usually no fun. Even the word itself, deadline, isn’t all that encouraging. School kids, harried workers, and distracted spouses all wish they could just get it over with. A lot of times we put things off and put them off, and then finally when the deadline is upon us, we rush through it. Just get it done. That’s when we know when the deadline is. Some deadlines we don’t know when they’re coming – just that they are coming. The day of a baby’s birth is like that. So is the day of a person’s death. Sooner or later, it’s coming, but you just don’t know when. In our gospel for today, Jesus tells us about the biggest deadline imaginable – the day of His return. He hasn’t told us the day or the hour, but we know that it is coming. We need to be ready so we are not put to shame on the day our Lord visits us. Some deadlines come at a certain time, so you can get ready, but Jesus’ return is still coming, whether you’re Ready or Not.
To help us understand what the day of His coming will be like, Jesus makes a comparison for us: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Jesus’ coming is like the days of Noah in several ways. In the days of Noah, things were just business as usual. They did the things they normally did every day, like eating and drinking. They did the special things that come along only a few times in a lifetime, like getting married or having their children get married. But all their focus was only on this life. All they thought about was life in this world. They neither knew God nor acknowledged Him. They didn’t think they needed Him, if they thought about Him at all.
It’s not like God never told them what was going to happen. He sent Noah, a preacher of righteousness as St. Peter calls him, to warn them. Noah told them, over and over, what God’s will was. They heard God’s warnings to repent – they knew what God wanted from them. And, Noah built the ark! That was another witness to them that something was coming. This went on for a hundred and twenty years. And what did they do with the message of judgment? They ignored it. They showed careless disregard for God’s urgent warnings. “What’s Noah talking about now? Ah, just the same thing again. Forget about it.” They shrugged and went on their way. In the blindness of their hearts, they went on just like they always had – never caring about God, never thinking about Him or what He wanted. Then the awful judgment finally came, the rain began to fall, and too late they saw that God had closed the door to the ark and they were shut outside. Nobody escaped that judgment. Their time was up.
Have you looked at the world lately? People are still living only for themselves today. They pay God no mind. They figure they don’t need Him to get along, if they even think of Him at all. God’s warnings still ring out clear and strong through His Word. Everybody gets to hear. It’s not a secret – God has designed it so that people will hear. They know what He wants from them. And what do they do? They ignore Him. They go right on sinning, right on rushing on into sin after sin, and never stopping to consider their final end. Maybe we get sucked into following that mindset. After all, there aren’t any new spectacular signs of Jesus’ coming – just the same ones that have been there since the days of the apostles. We’re all busy with everyday things. We’ve all got a lot going on, and it’s about to get busier, with Christmas coming. It’s easy to push God into the background – not to consider the state of your soul on a regular basis – not to give heed to His warnings and encouragements even when you’re in His house.
That’s why we need Advent. Advent is usually thought of as helping us prepare for Christmas, which is one of its purposes, but it’s not the main purpose. Advent is get us ready for Christ’s coming. Jesus came as a baby in Bethlehem, but He won’t ever do that again. That was a one-time event. Jesus still comes to us now. He comes in His Word and Sacraments. We are experiencing one of Jesus’ comings, His advents, here today as we hear His Word. Jesus will come again. He will reveal Himself on the day He visits us, when He comes to judge the world with justice and the peoples with equity. One of the purposes of Advent – a big purpose – is to look ahead to the day Christ will come at the end of time. Advent helps us be ready for the day that our text describes, the coming of the Son of Man.
So what will you be doing on the day He comes? When the last trumpet sounds and Christ appears in the clouds, what will you be doing? Will you be behaving decently, as St. Paul describes for us in our second lesson today? Will you be waiting and watching for Christ with joy and longing, occupying yourself with good deeds as you wait for Him? Or will you be spiritually asleep – apathetic – absorbed in the cares and pleasures of this world? Eating a little too much, drinking a little too much, gravitating toward the pleasures of the flesh instead of what delights your new man? Reaching for what gratifies the sinful nature, instead of what helps you watch for Christ? What will you be doing when He comes back? Will you be living to please Him, or to please yourself? Heaven forbid that we be caught off guard – not after so many clear warnings, not after we’ve heard the clear words of Jesus.
So how do we prepare? How do we get ready for the coming of the Son of Man? First, search your heart and confess everything wrong you find there. Before you go to bed at night, take a moment and think through your day. What sins did I commit today? What should I have done that I didn’t do? Then confess those things to Christ and know that you have His forgiveness because you are His child. Daily repentance and turning in faith to Christ, daily revisiting your baptism – that’s part of being prepared.
Make faithful use of His means of grace – what He’s given you to build and strengthen your faith. Faith in Christ will be the crucial difference when He returns. That’s the difference between those who are taken and those who are left that Jesus speaks about. Some people imagine that there’s going to be a rapture, where only believers will be taken out of this world and everybody else will be left. They imagine all sorts of lurid scenes – cars without drivers, planes without pilots. There’s even a bumper sticker that reads, “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” That’s dumb for a couple of reasons. First, how do you know that you’re going to be part of the rapture, since it isn’t even found in the Bible? Second, the Bible does not teach a rapture in any of the forms it’s commonly taught in America today. The closest it gets is in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, where St. Paul says, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” We will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air, but that’s part of the one final judgment at the end of time. Everybody’s chance to repent is over at that point. We need to remember all of what Scripture teaches about Jesus’ final coming. There is only one judgment for all people, and there is no such thing as the rapture. People misuse this verse when they use it to teach any sort of rapture. Doesn’t exist.
What this verse is actually saying is that Jesus will gather up those who are His own, and after He pronounces us innocent because of our faith in Him we will be taken to heaven to live with Him forever. That’s why our faith is so crucial! We know that we will stand or fall in that day based on our faith, and nobody knows when that day will be. We need to be ready! We know why we’re getting ready, too. We already know where we stand with God. Through faith in Jesus, we are justified. We are innocent because of the work of His Son. We belong to Him. Jesus’ coming won’t be for our judgment – He’s coming to bring us home. Our redemption is drawing nigh! He’s coming to deliver us from this world of sin and death, and to give us better things – an eternal inheritance in heaven. Wherever we are when He returns, no matter the day or the hour, we know that He will call us to Himself and claim us as His own before the eyes of all the world. Then we will be paid back for all we’ve suffered here, and everything that hurts us or causes us pain will be gone. An eternity of endless day in the shining glory of heaven will then begin. So we look forward to Jesus’ coming, even if we don’t know when it is. Come, Lord Jesus – Your people are waiting for you! Amen.