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Watch for the Light of Hope

Matthew 24:36-44

But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that. At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know.


November 26-27, 2016
First Weekend of Advent
Matthew 24:36-44
“Watch for the Light of Hope”

The first Sunday of Advent begins a New Year on the church calendar. For us in this part of the world, this Sunday typically falls on what we call Thanksgiving weekend. This beginning to the church year also marks the rush of the holiday season. It is officially ‘countdown’ time to what many merchants and retailers hope will be the most wonderful time of the year.
The tick-tock of passing time and the urgency in these ‘count-down’ days is supposed to induce us into a buying panic and jump-start our frenzied consumerism.

The hype of the media is right about one thing…time is shorter than we think and we are in a countdown to Christmas that has its own urgency attached to it…It is called “The Season of Advent.”
Instead of being a time of consumer manic panic, Advent is a time of preparation, expectation, and waiting for the gift of God’s miraculous presence that is wrapped as hope for the world. We call this presence of hope Emmanuel, which means God with us.

(Scripture)

On this first Sunday of Advent, we begin our time of hopeful waiting, hopeful preparation, and hopeful expectation. Yet, we all know and feel the temptation to jump ahead to Christmas. But Advent won’t let us do that.
The season of Advent has a different agenda. Today we have a Word of God that calls us to a larger vision; a vision that calls us to keep awake to Christ coming among us…to God breaking into our midst again.

The writer of Matthew’s gospel gives us a fitting text for the first weekend/Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new church year. “Therefore, stay Alert!” the Scripture says, “You don’t know what day the Lord is coming.”
Even though we cannot know the day or the hour of Christ’s coming, we must be ready; we must be alert.

Our Gospel Scripture comes from a time and from among a people who had been waiting for the Messiah and they were growing impatient in waiting. Our scripture today comes from among those Gospel stories of Jesus preparing his followers for his death; and this passage comes in the midst of a long speech Jesus is giving to his followers.

And when we take those stories as a whole, Jesus indicated that he would be back soon. So after his death, the first Christians expected that soon meant very soon and didn’t make any long range plans. They put all their energy into preparing for his return.

Then time started passing…a decade here, a decade there, then another. Those who had actually known Jesus were dying off and you know how that goes…pretty soon stories are being told by people who knew people, who knew people, who knew Jesus.

And then finally someone said, “You know we should really write these things down,” and the gospels started to take shape.

The best guess is that the Gospel of Matthew was written some 40 years after Jesus’ death…a lot of time had passed…a lot of waiting and hoping for Christ’s return.

The best the gospel writer of Matthew could do was say Jesus is coming back, but only God knows when.

So the Scriptures tell us to keep awake and wait with hope…to once again celebrate the birth of the Christ child as Emmanuel.

In some circles, a lot of doom and gloom is read into this Gospel text and best-selling books have appeared on fiction and nonfiction shelves, offering urgent theories or descriptions of the return of Christ.

And there is urgency in our Scripture today…but it is not the urgency of end of the world doom and gloom. Jesus simply invites us to have urgency about living as aware and prepared followers of Christ.

And as followers of Christ, we are called to be people of hope. The possibilities of hope are endless…eternal, really…hope never runs out or expires…for anyone.

And that is the hardest thing sometimes to believe or to convince others to believe. But if others see the light of hope in you and me and us, they have a better chance of catching a glimpse of the possibility of hope for themselves.

Author Derek Maul tells an Advent story that offers a sense of the hope that this season of waiting and preparing and expecting can offer.

He says on the first Sunday of Advent, his family tradition is to place the olive-wood Nativity display on the floor under the Christmas tree with the stars and angels hovering overhead on the lower branches.

He remembers one year soon after the Nativity had been arranged, a terrible disaster befell the tranquil scene. Every last wise man vanished, along with their camels. Even the baby Jesus ended up missing. Soon the wise men were found all together in a group at the far end of the house, but Jesus was still unaccounted for.

The wise men were rescued and put back in the display under the tree.

He says they soon disappeared again…they were put back again; then disappeared and were put back again; and on this went for several days.

He says about the fifth day that this happened, he was about to offer a firm lecture to his two pre-school children, who were suspected of the caper, when his wife pointed out the interesting fact that the little group of wise men was actually making progress and suggested leaving things alone to see what would happen.

He agreed to leave well enough alone and consequently, he says, they were treated to the most amazing stunt ever pulled off by two children with a collective age of less than seven.

Every day they woke to find the three wise figurines a few feet closer to their destination. By the third week of Advent they’d all made it to the dining room, traveling with caution, close to the table legs or under a chair.

When they left for church on Christmas Eve, the group was positioned just to the east of the tree, staring at the pile of brightly colored gifts. Then, miraculously by the time they returned from church the entire scene was somehow complete. And only God knows how the children pulled it off; Jesus himself was even back in the manger.

Derek Maul says, “How a four-year-old boy could have stashed such a treasure so carefully and for so long I still can’t say. How did he keep his secret, and how did he manage to get his two-and-a-half-year-old sister to cooperate? It remains a mystery to this day.”

These are the wonderful kind of mysteries that Advent holds; and is an example of the waiting and preparation and expectation of the Advent season. It is also a reminder that the coming of Christ is an interactive celebration that calls for awareness and abiding hope and joy in the journey.

There is a difference between preparing for the season of Christmas and preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ…there is a difference between making space in our living room for the Christmas tree, and clearing the clutter of our lives to make room and space for God’s presence.

And isn’t it amazing that every year, right when everything around us is screaming to speed up because we are running short on time; that the Advent Scriptures are telling us to slow down, wait, clear the clutter of our hearts and minds and remember and rehearse what is really important.

When we are living in such a way that we are ready for Christ wherever and however we may find him; and when our hope is grounded and centered in God; then we will be better able to trust in the future without trying to control it.

In the season of Advent, we begin to realize that this baby we are waiting for really will change everything as the person of Jesus the Christ, who promised to come always to be both with us and for us.

As, God came among us as the Christ child, Christ is still among us and each day we have the hope of seeing Christ…in the ordinary places, and the difficult places; as well as the glorious places. Advent declares that hope is still possible; and hope allows glimmers of light to make their way to us, even when we stand in darkness.

So as we begin this journey through Advent, I invite you to cling to the hope that is within you, despite the disappointment, the frustration, the grief, or the illness that may be within you or around you.

As followers of Christ, let’s remember that Advent marks the hope and possibility of something new. So, let’s watch for the signs of hope and the light of hope as the countdown continues.

May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.
Amen