SCRIPTURE: Matthew 24:36-44
"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
SERMON – A New Promise
You may have heard me tell this story before. One night when my daughter Heidi was four years old, I knelt to tuck her into bed. She put her arms around me and whispered, “Mommy?” Settling back onto my heels, I listened as my daughter told me that there would be a beautiful rainbow in the morning. “Will there?” I asked, and she nodded, convinced that she knew the truth. In the morning, there would be a rainbow. When the sun went down that night, the skies were clear. There wasn’t going to be a rainbow, but I didn’t tell Heidi that. I leaned over her again, kissed her forehead, told her I loved her, and went out into the rest of my evening.
Isn’t that the way it is so often? We are sure we know what’s going to happen or not happen, based on our experiences and our own expectations. We go through the year doing what’s required of us; working at our jobs, going to school, cooking dinner, taking the kids to the doctor, walking the pets, watering the garden. We go to our places of worship and we serve in the places we feel called to serve. Like the people in the days of Noah, we just go about our business. In other words, we are busy doing what we always do, expecting things to go along as they always have. Yet, sometimes, things don’t work out the way we expect them to. Sometimes when things go wrong, we’re blindsided and have no time to prepare.
That’s the kind of year my family and I were having the year of Heidi’s rainbow. It was a year of blindsides. Another family member was in need of our help, most of the time in the middle of the night. When I was called upon to help, I needed to wake up the children and load them, blankets, diaper bag, water bottles and baby bottles into the car in order to drive to wherever my relative happened to be at the time. My oldest daughter was eight and my son wasn’t even a year old yet. I worked full time, but finances were still a struggle. I was tired. It was a hard year.
Every year is a hard year in some way or another. This year has been tough on a lot of people, hasn’t it? Many of us are unemployed or underemployed. Some of us have seen children move away or taken on more responsibilities by moving adult children or parents into our homes. There have been tornadoes in places that don’t often get tornadoes in months that rarely see such violent weather patterns. In Detroit, a 19 year old woman was shot in the face as she sought help after being injured in a car accident. On Interstate 10 here in Arizona, a dust storm caused a 19-car pile-up, killing three. A typhoon hit the Philippines and the death toll is still rising. As the year draws to a close, we are in need of a good word.
We all need to be reminded that no matter how hard life is we are loved. God loves us. For Christians, the greatest sign of that love is the gift God gave us in Jesus Christ. Last week, someone reminded us that today is the first Sunday in Advent. The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus,” to arrive. We are beginning to look forward to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. We were also reminded that last Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, was the last Sunday in the Christian year. Sometimes I think that we are so surrounded by the sound of today’s world – news, advertisements, television shows – that we are sometimes out of touch with the rhythms of the ancient ways out of which many of our celebrations were born. We don’t think of our lives as part of a great cycle that repeats itself as an eternal reminder of promise and hope.
In the early days of Christianity, the people still lived close to the land. They were reminded of the cycles of birth, life, and death as the wheel of the year turned. The celebrations of the Christian year reminded them that God knows the troubles they encountered in a harsh life. And so it is with us. Each year, we newly enter a cycle that commemorates the life of Christ, reminding us that there is no end to the hope we find in him. As we enter into Advent, we begin to remember that gift, perhaps more strongly than we are able to feel it on most days throughout the year. Even through the hustle and bustle of the commercial holiday that starts well before the first Sunday in Advent, we know that we are beginning to prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Savior.
Jesus said that we must be ready, for he will return in a time we cannot predict. When that happens, we don’t know what to expect. I think the descriptions of people disappearing are stark illustrations of the element of surprise. During most of the year, we hardly remember to be prepared. However, at Advent, we begin to look for little surprises. We can begin to feel the promise being born within our hearts. If we allow ourselves a little time to stop and take a look into our hearts, we will realize that promise. If we take a little time to give thanks that we have the opportunity to see another Christmas, we might find that there are all sorts of new possibilities in our lives.
Christmas does not begin on Christmas Eve, and it is not over at the end of the day. Christmas is a season. It begins at Advent and it ends…well, never really. Though the earthly celebrations of the birth of Jesus come to an end, Christmas never ends, for Christ is born anew in our hearts with each affirmation of our baptism, each renewal of our vows of church membership, each time we partake of the Eucharist. No matter which Christian denomination we are a part of, each Sunday sunrise, we celebrate Christ’s mass.
When I opened the door in the morning after Heidi told me about a rainbow, I was heading into a busy day. If it had not been for some random sound off in the distance, drawing my attention heaven-ward, I might not have looked up. When I did, I was stunned. There it was – Heidi’s rainbow, full and bright, colors dancing in the soft sunrise! Stepping out the door, little Heidi reached for my hand, and said, “See? It’s a promise from God.”
How right Heidi was! In Genesis 9, we read “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth….I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” As I reflect on Heidi’s words, “See? It’s a promise from God,” I realize that the birth of Christ is a new promise – the promise of eternal life. Who knew what vistas would open before me? Advent is like that.
As we enter into this new Advent, may we each welcome Christ with both humility and hope.
Let us pray: O Heavenly Creator let me stop in this moment to remember the promise you have given to us in Christ. Help me to see the light before me, and to make the choices that will bring me to a new life in You. Amen