44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Dear Friends in Christ
Our sermon series on these four weekends of Advent is titled, “Waiting for Jesus.” Today – Waiting for Jesus as in the days of Noah, next Sunday- waiting for Jesus as in the days of John the Baptist, the next Sunday – Waiting for Jesus as in the days of illness and suffering, and Dec. 18 – Waiting for Jesus as in the days of Mary’s pregnancy.” Today we focus on being vigilant, what it means to be watchful and to be paying attention to the signs of the end times, in fact the people of Noah’s day give us the supreme example of how not to wait, of how to be careless instead of carefully interpreting the signs of the times.
A story has been told of a new preacher who was preaching without notes on the second coming of Christ. He was a bit nervous, and about ten minutes into the message, his mind went blank. He remembered what his seminary prof had taught him to do when he couldn’t think of what to say. He should repeat his point, and that would help him to remember the next words. And so he gave it a try. Behold, I come quickly! Still, his mind was blank and so he thought he would try it again. Behold I come quickly! Still nothing. He tried it one more time with such force that as he shouted out Behold I come quickly! He fell forward, he fell forward through the pulpit, he tripped over a flower pot, he fell into the lap of a little old lady in the front row. He started to apologize and explain, but she interrupted him, she said, “that’s all right young man, it was my fault. I should have gotten out of the way. You told me three times you were coming!”
It is in our very nature not to listen to warnings until it’s too late. We imagine that whoever is warning us isn’t really serious. There’s an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!” The first part of today’s sermon is a bit of revision of that old saying…..
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me for 120 years, shame (on me!) 120 years is how long some Bible scholars suggest it took Noah to build the ark. This construction project was no small matter. The ark was as long as 1 and 1 half football fields, it was 75 feet wide, 45 feet high. The ultimate purpose of the ark wasn’t to travel from Point A to Point B, it was simply to float, it was to save both humanity and the animal kingdom from total destruction. Bible scholars suggest there were millions, perhaps even billions of people that were living in this time period, about 1600 years after Adam and Eve were created. We don’t really know how many people there were, but this we know:
The people of Noah’s day fooled themselves into thinking they could ignore the signs of the (end times) Peter writes to the early Christians that God was waiting patiently while the ark was being prepared, God was waiting for what He has always waited for – He was waiting for sinners to admit they had sinned not just a little bit, but they have sinned seriously. He was waiting for unbelievers to start listening to the preaching of His Word, He was waiting for them to see the error of their ways, He was waiting for foolish people to get turned around by His Spirit from their foolishness.
But God wasn’t just passively waiting. He was send them signs upon signs to get their attention. He was sending His Spirit to work through the preaching of a righteous man named Noah. Just imagine the great size of the trees that needed to be cut, hauled, processed, and nailed. Just imagine that huge number of men that must have worked on this ark and had opportunity to think about what was coming. Just imagine how God was yearning with every board that was cut, He was yearning with every nail that was pounded, He was yearning even as He summoned animals and birds of all kinds to come inside the ark for safety, He was yearning then as He is yearning in every generation for sinners to repent. For wherever there is repentance, there God is able to shower down a wisdom from on high. Which is another name for the forgiveness of sins. And wherever there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and there is salvation.
To this very day, it is true, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” We are fooling ourselves whenever we confuse “good times” with the (favor of God)There is nothing inherently dangerous about eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage. What is dangerous is to get so caught up in having a good time that we don’t take time to do what we said in the Rite of Confirmation we would do – be diligent in the means of grace. The most dangerous decision you could ever make would be to stop listening to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Equally as dangerous would be to absent yourself from eating and drinking at your Lord’s Table for one reason or another.
If the first lesson for today is to quit fooling ourselves into thinking that the signs of the end times can be ignored, then our second lesson is to know the beauty of paying attention to them. Our first lesson today is pretty much the Law, the second is pure Gospel. The first lesson is to be aware of how dangerous it is to fall asleep, spiritually speaking, and the second is to know how beautiful life is when the Spirit of God is able to wake us up and keep us awake in a regular kind of a way. Another way of saying that is that to be forewarned is to be (forearmed).
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul urges the Christians in Rome every day to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. These words remind us of our Baptism liturgy, where we vow again and again as a congregation to help these little ones renounce the devil and all of his evil ways and works. In our Baptismal prayer, we cry out to God to keep these little children safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, and that they would be in all the chapters of life separated from the multitude of unbelievers, that they would serve God’s Name at all times with a fervent spirit, that they would be declared worthy of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
To be forewarned is to forearmed. We put on the full armor of God as often as we use our ears to hear, as often as we taste and enjoy the favor of God in the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. You see, dear friends, Christ makes it possible for us to rest without (falling asleep). I read a story once of a boy who was getting pushed and shoved around by the neighborhood bullies. It happened more than once, and it kept getting uglier and uglier until one day when the father of the boy getting bullied happened to see what was going on. Before the main bully knew what happened, this big strong dad had picked him up by the scruff of shirt and told him in no uncertain terms to knock it off, he told him if he ever saw this happening again or if he even heard a whisper about it happening again, he would be back, and it wouldn’t be pretty. In that moment the boy who had been getting bullied began to relax. From that moment on, he rested in his father’s strength, he rested in his father’s strong arm of protection. You see, his father had made it possible for his son to feel safe and secure, in his neighborhood, and beyond.
So also has Christ made it possible for us to rest in His grace, to rest in His mercy, to rest in the peace only He can give. As you well know, Jesus Christ came from heaven above to earth below on our behalf. At the cross, he took Satan by the scruff of his neck, told him a new day had dawned, he told the world it was finished, he made it possible for our sins to be forgiven, he made it possible for our souls to be saved, it made it possible for the darkness to be vanished, he made it possible for us to rest without falling asleep, to rest without being left behind on the last day. No one knows when that last day will be. Not the angels, not even Jesus in His state of humiliation knew the day of his return. One wonders why it has to be such a secret.
Christ keeps us guessing so that we won’t be (surprised). Jesus says it this way, “Know this, if the master 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 hour you do not expect.
The kingdom of God is like a mother who tells her daughter she will be gone for two or three hours and gives her a list of chores to do. Her list includes doing dishing, vacuuming, dusting, and an overall picking up around the house. The daughter’s inclination is to wait until about ten minutes before her mom is expected and to try to do an hour’s work in ten minutes. As you might well suspect, the strategy of putting off until later what should be done sooner doesn’t work well.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where the people are learning more and more to put First things first. On the first day of the week, they set aside an hour or two to hear the Word of God, and more often than not, it seems as though that week the joy of the Lord is a little bit stronger. In the first hour of their days, they have a habit of making the sign of the cross and remembering they are the baptized and precious and loved people of God, and more often than not, it seems as though their days are just a little bit brighter. By the grace of God, they have developed this habit of being watchful without being worry warts. They will be surprised when the Son of Man returns, but not at all surprised at the final victory He will be delivering. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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