I’ll let you in on a little secret. Ready? I don’t look like this when I wake up—just ask my husband Will! I have to spend some time, you know, getting myself together in the morning.
I know I’m not alone in this. We all have to get ourselves together when we wake up. We have to…hit the snooze alarm two or three times, roll out of bed, shower, pick out clothes, get dressed, eat breakfast, make our hair look presentable, maybe some make-up—and that doesn’t even include other things we do in the morning that has nothing to do with getting ourselves ready, like watching TV, walking the dog, getting kids ready.
If you had to guess, how much time do you think you spend on average, on just yourself, in order to get ready in the morning?.... In my very scientific poll that I took with a few people who were willing, the average seemed to be about 45 minutes to an hour. One person in my extended family, who shall remain nameless, actually spends about an hour and a half to 2 hours getting ready in the morning. It seems that most of us need some time before we can be out the door, looking presentable, and ready to start the day.
In the Gospel reading for today, being ready is a really big deal. Jesus tells the disciples to “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Song of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Jesus could be saying to be ready all the time, or he could be describing something like a quick change artist or superhero who changes at a moment’s notice in a phone booth. Either way, it sounds like we are to always be at the ready, for when Jesus comes again.
During the 4 weeks of the Advent season in the Church year, the four weeks before Christmas, we wait not only for Jesus to come to us when we celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas—we also talk about waiting for Jesus’ return to us, when we comes again. When the world will finally be as it should be, and the new heaven and the new earth are established, like it says in the book of Revelation. And in our Advent waiting, Jesus tell us to be ready for his return.
OK, you might say, I’ll be dressed and ready, I’ll leave the lights on. Just tell me when Jesus is coming, and I’ll make sure that I have what I need.
Well here’s the kicker. We don’t know when Jesus is coming back.
In fact, our whole Gospel reading is about how we have no idea when Jesus is returning to us. It starts with Jesus telling us: “But about that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So not even the angels or Jesus know when he’s coming back—just God the Father knows.
And then Jesus tells us in our reading how the people in Noah’s time didn’t know when the flood was coming— and then the flood came, just like that. Just like how we don’t know when Jesus is coming.
Later in the text, Jesus says his return will be like a thief breaking into a house—the owner didn’t know when it would happen, obviously, because if the time was known the owner would have stayed awake and not left the thief break in.
And in the middle of the text, Jesus talks about how there will be two people working in the field—one will be taken and one will be left. Or two women will be grinding meal together—one will be taken and one will be left.
Now, you may hear that and think—oh! It’s like the Left Behind thing. The Rapture and all that. It’s so pervasive in our culture, that we can’t help but jump to that. Anyone think of that…?
But, actually, to Jesus’ hearers, they heard it in an opposite way. You see, in their time, being taken was a bad thing. A very bad thing. If you were taken suddenly, it meant you were being sold into slavery in a foreign country. So, you WANTED to be left behind. You didn’t want to be taken.
Either way, we see the suddenness of Jesus’ return, in all of these examples that Jesus mentions. So Jesus is saying people are supposed to be at the ready, even though we have no idea when he’ll be back. HOLD THAT THOUGHT, I’LL BE BACK.
[For one minute, disappear into the Sacristy. Walk back out.]
So it what did feel like when I was gone? What did you do? What did you expect? I said I was coming back, so you knew I would be back eventually… but you didn’t know when I’d be back.
That’s a small example of what it’s like for us to live in expectation of Jesus’ return. Jesus promises us that he will be back (and no, I don’t think he sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back”). We don’t know when Jesus will show up, but we’re expected to be ready.
The problem is, we humans hate not knowing when things will happen. When something big happens, we want to know ahead of time, so we can be prepared. How many of us watch the Weather Channel or a local news station when bad weather is coming, so that we can stock up on food, snow shovels, head to the basement, etc??
But in this case we aren’t in control of the anticipation—we don’t know when Jesus is returning. And we hate not being in control. So, some people try to figure out when Jesus will return, so that they can make sure to be ready. People use numbers in the Bible and do a bunch of calculations to figure the exact date when they think believe Jesus will return. You know what I’m talking about!
And yet, Jesus tells us flat-out that we won’t know ahead of time. We are expected to be ready and prepared, despite the fact that we have no idea when Jesus will come again. And that can be really hard.
But in the midst of this uncertainty, there is good news. The prophet Isaiah describes the future world for us, as we read in our first reading a few moments ago. I’m going to read it again, and listen for how our world is described:
2 “In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!”
Doesn’t that sound amazing?? People from ALL nations coming to worship and learn about God! Not to mention everlasting peace, where weapons are turned into farming tools!
Isaiah shows us this perfect future world-- peace and joy and worship and all nations coming together to be with God. This is what our world will be like when Jesus returns. This is what we have to look forward to. Yes, it can be scary not to know when Jesus will come and begin this new world for us. But we can live with the uncertainty, knowing what waits for us, knowing that an amazing kingdom, of people from all over the world praising God together in peace, is coming.
But the news to celebrate about doesn’t stop there. This getting ready for Jesus’ return isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a pretty awesome thing. Because we know that Jesus loves us and has promised to return and establish his kingdom on earth, we can serve others in his name, so that we can ready ourselves and get others ready for his return.
Lately, we have seen an upsurge in our country of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. In the lead story a few days ago on the CNN news app, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that according to FBI statistics in 2015, there was a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans, and hate crimes against African Americans, Jewish people, and LGBT people have also increased. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported over 700 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation in the US since Election Day—and those are only the ones that are reported and documented.
It’s easy to think of events like this as something that happened in the past, that aren’t current anymore-- that we are a more open society that no longer judges people based on skin color or gender or religion. But hate crimes and intimidation and harassment based on gender and race and sexuality and nationality and religion are not only alive and well, they are increasing at alarming rates in our country.
But this isn’t what God wants for us. In the Bible, in Isaiah, we hear from God that the future of our world is incredibly diverse, and amazingly peaceful. God is showing us our future world, where people from all backgrounds and nations are come together to worship God, in peace and harmony. Diversity is our future.
And we are called to start that process, here, now, in our current world. God is calling us to love each other, no matter what. We are called to treat each other the way God wants us to treat each other—with peace, respect, and love. We are called to speak out in love when we see others speaking and acting out of prejudice and hate. We are called to—as we say at Zion all the time-- love God and love our neighbor, because NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. We are called to treat others the way God treats us, working for justice and peace in our world.
We are able to do this because God loves us first. God sent God’s own son Jesus to die for ALL PEOPLE, the whole world. John 3:16, that famous Bible verse, says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”
God loves the world, and all the people in it. God loves the world and the people in it so much, that God sent God’s own son Jesus to die for us. Jesus died for YOU and loves YOU and forgives YOU. And because you have experienced this amazing grace— all the good stuff from God, love, mercy, forgiveness, peace, salvation, given to you freely with no strings attached—you are able to show that love to others, no matter who they love, what they look like, where they come from. YOU are an agent of God’s love, to ALL PEOPLE.
As we make ourselves ready for Jesus’ return someday, may we continue to work for justice and peace-- and show others the love God has already shown to us. Amen?