First Sunday of Advent: December 1, 2019
Year A: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
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Anxiety! Exhaustion! Distraction! Urgency!
These words seem to describe life in the world today. There are so many factors driving our sense of anxiety, distraction, and urgency. Turn on the news, and everything you hear and see is “BREAKING NEWS!” Now you have the endless banner running at the bottom of your TV screen so you can get double doses of news.
I’m sure you’ve experienced at least once when you’re out to lunch or dinner with a group, and suddenly all your phones are bleating at the same time, sort of like hearing the emergency broadcast system tone (is that even a thing anymore?). Honestly, that’s never a good sign.
It’s a no-win situation in this world. Everywhere we turn, it feels we are pushed and pulled with a growing sense of anxiety about our future. We are asked to address every aspect of our lives with a sense of urgency.
And this sense of urgency is exhausting. In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus seems to be pointing us toward this type of life lived in urgency. Jesus appears to be talking about a time when he will return. But, Jesus says, “about that day and hour no one knows.” Jesus seems to be telling us that there will be no warning of this return, so we need to be ready.
Advent is a season of anticipation. But this first Sunday of Advent is supposed to remind us that we are anticipating not only the birth of the Christ child, but we are also expecting the consummation of God’s Kingdom on earth. That will be a time of great joy for all of God’s creation.
The author and preacher Clarence Jordan wrote the Cotton Patch Gospel, a reimaged translation of the Gospels, putting the setting in the American South. One of the unique and powerful things Jordan does in this creative work is that every time the phrase “Kingdom of God” turns up anywhere in the scripture, he translates it as “the God Movement.”
With that in mind, Advent, we might say, is a time when we anticipate the coming of the fullness of the God Movement on Earth. The “fullness of the God Movement” sounds to me like truly Good News.
So why do we read this part from Matthew today with dread? Why does it sound so forbidding?
Jesus talks about the time to come when “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.” These do, indeed, sound like scary images. Who gets taken, and why? Who gets left, and why? If you get taken, where do you go? If you get left, what happens to you?
We have to remember that Jesus was talking, and Matthew was writing, at the time of the mighty Roman Empire. This gospel passage could easily be a warning—but not about some supernatural event where some individuals were going to be swept up to heaven and others “Left Behind.” It’s more a statement of fact. Jesus was saying: “Be warned. As long as we are living in this Roman rule, the day will come—and it may be sooner rather than later—when two men are working in a field together. The Roman troops will march through. They will take one man and leave the other. Two women will be grinding grain, the soldiers will take one, and leave the other.”
In fact, by the time Matthew wrote these words, Roman troops had already destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The Romans had surely done just these things to the people of Judea—killed one man in a field and left the other wondering why he had survived the encounter …carried one woman off from her home and left the other to pick up the broken pieces of the shattered family life.
Thus, Jesus tells us to keep awake.
To help us understand how important this is, he tells us the story of the owner of a house. He says that if the owner knew when the thief was going to break into the house, the owner would stay awake to keep his house from being broken into. Then he says, that’s how ready we need to be for the coming of the Son of Man—it will be an unexpected hour.
God’s Kingdom will have come. God’s will, will be done. These things will happen on earth as in heaven. That’s what we are anticipating. That’s what we are hoping for. That’s what Jesus is saying: “keep awake” for. The Kingdom of God – the God Movement – will be complete.
The thing about the Gospel of Matthew is that it presents Jesus throughout as “God with us”—Emmanuel. Jesus is with us in good times and in bad times in this Gospel.
So, how are we supposed to be ready? What are we supposed to do?
Well, I don’t think we are supposed to be in a state of urgency, anxiously awaiting the return of Christ.
The Kingdom of God comes, not when we want, or even when we think the preparations are done—two women will be grinding meal together, one will be taken and one will be left… a baby is born of a teenage mother, and the universe is changed. And in the midst of that sea change, love sets us free to change the world.
We don’t have to be scanning the news channels waiting for the “Breaking News Announcement: Jesus Has Returned.” We don’t have to keep our phones at the ready, worrying we’ll miss Jesus’ text or tweet telling us he’s back! Instead, Jesus tells us to be ready. We are ready when we pay attention to the needs of others. We are ready when we open our hearts to the least among us. We are ready when we love our neighbor as ourselves.
Here’s the thing. When we love one another, we reflect that which God created us to be. When we love one another, we are part of the God Movement. That’s what Jesus wants us to be ready to see.
I’m ready for the God movement. O Come, O come Emmanuel!
 Matthew 24:36
 Matthew 24:40-41
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