Lots of people try to predict the end of time, the end of life on earth as we know it, the coming-again of Jesus. But Jesus says only God the Father knows when those things – or that event -- will happen.
Today’s text is part of a longer passage in which Jesus predicts the coming of enemies and the destruction of Jerusalem. Since the Gospel of Matthew was written after 70CE when the Romans destroyed the temple, we assume that the author knows about this terrible event. Has this disaster shaped his story of Jesus? Does he believe it signals the impending return of Jesus? It certainly seems so.
Jesus likens the coming of the Son-of-Man to the coming of the flood. No one believed Noah when he began building the ark. No one even believed him when it began to rain buckets.
Jesus warns the disciples -- and us -- to be alert, aware, awake to what is happening. Life will go on, as it does day after day. We will be fishing, or enjoying a cup of coffee, or playing music. And suddenly one of us will be taken and the other left behind. We will be saved from the terrors of the coming disaster.
We always assume that being taken is good news for the ones who are taken. We also assume it is we who will be taken because we are good, and that it is the evil ones who are left behind. But how do we know that we are the ones Jesus is coming for and not the other person? What makes us so sure? Are we really ready to be taken?
Jesus warns us to be ready for anything, including the thief in the night, including the end of days, including the Son of Man. But, what does it mean to be ready?
In the next part of this chapter and the next chapter, Jesus goes on to tell us what it means to be ready. We are to be like good servants, fulfilling whatever responsibilities the master has given us, always ready to be good servants. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned as if we were caring for Jesus himself.
I have heard many times that if some are taken and some are left behind, the Lutherans will choose to stay behind, to care for those suffering from the disaster. The Lutherans will stay here to bring Jesus to those who don’t yet believe.
If we focus on being Jesus’ hands and feet and heart with those who are hurting, we won’t have time to think about when Jesus is coming again. Except, let’s remember that when we do these things, Jesus comes through us to those we help.
For example, the residents at Dogwood Manor Assisted Living Community in Georgia wanted to help people in the community. They learned that premature babies struggle to stay warm, but tiny hats are an easy way to help warm. The residents began to knit caps for preemies. It was one way to “keep the old people out of trouble” and help others at the same time.
Ed , who is 86, wanted to take part too, but he had never learned to knit. He went to a fabric store, where the staff sold him a how-to-knit book, some yarn and some needles. Ed says the first few hats took a long time, but after a while he began to get into a groove and soon, his sofa was covered with little caps.
Another example: Paul is a counsellor in a high school in Chicago. His school is mostly filled with black and Latino youth. The day after the election of Mr Trump as president, Paul expected the school to be full of anxiety, fear, and hate because of what they had heard Mr Trump say about them. He spent the time driving to school thinking about how to help the students.
But he arrived to see something very different from what he expected. Before he arrived, some of the students had printed posters and put them on classroom doors throughout the building. They read:
"Dear Undocumented Students, in these classroom there are no walls."
"Dear LGBT students, in these classrooms you are accepted."
"Dear Female students, in these classrooms you will be respected."
"Dear Mexican students, in these classrooms you are not a rapist nor a drug dealer."
"Dear Black students, in these classrooms your lives matters."
"Dear Muslims, you are not terrorists."
In the midst of fear and uncertainty, these students took control of what they could manage. They created a safe space for everyone in the school.
These days, we can complain that we are too old or too young, or too rich or too poor to make a difference. But Ed and Paul’s students prove otherwise. They could spend time looking for Jesus to come again, but chose instead to help others.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. We begin by remembering that Jesus has come to us once already, as an infant. He died and was raised, and appeared to the disciples and other followers. In a way we could say he has already come again. Then he ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to be his presence on earth. So, we could also say he has already come again. And, whenever we do kind things for others, Jesus comes again through us. So, we could also say he has already come again.
I suggest we focus not on wondering and debating about when and how Jesus will come again, but on being his hands and feet and heart right here in our community, today. In many ways, Jesus has already come again, if we look for him, if we pay attention.
Here is your challenge for this week: What do you already do to bring Jesus to someone else? What else could you do to bring Jesus to someone else? You are neither too old – remember, Ed learned to knit at age 86 – or too young – remember, high school students made their school a safe place for all – to bring Jesus to someone else.
Please pray with me: Powerful Lord Christ, we pray that you will come to be with us. We pray for your mercy and your presence to be made known to us. Help us to see you in the faces of others, and lead us to bring your presence to those who need to see you. Amen