This is the time of year when we think a great deal about preparation. We rummage through the attic and the closet to assemble all the decorations for the season.
We prepare our lists.
There is a list for shopping for gifts, and one for shopping for groceries.
A list for sending Christmas cards and a list for things to accomplish before family and friends arrive.
We pride ourselves on knowing just when everything has to happen, and working out our schedules so that nothing will be forgotten and nothing left to chance.
The people who talk about organizational skills professionally remind us of the importance of managing our time effectively. Good time management can help to reduce the stress that has become a natural part of the holidays.
That is why we carry around these things — electronic gadgets, planning calendars, cell phones with connections to desktop calendars. We use them to make the most of our time and to map out how best to spend that time and get some control over it. I think there was even a slogan by one of those “management gurus” that went, “Master the use of your time, and you can master the world.”
Jesus too, urges us to manage our time well in Matthew‘s Gospel, but in a little different way than the “organizational specialists”, and toward a different end.
You see, what I am encouraged to do by those folks with this tool, and all those like it, is to take charge of my time. Here I control what I do and when I do it. Here I lay out where I go next week and with whom I will interact. If I use it really well, I can even accomplish the illusion that I am in control of my life. I am the “Master.”
I can tap a few screens and tell you where I’ll be next week.
Another tap and I see next month, or even next year.
I can tell you when Christmas will be in a decade, or 100 years.
Hey, I’ve even got my retirement date plugged into here. On August 25th, 2026, I’ll have been in the ministry 40 years, and I’ll be pushing 68, that might be my to turn in my resignation and make way for the next generation of leaders.
On some days, I even begin to believe that I can map things out and that those days will go just as I have them planned.
But you and I both know that all the stuff that I put in here is all really just wishful thinking. No matter how well intended, life does not always follow the plan that we lay out.
That is what Jesus reminds us about here, and what Advent drives home.
Jesus speaks of life’s unpredictable nature, and what we are to do in the midst of it as Advent people, people who are looking for Christ’s coming.
“For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
No one saw the flood coming, not even Noah until God spoke to him.
No one knew how to prepare for it, except the one whom God had told about it. And the Ark was built, and Noah alone was prepared when the floods came.
Life went on for everyone else.
They made their plans in ordinary time as if the world would go on forever, and scoffed at Noah’s acts of preparation.
They believed the world would go on as it always would, right up until the flood came and swept them all away.
This is what it will be like, Jesus says, the Son of Man, returns. It will seem like ordinary time right up until it happens.
That’s what makes Advent, and our faith lives so difficult to plan for.
In this season we call Advent, we are told to watch and wait for the coming of the Son of Man. But we do so with a little handicap.
We’ve been waiting for an awful long time; 2000 years, for Jesus to return. We’ve even organized time into cycles, into the church year.
Advent will be followed by Christmas, then Epiphany, then Lent, Easter and Pentecost. We plan in the church, on our calendar of Blue and White and Purple and Green and special days of Red, as if “as in the days of Noah,” things would just go on forever.
But Advent, our beginning of the Church Year, is also a reminder of our end.
It is a reminder of the promise that Jesus will return, and so in all of our ordinary planning, we keep in mind that promise. We can’t just fill in the calendar is if it will go on forever. There will come an end, and Jesus will be there at it.
This is how we are different from those who lived in Noah’s day.
In that day, no one knew about the flood but Noah. That was the way it was supposed to work, only Noah was righteous, and so God was saving him while wiping out all the rest of the wicked of this world.
But with the coming of Jesus, God has a new plan. Now the plan is for all to know of the coming of the Son of Man.
Now the plan is for all the world to know, and therefore to be saved.
It is up to those who follow Jesus to bear witness to a dying world of the salvation prepared for them by God.
You and I and all who have been recipients of the Gospel know that Jesus is coming to judge and to bring history to a close. So then, how are we to prepare for his coming?
For those of us good at using these tools of calendars, we would start to make lists, wouldn’t we? If we knew that Jesus was coming, say a week from Tuesday, we’d make a quick list of all the folks we would want to talk to before that happens. We’d pull out our planners and schedule in a time to meet, to talk with them about Jesus, make sure they are in the know as well. It’s what we do best with our planners, schedule time to attend to the important things, the important people in our lives.
But Jesus is pushes us to consider something else. He tells the story of working side by side with one another, and how one will be taken and another left. It’s not told to promote some supernatural “Left Behind” kind of scenario.
No, it’s told to remind us of how important it is to speak of the Son of Man’s coming! Who have you shared the news about Jesus with? Who is on your “list” right now to talk to about Jesus?
Who are you working beside right now? Do they know about Jesus? Do they know the hope you know?
We know from Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus gives one great commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.“
That’s our commission, the task that is given to us.
We know from all the Gospels that Jesus gives one great commandment. “Love one another. Love your neighbor as yourself. “
With those things as our guide, how do you think we are to prepare for the Lord’s coming, in ordinary time?
Would it not be to take every moment of ordinary time as an opportunity to bear witness to the one who so loves the world that he has sent his only Son to save it?
See, here’s the deal that this illustration pushes us to think about. When the Son of Man comes, it will be like this, Two will be working together, one will know, but will the other? What about them?
Would your co-worker be on your list to make sure they know about God‘s love and mercy, God‘s forgiveness available to them?
Would your neighbor be there? Your spouse, your child, or your old friend?
This illustration of two in the field together, two at the mill together, is less a matter of who will be taken, and more a matter of who haven’t you told.
Who isn’t on your list?
We don’t know the hour. It could be a week from Tuesday. It could be right after this service, or right in the midst of it, and yes, it could be 2 centuries from now. But the real issue is that it will come in ordinary time.
It won’t be something that you can schedule in, or prepare for, or search the heavens for signs to know just when it’s coming so that you can make your list to get things done just before it gets here.
You can’t master this world, but you can introduce this world to your Master. And, you have every day, every moment of your life in which to do that.
How is that going for you?
You can’t plan for everything you know.
You don’t know when Jesus will come, and you don’t know when Jesus will put someone in your path, or alongside of you at work, who needs to hear the Gospel. You must therefore live as if every moment was the last one. The last chance to say something that will make a powerful difference in someone’s life.
“Watch and wait” Jesus says. “Be prepared! If the householder had known at what hour the thief was to come, of course he would have been there to prevent the break-in. But the point is he doesn’t know!–and neither do you, and so every moment becomes precious, doesn‘t it?
Every relationship you find yourself in is suddenly precious, important, and one in which the Gospel is to be shared.
Take no one for granted, no moment for granted, for this sacred moment might be the one that is most precious for both of you. The moment when you can speak of faith, and someone might receive it.
Beloved, it is my privilege to walk with you in these days of Advent, of watching and waiting. We have many things to plan for, and to consider, but first and foremost I want you to take a moment now, and look at who you are sitting near, who else is in this place with you. Recognize this as a precious moment, a time that God has placed each of you here for purpose.
Look around also, at who is missing, and who needs to be here. Who you work with, play with, have casual conversations with that have never entered the realm of faith. Maybe even make a list?
Who will you ask to come and worship with you this Christmas. It may very well be the last, you know.