36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, or the Son, but only the Father.37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.43But understand this: if the owner 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. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Are you ready for this? It's December is the time of year where there is so much going on—parties and preparations, shopping and shipping. We have lists that we check once, twice, or three times. We spend a whole month making Christmas happen.
We are a people who know how to be prepared. We have learned not to leave things until the last minute. We buy gifts. We donate gifts. We serve food at the homeless shelter. We plan and attend church and school events.
Or are we?
Our words from Jesus today show us people who are busy, busy busy. They are eating and drinking and marrying and working. They are in the fields and grinding the meal for breads and cakes and cookies (well, maybe not cookies). They are heads down and gittin’ er done when suddenly, some of them are swept away or taken up. They are blindsided as God enters the world. They didn’t see it coming. They were focused on the wrong thing.
Advent is the four Sundays before Christmas. Christians use the time to think about Jesus coming to the world. The first week’s readings are typically a radical call to think of the coming of Jesus. It focuses not on the baby Jesus but the coming again Jesus. Advent is as much about expecting something in the future as it is remembering something from the past.
The stories we tell the first week of Advent remind us of our hope in a Christ who promised to come again—a Christ who promises to usher in God’s vision of a peaceful world. But the message this week tells us we have no idea when this will happen, BUT we must somehow be prepared. Now that’s a challenge.
We know what it means to prepare for Christmas, but do we know what it means to prepare for Christ? Can we ever truly be ready for the God of the universe to come crashing into our lives like a thief through a broken window? Can we ever truly be ready to discover that Christ is looking up at us through the eyes of a newborn?
In our world being ready means completing everything on the list. Jesus’ to-do list is a little long. Love God. Love your neighbor. Pray for those who persecute you. Forgive seventy times seven times. Make amends with people you are fighting with. Give away your stuff. These aren’t things we can do once and then check off a list in four week’s time.
Getting ready during Advent is a process. It’s as much about continuing a loving lifestyle while waiting. It’s more about being open to Christ and others as it is about trying to contain Christ in a list. It’s about knowing that while we are busy preparing for Christmas, Christ is preparing us—preparing our hearts and minds to expect the unexpected and encounter his radical presence in our lives.
We don’t know when Christ is coming. We’re not entirely sure what it will look like, but we are told to expect him at anytime. In any place. And so, we wait.
I don’t know how you are with waiting, but I will confess right now that I’m terrible. I’m ready for it to be Christmas. I want to sing carols in church (which we usually don’t do until closer to Christmas), exchange the gifts, visit with family. It’s even harder as a pastor because I’ve been thinking about Christmas things for a whole month already.
But, it’s not Christmas yet. It’s Advent. Advent means Christmas is coming. Advent is a time of it’s own. Advent is a time to think about what is coming—to anticipate what is coming—to prepare for what is coming. Our spiritual journey during Advent shouldn’t be one more thing that we check off the to-do list before Christmas. We shouldn’t rush though Advent with the destination of Christmas in mind.
Instead we should journey though Advent thoughtfully noticing the presence of Christ, feeling the peace that descends when the candles are lit. We should encounter the joy of our community and the church traditions. We can be prepare for Christ’s coming when we are aware of the people and events around us.
If we are too busy rushing here and there we might walk right by Jesus and not even notice. That’s why young children are such a joy during the holidays. The live in the present. They NOTICE things. They pay attention. Everything is new and wonderful and they take in all of it.
How well I remember Christmas shopping with my two young children. The decorated mall was a wonderland. They were mesmerized by all of the shiny, glittery ornaments, the giant candy canes and the little train. They loved it, but it was a challenge for me because I had things I needed to get done.
Some years, I’d even take my kids and my grandmother in order to get things in order to take care of two obligations at once. My attempts at multitasking backfired as those trips were exponentially longer.
While my children were memorized by the decorations, Grandma was thrilled to have so many people to chat with. By the time she checked her items out of a store the sales person knew who she was buying for as well as her life history whether she wanted to or not. She was in her late 80s and early 90s and so her life history was looooong. She was a talker. I’d stand beside her fidgeting or trying to keep my kids from hiding in the center of the clothes hanging on rounders.
But, looking back, I don’t remember a single thing I bought on those shopping trips. I realize now the important thing about those trips was that they allowed us to time together.
Those trips were preparing me because they were about seeing and appreciating the beauty of the Christmas, with my family at the local mall. They were about connecting with each other.
The trips were also about connecting with other people. My grandmother knew that, but I didn’t. While she would converse at the cash register or chat up the person next to her on the bench. I’d have my list in hand, checking things off one at a time.
Jesus could have sat down next to Grandma and she would have been ready for a meaningful conversation. Jesus could have walked up to my kids dressed in his first-century robe and flowing hair—the way he’s always pictured—and my kids would have received him. After all, there were adults dressed as elves in green and a big fat man in a fur suit laughing manically. That Jesus guy? He must be part of all of this somehow.
But me? I’d have my list in one hand and bags in another walking purposefully to the next store. And I’m still like that. When Jesus wants my attention, he has to make himself obvious. I’m not well prepared. Jesus has to break into my life like a thief. Like the women in the story, I get so busy grinding my meal, that I fail to notice him. I want Jesus on my agenda.
Let’s meet at 2 PM on Tuesday. Does that work for you, Jesus? Are you free then?
I want a Jesus that fits my schedule. I want Jesus to show up when I pray in my bed in the evening. I want Jesus to make an appearance on Christmas Eve between 7 and 8. Preferably while I’m preaching the sermon so that everyone can experience it. But that’s not how it works. I know that. You know that. The Bible tells us that.
But I keep falling into the same old patterns. Humanity keeps falling into the same old patterns. We don’t know how to expect the unexpected. We don’t think to look for Jesus at the mall. But, I suspect he’s broken in there to, just like he breaks unexpectedly into our hearts.
This Advent, let us say Come Lord Jesus, while we "prepare" in a new way. Let’s slow down enough notice when Jesus breaks in and we get a glimpse of God. This Advent, let’s watch and wait and pray. Let's expect the unexpected. We may not know the day or the hour, but we can journey though Advent trusting that God’s love and grace will be revealed to us. Are you ready for this?