Matthew 24:36-44 On this first Sunday in Advent, when we hear the words of our Lord: you must be ready for the Son of Man—we cannot help but think of all the preparations that need to be made before Christmas gets here. In our minds Advent and Christmas go together. And to an extent that is true, especially as the season progresses.
To welcome our newborn Savior and King—to understand who it is that sleeps in that cradle and what he has come to do—we do need to be prepared. But of course those necessary preparations are something completely different than buying and decorating and baking and wrapping. To be ready to welcome Jesus we need to be prepared spiritually.
We need to be ready to meet him as he continues to make himself present among us in Word and Sacrament—so that we understand that it is his voice that is heard in this place and his real presence received at this altar. We need to be ready to meet Jesus whenever the Lord may call us home and we need to be ready to meet Jesus when he comes again to be our judge.
This Advent call that we hear today to be ready to meet the Lord is necessary because it is entirely possible to do everything on our to-do list over these next four weeks and still not be spiritually prepared to stand before the Lord. The busyness of life can overwhelm and drown out the one thing needful. It has happened before. Jesus says:
Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heave, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…
Eating. Drinking. Merrymaking. Parties to attend. Sounds like the next four weeks, doesn’t it? Oftentimes we think of ancient people of being somehow different than we are. But they were just like us. We think of their lives as being far removed from our own. But they really weren’t. They liked to eat and drink and have fun. They had husbands and wives and children and friends. There was daily work to attend to and I’m sure that they thought that there was more to do than there were hours in the day just like we do.
It’s not unique to us that the rhythm and busyness of daily life can lull us into spiritual sleep. That’s what happened to the people of Noah’s day.
From the creation of the world to the time of Noah the people of the world were caught up in their own lives to the exclusion of God who no longer showed up in their to-do list, so busy were they with the hustle and bustle of life. But the way that they were living—busy with life but blind to God-- did not please the Lord. The Bible says that:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually and the earth was filled with violence.
Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it. Eerily modern. I bet that if you asked the people about their lives at the time they would have thought that everything, for the most part, was fine. Sure, there were some bad apples. Yes, there was crime. No, they didn’t have a lot of time for God because after all, they were busy with necessities of life. But that’s just normal, isn’t it?
God thought differently about their lives. God regarded their lives as wicked. He saw no goodness in their souls because he didn’t live there. The Bible says that God was sorry that he made man and it grieved him in his heart. But God also loved man and wanted to call them back to himself—he wanted them to turn from their sins and to return to him in faith.
And so God sent Noah to them with a message of judgment and salvation. Noah preached for decades all the while he was building an ark as the instrument of God’s salvation. But in the end, no one but Noah and his family believed God’s message—no one but Noah and his family were ready to meet the Lord’s judgment. No one but Noah and his family were saved. Jesus says that the people of that day continued living just as they had before:
until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Now this is an incredible statement because it shows just how blind and deaf we can become to the Advent message calling us to spiritual preparation. There were decades of preaching. Judgment was promised. There was a giant boat being built. Salvation was offered. And yet so busy were they with daily life that they never gave any of this a thought until the day that Noah entered the ark and the door was raised and the drops of God’s judgment began to fall.
What about us? Can we honestly say that the world of today is any better than Noah’s day? Is it possible that God is pleased when he looks upon the world we live in, filled with violence and sexual immorality and crass materialism? Are our lives different than the people of Noah’s age, consumed with the day- to-day? Are we less busy and more open to the call of God?
God’s message hasn’t changed. There is a judgment coming that is more terrible, more encompassing than even the flood. The world as we know it will be destroyed by fire and every person will stand before a righteous judge whose standard will be the holiness of God.
But there is also a way of salvation! Jesus Christ is the enduring ark of salvation, made not of gopher wood but of the flesh of his virgin mother and from the church goes out the message: forsake your sins and come to Christ and be saved!
Will we listen or will we delay? God grant that we would listen for the return of Christ will come suddenly and with a terrible finality. Jesus says that when the he returns:
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.
I would bet that as the people of Noah’s day went about their daily lives, with Noah building an ark in their midst and calling them to repentance—more than a few of them said to themselves: “He’s right! My life is on the wrong track! I have been ignoring my relationship with God”. But they always found a reason to wait just one more day to turn from sins and receive God’s salvation until that day there was not another day.
That’s the way it will be when Jesus returns—suddenly and finally while people are living as they always have. All of the warning signs are there for those who have the faith to see them for what they are. Signs that are just as clear as nails going into boards being shaped into a boat. And the call to turn from sins and turn to Christ still rings out from the true prophets of God.
But life goes on as it always has (and always must) until the day of Christ’s return for no one knows that day or hour—not the angels in heaven—not even Jesus as he walked the earth. The only question for us as we go about our daily lives, making a living and doing chores and enjoying life, is whether or not we have heeded the signs and listened to the Lord and repented of our sins and trusted in Christ for salvation.
That is the preparation that must be done now because the blast of the trumpet and the appearance of the Lord in the clouds will be immediate and final and those who have delayed will be destroyed. Now is the time to get ready for the coming of the Son of Man! Jesus says:
Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master 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.
If you have ever had your home or shop or vehicle broken into, you know what a sickening, helpless feeling that is. Why didn’t we hear them? Why weren’t we more proactive in protecting ourselves? Why weren’t we ready? We are outraged that someone has taken what belongs to us and we want to do everything in our power to make sure that it never happens again.
That is how we react when our material goods are taken but there is coming a day when our souls will be required of us. That may be the day of our death. That may be the day of our Lord’s return if he comes before we die. But on that day the one thing that truly, eternally matters will be handed over to God and Jesus asks every person: What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? We do not know when that day is, when our soul will be required of us. Jesus will come at a time when we do not expect him just as a thief in the night and the time to be prepared will be over.
The question for us is this: are we spiritually awake and ready for that day? Will we hand our soul over to the Lord and say: Lord, this is yours! You have created and redeemed it by the blood of your Son and by the power of Holy Spirit made it your own in Holy Baptims? Or will it be taken from us by force of judgment and condemnation and cast into the eternal, terrible fires of hell? Eternity is what is at stake and that is why Jesus says to us: You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
This morning we have heard the call of Jesus to be ready for his return. We know that it will be certain but unexpected. We have been warned that others have turned a deaf ear to this call in the past and we know our own tendency to get caught up in daily life to the detriment of our soul.
And so how do we get ready to welcome the Lord as the babe of Bethlehem and the One who is present among us in Word and Sacrament and our Judge on the last Day? We repent of our sins. And we turn in faith to Jesus Christ to receive the forgiveness he won for us on the cross. We come to church and listen to what Jesus has to say to us receive his body and blood in Holy Communion. We put flesh and bone on our faith by doing those good works he has planned for us to do.
God grant us a day of grace and the Spirit’s help so that we can be prepared to meet the Son of Man!