Sermon: The Sudden and Unexpected Return of Christ

Text: Matthew 24:36-44
First Sunday in Advent, Year C
Listen to the sermon here.

 Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

How many of you like Advent Calendars? Some people find great joy in the daily routine of peeking behind the little doors. Each day has a door corresponding to the days leading up to Christmas Eve. Each day you find the correct number, pry open the little cardboard entry, and discover a piece of chocolate—a foretaste of the stocking to come. It is a slow but steady countdown. Each day you know Christmas is one day closer. Each door announces precisely how much longer until the big day arrives.

Advent calendars are good at building anticipation for Christmas. “Do not worry,” the calendar tells us, “there are still fourteen more days until Christmas.” We have got lots of time to get ready. There is plenty of time to finish shopping. Advent Calendars work for our annual celebration of Christmas, but Jesus is not talking about Christmas in our Gospel reading. And, when it comes down to it, the First Sunday in Advent is not about Christmas. It is about the second coming of Jesus. Unlike Christmas, you cannot countdown to Christ’s second coming. There’s no special calendar that tells you there are only a certain number of days left until Jesus returns. “Concerning that day and hour no one knows” (Mt. 24:36). As a result, Christ our Lord tells us his return will catch many unaware. And yet, his return will be our salvation.

Jesus’ Return Will Catch Many Unaware

Now, when we think about Advent, a few Biblical characters come to mind. Isaiah, John the Baptist, Gabriel, Joseph and Mary come to mind immediately. In the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus points the spotlight on someone we might not have expected. As he talks to his disciples about his return and the end of the age, Jesus highlights Noah. But what does Noah have to do with anything?

God told Noah to build an ark big enough to keep him, his family, and many animals safe. Noah and his family spent long years putting the ark together. But do you recall what else Noah was doing during all those years? He was preaching, warning the people about the coming Flood. Did any of them listen? None of them did, except Noah’s family. The rest were just too busy doing other things. What did Jesus say they were doing?  Jesus said people were living everyday lives. They were marrying and giving in marriage. They were eating and drinking. They were too busy to care about Noah’s warning. So, what happened to them? Jesus says: “the flood came and swept them all away” (Mt 24:39). All the people outside the ark died. Why? As Jesus said, “they were unaware.”  They were completely unaware of the coming judgment. And they were unaware because they did not listen!

That’s why Christ our Lord says, “so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt. 24:39).  That is what His second coming will be like, Jesus says.  The people of Noah’s day were not prepared for the flood. The flood came and swept them away. So, too, the coming of Jesus will take place suddenly, and it will catch most people by surprise. People will eat lunch, enjoy company, and go through their routines. To their surprise, Christ will return in judgment. Whether at home, in the garden, the office, or the stadium, Jesus will come and separate one from another. And we do not know when this will happen. Jesus does not provide us with a second advent calendar to serve as a countdown. He offers no little chocolates to prepare the way. It will come like a thief in the night. What happens when you know when the thieves are going to come? The movie Home Alone is what happens. Yet, we do not know. It’ll all be over when we least expect it to be over. That may be at the Second Coming, or it may be at our own death. Even death comes all too often when we least expect it to come.

Did you notice that he says eating and drinking instead of gluttony and drunkenness? Instead of adultery and promiscuity, he says marrying and giving in marriage. What’s wrong with that? These things are not sinful in themselves. The most significant danger to faith today isn’t heresy or immorality. Neither is it persecution or anti-Christian ideologies. What then? Busyness. Busyness kills more Christians than bullets. During the days of Noah, people were consumed by the busyness of their daily lives and neglected God. They had no awareness that their time was up. Jesus tells us it will also be the same during the second Advent.

Think of all the busyness that comes with life. You work all day, and then you’ve got to get dinner ready. You’ve got car repairs. Then your water heater goes out. The kids need to see a doctor. You’ve got to babysit the grandkids, but you haven’t done your taxes yet. Your checkbook isn’t balanced. You’re behind on thank-you notes. You promised your mother you’d come over and fix a faucet. Your refrigerator is empty. You have to shovel the snow and complete a list of home repairs. We’re also heading into the busiest time of the year for many. This is life for most of us, and it’s choking out spiritual life. 

The problem with busyness is that there is a greater danger you never have time to consider. The threat is not that you are doing these things but that you might be so caught up in the daily routine that you take no thought for your spiritual life and disregard God’s warnings. It is far too easy to drop bible reading, prayer, church attendance, and Christian fellowship because we are simply too busy. Far too often recreation and sports replace God in our culture. The devil doesn’t need to make us heretics, just busy people who are so consumed with daily living that we become blind to our own spiritual needs. Too busy to feed ourselves spiritually. Too busy for God.

Jesus’ Return Will Be Our Salvation

Noah’s appearance at the beginning of Advent is no minor role. It is easy to get distracted in the busy age. It is easy to lose sight of the coming of Christ. But the message of Christ’s return is not meant to frighten us. It is to give us hope.  Jesus’ promise to return is a reason to celebrate. Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed, as St. Paul says in the epistle reading (Rm 13:11). There are three ways Christ’s return gives us hope.

Amid the busyness of everyday life, Jesus warns that “one will be taken and one left” (Mt 24:40). That might not sound like a hopeful statement on the surface. Some will indeed be taken. Taken means to be swept away by God’s judgment. But that’s not the whole story. There are those left behind. God’s judgement didn’t fall upon them. They are left praising God that their salvation has come. The Day of Jesus’ coming is a day of judgment, yes. But judgment cuts two ways. One can be judged guilty and sentenced to punishment; one can also be judged innocent and set free. We proclaim the seriousness of God’s coming judgment. God will judge evil as He did at the time of the flood. But we also announce the promise of coming salvation.

As He did with Noah, God will save His chosen people. Christ’s death for us on the cross removes that judgment from us. Instead of judgment, your sins are forgiven, and your guilt is removed. All because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And, when St. Paul says that Salvation is nearer, he means that the same Jesus who was born of a Virgin to die for us is coming to finish what he started. When Christ returns, we’ll be done with sin and disease. Discouragement and depression will be long gone. Part of the joy of salvation is finally seeing Jesus face to face. And Paul says, every day of your busy life, you are getting closer and closer to the most remarkable thing of all—Christ. Our final salvation is Christ.

The busyness of this life continues to tempt us to take the easy road and forget about God and Christ. What has God done to deal with our busyness? Well, look back to the days of Noah. To deal with the apathy and busyness of their world, God sent Noah to preach to them. Noah proclaim the warning of the flood, and the offer of salvation in the ark. Christ, our Lord, has done the same in our day. He has called and ordained pastors in our Churches to proclaim God’s coming judgment and his rich mercy and forgiveness. Just like that ark brought Noah and his family safely through water, baptism places you into the ark of the Holy Christian Church. Our pastors remind us to stay awake. They urge us to remain safe within the church, to amend our sinful ways and increasingly place our confidence in Jesus Christ alone.

This is why Noah’s Ark prefigures your baptism. According to God’s strict judgment, he condemned an unbelieving world through the flood. Yet, according to his great mercy, he preserved believing Noah and his family. You were united to Jesus in His death and resurrection through the saving flood of Holy Baptism. The benefits of his cross are offered to you. You are clothed with Christ. You are made a new creation. It also equips you to be ready for Christ’s return today. Being ready for the coming of the Lord takes place in our baptisms, by daily dying and rising, living out faith in this world.

In Noah’s day, people were destroyed because they were sinful and because many were just too busy to take the time to listen to God. Don’t let the busyness of this life distract you from putting God first in your life. The point of Advent is to wake us up and sends us out with a renewed sense that your salvation is nearer every day. This salvation was won by Christ, who is coming again to finish what he started. So be ready because Jesus “is coming at an hour you do not expect” to save you.

May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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