This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 11/27/22, at Berkeley Friends Church. The scripture reading for this sermon was: Matthew 24:36-44 & Romans 13:11-14. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)
I found this sermon challenging to write, because Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 sound so clear and true. And I don’t know what to do with them. Jesus says that, before the destruction that came upon the world in the days of Noah, everyone was going about their daily lives, enjoying themselves, as if nothing would change. Jesus’ point is that we should not be like those foolish people who were swept away in the flood. We should not imagine that our lives are so firmly established that they will continue as they are forever. We should expect our own flood.
I found this passage hard to reflect, because I feel like I’m already living in a space of high alert, a space of heightened readiness and even alarm. I am watching the signs of the times. I’m observing the mounting divisions in our country that feel so unsustainable. I’m watching global geopolitics, seeing how easy it would be for the conflicts between the great powers – NATO and Russia, the US and China – to spiral out of control into a truly global confrontation. Everything about life right now feels on edge, like we are all living in a gasoline-soaked house full of crazy people brandishing lit matches.
So I feel alert. My eyes are open – darting nervously around the room. I don’t know if I’m ready, but unlike the owner of the house Jesus mentions – I feel like I’m prepared to stay up all night, because it seems very likely that the thief is on his way.
It has felt hard to prepare a sermon on Jesus’ call to watchfulness, because the ever present demand of watchfulness has been falling on me, falling on our country, falling on the world, for years now. And it just seems to be growing more intense. What is about to happen, and how will we survive it?
It has felt hard to prepare a sermon on this passage from Matthew, because I’ve been struggling to find where the good news is here. Because I don’t want to stay awake all night, looking for thieves. I don’t want to get an ark ready in the face of a world-ending flood. I don’t want unpredictable things to happen; I don’t want people to start disappearing. The coming of the Son of Man as presented to us in this passage from Matthew doesn’t sound like good news at all!
So I found it helpful to have a word from Paul here, from his letter to the Romans, to shine a little light into what we, as followers of Jesus, are to expect from his coming. Just like Jesus, Paul uses a nighttime metaphor. He compares our present age to the darkness of night. And the age that is to come, the advent of Jesus into the world, he compares this to the dawning of a new day.
What should be our response to this new day that is coming, according to Paul? It’s time to wake up. At night time, it’s appropriate to be asleep. But we know what time it is. We know that the resurrection power of Jesus is coming onto the scene. We know it’s coming soon; the sky is lighting up in anticipation of the dawn. Salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. The night is almost over; soon it will be bright as day.
This is why we say that Jesus is the Light. Because when he comes, all things are made clear. All falsehood is swept away like shadows before the sun. All injustice is brought to light; all evil is exposed. And so Paul urges us to get our lives in order, now in this twilight period we live in, so that we will be prepared to walk in the light of day.
Because, this light that Paul speaks of is so imminent that there’s no sense in waiting. We can’t roll over and go back to sleep for another twenty minutes. Day is dawning. So whatever we need to do to get ready for the day ahead, let’s not delay. Let’s do it now.
After all, who wants to wake up late, at 10am on a workday, rushing to pull ourselves together and make explanations for why we didn’t arrive on time? Better to get up early. Better to get ready now; ready to walk decently as in the day, not reveling in drunkenness, or sexual immorality or fighting of any kind. Better to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the things of the night.
This sounds like good news to me. The day is approaching; it’s time to wake up. The darkness is weakening, it’s time to live in the light and see what has been hidden. A new age is dawning, and we can choose it over the benighted age that is passing away.
This sounds like good news, if we want to embrace the light. It sounds like good news if we are committed to be peacemakers, if we are committed to lives of justice and righteousness. It sounds like good news if we want to see things as they really are, and if we are ready to have our secrets exposed before God and the world.
And that’s the scary part, isn’t it? That’s what the enemies of Jesus absolutely don’t want: To be exposed. To be forced to give up the deeds of darkness: Self-righteousness, egotism, lust, hurting other people, hoarding while others are in need. It’s scary to give up the deeds of darkness, especially if you’re not quite convinced that the day is coming. Because in the age of darkness, the deeds of darkness feel like comfort, they feel like protection – they feel like the best we can do.
But a new day is coming. And in the light of that day, the deeds of darkness will be exposed for what they really are. Quite the opposite of being adaptive, protective, comforting, they will prove to be disastrous. When the day breaks, the deeds of darkness, and those who refuse to repent of them, will be swept away.
But this is good news! Because we know that the day of the Lord is coming, and we have an opportunity to become people fit to live in the daytime. Instead of hitting the snooze button, we can wake up and get ready for the day ahead. This is good news, because although the Son of Man comes at an hour we do not expect, we know that he is coming soon. We may not know exactly when the sun will peek above the hills, but we can already see its light. The stars of night are beginning to fade, and the daystar is visible.
Today, we enter into the season of Advent, a time to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ arrival into the world. It’s a time to examine ourselves and ask, “In this twilight age, how does the way I am living prepare me to live in the daylight that will soon be here?” Advent is the promise that the evil of this age, despite all its apparent strength, is in fact transitory. The true reality is coming, and we can prepare ourselves for it.
So stay awake. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for those things that are practiced in darkness. Stay awake, and get ready for the day that is ahead. Stay awake, and turn your eyes to the rising sun, because a new day is dawning.