Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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Sermon for November 27, 2022: “Waiting in the Shadows” based on Matthew 24:32-44 (Written by Becky Walker)
Matthew 24:32-44 The Lesson of the Fig Tree
‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
The Necessity for Watchfulness
‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, 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, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But 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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Happy New Year, Church! This is a new year! The journey through Advent begins today. You might think the year would begin with trumpets and fanfare, or maybe the softness of Christmas Eve....But instead, we begin in the shadows of war, despair, sorrow, and hate. And it’s precisely here that the God of grace will arrive. It’s precisely here that the church is called to light candles of hope, peace, joy, and love. You are invited to listen, watch, remember, and wait...It’s a season that holds the certainty of the past and the predictability of the future with the choices we make.
The biblical story we heard this morning from the Gospel of Matthew, like most biblical narratives, was written several decades after the fact. Jesus is nearing the end of his public ministry and in this passage, there are signs that the current age is coming to an end.
The disciples have been asking Jesus questions all through chapter 24 in Matthew. When Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple, they ask him when it will happen and what are the signs of his coming. And we hear in this passage Jesus finally offering a direct answer to the “when” part of their question. But, it’s not the answer they’d been hoping for.
After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, there would be times of great suffering, but then, slowly, new signs would appear and Christ will arrive and make things right. But when? When will this happen? Not even Jesus knows. He stresses that only God knows the answer to when this will happen. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Then, Jesus reminds the disciples about Noah, and how the people went about life as usual, right up to the moment when the floods came. Noah only knew the great flood was coming and prepared the best he could by building an ark and gathering a variety of animals before the sudden devastation happened. There would be no warning, no alert to let them know what was coming. “...and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away...”
“Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Watchfulness or wakefulness is not a defensive posture. It’s having heightened awareness to the signs of God’s presence. The power comes from preparing, preparing for the coming of the Lord even though we don’t know “when”. We are not supposed to know “when the Lord is coming”, like the disciples keep asking. Jesus tells us to stay awake and watch.
The season of Advent is a time of actively waiting for Jesus to come by entering the shadows of despair, conflict, hate, and sorrow. We light the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love. Today’s passage helps us look forward without anxiety because we can’t be afraid to look back. As we look back on the time of Noah, we learn he prepared for the great flood. When we do that, we see what God has done and can have confidence in what God will do, in God’s own time. The beauty of the power of scripture is that it provides the stories that foreshadow what God is doing in our own time and will do in God’s time.
This morning, listen and hear what Jesus, and the writer of Matthew are saying. Enter into the shadows, the places where all hope seems lost. Listen to the desperate refugee, the lonely prisoner, the heartbroken addict, and the homeless. Once you’ve entered the shadows, you can proclaim the good news, and spread hope that God is on the way.
Keep awake! Be ready! Jesus is calling us, inviting us to repair the world, little by little, one person at a time, changing this anxious world to one filled with hope, hope of things to come...Peace, Joy, Love.
Jesus tells his disciples that the Son of Man is present healing the sick, standing with the broken and suffering, bringing sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. This is where we, too, go to see what God is doing.
Challenge yourself this Advent season to find the joy in turning toward God, walking humbly, to loving mercy, and doing justice. We have the power and the invitation from Jesus to change our lives as we learn from the past. So, keep awake and prepare as you wait in the shadows.....be ready! Amen.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Salt’s Lectionary Commentary for Advent Week 1: “Be Ready”, Matthew 24:36-44, 11.27.22
Cheryl A. Lindsay: Sermon Seeds: “Stay Alert”, Matthew 24:36-44, First Sunday of Advent, Yr. A, 11.27.22
Stanley Saunders: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent/commentary-on-matthew-2436-44-6
David L. Bartlett, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 1, Westminster John Knox Press Louisville, KY: Matthew 24:36-44, pg. 20-24
The New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV, Fourth Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press 2010) Matthew 24:32-44; Pg. 1783.
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.