“What Are You Waiting For?”
Advent 1, December 1, 2019
What Are You Waiting For?
Text: Matthew 24:36–44
What do you spend a lot of time waiting for? Stoplights to change. Kids to get dressed. Waiting in lines at grocery stores or government agencies. Maybe you are thinking, “Waiting for this sermon to end?”
My brothers and sisters, today we enter Advent and a new Church Year. Here in Advent we’re not just getting ready to celebrate Christmas. At Advent, We’re preparing for the Coming of the Kingdom of God.
Today’s Gospel is preparing us for the day when Jesus will return when our Lord will judge the living and the dead. Today’s Gospel shows us how this will work: that the world will be going on in a completely normal fashion for both Christians and unbelievers. Everything seems the same; there is eating and drinking, marriage ceremonies, men and women at work, everything going as it usually goes until suddenly there is a separation on the day of judgment. What are you/we waiting for? Jesus is reminding us today that we are to be watching and preparing for the kingdom of God, that we are waiting for Jesus to return.
How do we recognize God’s kingdom? The kingdom of God comes in two ways. First, God’s kingdom comes to us now, by grace. Then, on the Last Day, God’s kingdom will come with power, for judgment. These are two of the three “advents” that we think about during this season. The first advent was when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. We can celebrate that, but it is in the past. We can’t experience it or prepare for it. However, the advent or coming of Jesus Christ is happening to us now when we hear God’s Word, repent, and receive His grace. And lastly, there is Jesus Christ’s final advent when He comes in judgment.
So it’s good to remember what our catechism teaches about the coming of God’s kingdom. “How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity” (Small Catechism, Second Petition). In other words, God’s kingdom of grace is not recognized with the eyes; you can’t see it. God’s kingdom is not seen by the eyes, but by the ears. In this world, we live in and recognize God’s kingdom by faith.
By faith, we see that what the world offers to us is darkness. Everything the world values—celebrity, extravagance & consumption/consumerism, pleasure at whatever the cost and regardless of what it does to other people—is called by St. Paul in our Epistle today “the works of darkness”: “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy” (Rom 13:12–13). The opposite, God’s Word tells us, is love. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (13:10). (This verse is before our reading today)
How has your life been characterized? Have you given yourself over to the works of darkness—“orgies and drunkenness, . . . sexual immorality, . . . quarreling and jealousy”? Have you loved and shown love for your neighbor? Do you avoid being selfish? Know this: Here is the mystery of Advent: Jesus comes to love you, precisely you who have not loved, who have not obeyed the Commandments, who up to this point have been selfish and self-centered. It is right there—in Christ’s love, mercy, and forgiveness—that the kingdom of God is seen, is recognized.
The Lord calls us to a kingdom of love and mercy. When Jesus today calls Himself the Son of Man who comes in judgment, this is the same Son of Man about whom Jesus says earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Mt 20:18–19).
In His cross, Jesus takes our own curse upon Himself, the curse of death and being outside of God’s kingdom, and He buries it. We who take sin lightly imagine that it can be dismissed lightly. But our sins must be paid for—must. There are other places Jesus uses this strong word must. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22). This must happen, the Son of Man must suffer and die, must come under the Father’s punishment, must rise again, if we are to be restored to God’s kingdom.
For those who reject and despise God’s kingdom and His mercy, judgment comes suddenly. Our Lord gives an example in the great flood. In the days of Noah, the unrighteous were not prepared but preoccupied with the things of this world. Are you? “As were the days of Noah,” Jesus says in our text from Matthew, “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 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” (Mt 24:37–39). In an instant, everything that was important to them was swept away, and there was no time for preparation, no time for repentance, no time for anything.
The same will be true on the Day of Judgment. We do not know when our last hour will be. “Then 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. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (vv 40–42). This verse does not explain the rapture, it explains the suddenness of Jesus’ arrival.
St. Peter says in his second epistle, “If [God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly . . . then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pet 2:5, 9). Likewise, he says that God made Sodom and Gomorrah “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” In a sermon Jesus gave, Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Lk 17:32). Lot’s wife looked back, longing for the possessions that perished when sulfur rained down on Sodom, and she died. Do not look back or look to the world; look only to Jesus Christ, and His kingdom of mercy and love. Look to Jesus who shows mercy, before He comes in judgment.
Do you think this applies only to the world outside? These basic, simple Bible accounts should serve as examples to us, that we must be prepared for the Lord’s return at all times, and not get caught up in those things that so many wrongly think are so valuable.
How would the Lord have us prepare this Advent? The Lord wants us to be focused on God’s Word and prayer, seeking first and only the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
We live in hopeful expectation, longing for the return of Jesus, when “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17). We know the Jesus who died for us, and rose for us, will return to us and take us to be with Him. But we do not have to wait for His presence. The kingdom of God is here, now. He comes to us, in His Word and in His Sacraments. His kingdom is present where His Word is, where His Word and Holy Spirit create FAITH—and His Word includes these words: “Take, drink, this is my blood, shed for you for the remission of sins.” Here, even now, in this room, God’s kingdom of grace comes to you.
What are you waiting for?
In Jesus’ Name.