Genesis 6:5-8; Matthew 24:36-44

November 27, 2022

  • Dealing with impending judgment and the timing of the coming of God


I hope you all had a nice enough Thanksgiving.  It can be a tough holiday, though, especially if you are holding significant loss.  This was the first year for my wife to be without either of her parents.  That made it hard but also opened the possibility of recrafting the holiday in her own way which for us is thinking more about our children and our family now.

Spending the time devotedly with the children also means we hear Christmas lists.  Not that my girls are greedy or anything.  It’s just the season. In addition to some good eats, we have had to listen to Christmas lists and hear what they hope for.

Christmas tends to bring out those hopes and wishes, doesn’t it?  This has only gotten worse over the years.  I don’t think Christmas hopes looked historically anything like they look today.  We need to go back to nuts and fruit.  Maybe I should start pushing that – even big bags of fruit and nuts.  That could be my hope, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Today is a day of hope.  As we embark on the season of Advent and prepare for another Christmas, we are looking ahead to what is coming.  We are anticipating the coming of our Lord.  We are dealing in hope.  This is a season of great hope.  It is no accident that days are shorter, times literally darker, in this season.  A new year lurks around the corner.  Newness with familiarity go hand-in-hand.  We find comfort in the tradition but are reminded of how far we have come in another year.  In a world in which there are no guarantees, we have to turn to hope if we are to have any chance.

Now, what happens when we dare to hope, to truly hope, as the world pushes us to dream for something different or a future that might save us?  I have a feeling that those hopes are in demand in Ukraine and Russia.  I have a feeling that those hopes are rising in Iran.  I have a feeling that those hopes are hanging on in Afghanistan.  I have a feeling those hopes crowd places and trails through South and Central America.  I believe those hopes are holed up in secret places in China.  Those hopes are crucial in communities right here in America where children do not have enough food, enough safety, enough support, enough medical attention, and enough love.  Those hopes are so important on our streets where people work to save the homeless and those who feel powerless.  It might well be that those folk most caught under the weight of the world’s brokenness have given up on hope.  I might well expect this in the homeless, for example, who can feel the blind eye or the disgust at their presence.   They know no one wants them, no one needs them, no one values them.  But we can certainly pray that hope holds them and surrounds them and helps them find warm places to sleep, and we can pray for those who are agents of hope and change in community ministries and service projects.  The summer I went with a group of high schoolers to Atlanta, GA, we worked in a number of homeless ministries and were able to serve that population but also talk to them and hear their stories.  Maybe we shared even a little bit of hope.  It is also a good and righteous and necessary to do more than pray for them, too.  Hope cannot feed anyone, but any good work begins with hope.

Hope is a dangerous thing.  No one hopes for what is already here.  No one hopes for life the way that it already is.  There is no need to hope for what we have.  We HOPE when we need a change or see a change coming.  Hope is dangerous because it is stepping out of the boat, into the world that we do not currently know.  Hope is envisioning a different future, clinging to an idea of what might be.  And if we hope strenuously enough, we just might try to make our hopes happen.

Hope can lead to trouble, people stirring change or fighting for what is better.  Hope can lead to restlessness and to action.  Hope can lead the children of God to stand up to the powers of the world.  Hope can bring boldness and courage.  If our hope is in the Lord, then we could well become the agents of righteous change – God’s change.  We could be sowing seeds for the Kingdom and watching for them to grow.  Hope can change the world for God’s good.  Every good work of God has begun with hope.

Hope is hard to see in Matthew chapter 24.  A couple of weeks ago we heard Jesus tell his followers that the Temple that they were making over was going to be utterly destroyed.  Then, he began speaking in scary apocalyptic language reminiscent of the book of Daniel which is less familiar to us but was very popular in first century Judea – Jesus’ time.  People were looking for something big and godly and dramatic to happen to show God’s justice and knock the Romans down a few pegs.  They were looking for God’s Messiah to lead the way to a new Israel, a new kingdom, a new David, and a new golden age.  Instead, Jesus was telling them how horrible it is going to be in the future God was leading them into.  How could they possibly have hope in the midst of that?

Actually, they had too much hope.  It is hard for us to imagine since we do not live in that culture, but Jesus had just said that all of these “new things coming,” and specifically his return, would take place in their lifetimes.  Back when I was in my first church, I heard the dean of the school of prophecy at Liberty claim that Jesus would be returning in our lifetimes because they just knew it.  People back then were doing the same thing.  Followers of Jesus knew the great and glorious day was coming.  He had risen from the dead, and he would return in a terrible day of God’s wrath to set everything straight.  These reports had spread.  People in Thessalonica had even quit working as they waited for Jesus to return.  What’s the point of working if Jesus is coming back any day?

That’s why we have the passage today.  When Matthew wrote this gospel decades after Jesus had died and risen, he saw what was going on, what people were thinking and saying and doing.  He saw how people were pinning their hopes on the return of Christ at any moment.  They were looking for Jesus to come back any second, but that is not a spirit to hold for long.  It is not sustainable.  Just like we cannot hold the anticipation of Christmas or anything for that matter all year, the followers of Jesus could not keep up their hopes that he was coming quickly.

Matthew reframes everything with Jesus’ teaching in today’s passage.  It will be a complete surprise, he says.  It will be like the days of Noah.  People will be consumed with what is not God’s work, and then it will overwhelm them.  There is no sense living with our bags packed and in hand.  No one saw the flood coming.   Today, we need to carry on with the service and ministry of our Lord this day and each and every day, but the day IS coming, don’t get Jesus wrong.  The Day of the Lord is coming, but it will come suddenly and unexpectedly.  There is no sense of watching for the pot to boil.  We know how that works.

Hope can be hard in our world.  It can be hard to find in these days, but hope is what gives us a tomorrow.  One hope prophet, Martin Luther King, Jr said, “But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”  The way forward is through the night, just like through the valley of the shadow of death in Psalm 23.

Before we take one more step into the season of Advent, before we go one more day into this Christmas season, before we think about giving into the anxieties and worries and fears around us, we need to decide whether we will wake up and look forward to what is coming.  We cannot skip past this warning and run on to all of the fun and festive and familiar things.  Hope will not let us take any of this for granted.  The world is far from right, and things crying out for God’s justice and righteousness and love are around every corner.  Healing the world, healing the world and its people, healing the world and its people and ourselves will take every ounce of our hope for better lives.

Jesus is our one and only true hope.  He has come and he is coming again.  The is not some cute kids’ story, but his coming is the ground for our hope.  There are groups and followers of Jesus who are out there right now working hard to live into the hope of Christ’s return.  They are not sitting around twiddling their thumbs, but they are living fervently in the service of the coming Lord.  None of us should be sitting around waiting, but with engaged hope that we will see our Lord one way or another, we should all be striving to show ourselves approved.  With everything else going on as Christmas gets ramped up, do not forget that in this season of hopes, our greatest hope is in the coming of our Lord.

To God be the glory.  Amen.