It is about this time, sometime around the first snowfall of the year, when we are reminded to be prepared for hazardous weather and potential emergencies. Weather forecasters will make it a part of their daily forecasts. Radio personalities will talk about the need for it. You might even seen an article or two in the newspaper about what to do in case of a winter emergency.
No matter the medium the message is quite clear: Be prepared! Be on the lookout! You never know when something might happen!
Every winter, without fail, this is what we do. We make sure we are prepared for the eventual winter storms. We stock up on candles and matches just in case the power goes out. We’ll make sure there are plenty of canned goods and bottled water to use. We’ll make sure there is salt for the sidewalks and driveways. We’ll do all we can to make sure that we are ready for any potential storm.
Our actions reaffirm the importance of being prepared, being on the lookout, and always being aware that something may happen at any moment. No one wants to be unprepared for these eventual emergencies, which is why we take the necessary steps to avoid this from happening. When that storm or other emergency comes, we want to be able to look it in the eye and say, “I’ve got this. I’m prepared.”
The same is true, for us, as followers of Jesus Christ. We are called to have a similar sense of watchfulness and preparedness when it comes to our relationship with the Lord and waiting for the Lord’s return. This is evident as we look at this morning’s passage from Matthew 24:36-44 and as we approach the start of the Advent season. Traditionally, the first Sunday of Advent has been an opportunity to remind us that we live in the hope of the Second Advent, of the promise that as Christ came the first time so will he return. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to keep watch for Christ’s return by being prepared for the Lord’s coming.
This is what Jesus tells his disciples as he speaks to them from Mount Olives. At the start of chapter 24, Jesus and the disciples have left the Temple where he tells them the Temple would soon be demolished. Once they arrived at Mount Olives, the disciples ask two questions to Jesus: How will we know when this would happen and when will this take place? In other words, the disciples are wanting Jesus to give them a sign and to give them the exact date when this would take place.
As is typical of Jesus, he does not simply answer their questions by giving the exact moment and time. He does answer the question in such a way to expand our understanding of what it means to be a member of God’s kingdom and, in this passage, what it means to wait and be prepared for Christ’s return. Most of chapter 24 is Jesus’ answer to the first part of the question. He talks about some of the things that would occur at that time, such as the arrival of false prophets, persecution, and people abandoning their faith in God.
You can almost imagine the disciples taking in all of Jesus’ answer to the first question. They are ready to know when these things will take place, so they are anxiously waiting for the answer to the second half of their question. But, this is when Jesus throws them a curveball. He says, “However, no one knows the day or hour of when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven of the Son of Man himself. Only the Father.” Jesus basically says, “I know you want to know, but I don’t even know.”
This seems puzzling to us. Why wouldn’t Jesus know when these things would take place? Wouldn’t Jesus know the date of his own eventual return as the Son of God? In asking this, we forget that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. Some things are hidden from Jesus’ knowledge so, as some have suggested, that he might be able to humbly take on his calling of being the Messiah and Savior. How could Jesus be self-sacrificial in his care for all if he knows the exact moment of when all of these things would occur? Jesus decided not to know the timing of these things, so he might be able to give to the world what we truly need.
Yet, we spend hours and days trying to guess what Jesus does not know. This is not what it means to keep a watch out for Christ’s return and to be prepared for this coming. We’ve made it a cottage industry within our faith to make guesses and suggestions as to the exact date of when the Lord would come. If Jesus does not know the date of his return, how are we to know the specifics of the exact date? We cannot. We must refrain from trying to interpret the times that we live as either proof or non proof that Christ is coming in the next few days. Truly, we have lived in the “end times” since Christ’s ascension. Instead, we must live with a sense of watchfulness and preparedness that connects us to what Jesus desires for us.
The remainder of our passage gives a glimpse into what this watchfulness and preparedness really looks like. For one, it reminds us that the day of Christ’s return could come at any moment. It will be an unexpected event that will take place in the normalcy of everyday life. To illustrate this, Jesus recalls the story of Noah and how the flood was unexpected. There is no commentary, here, on any perceived sinfulness on the part of those not included in the ark. Jesus simply suggests it came at an unexpected moment in people’s lives. They were doing the normal things of life, such as marrying, when, suddenly, the flood came and overwhelmed the earth.
Jesus says this is what it will be like when the Lord returns. It won’t happen when we expect it or when we think it will happen. It will come at an unexpected hour and when we least expect it to take place. The unexpectedness of Jesus’ coming and the fact that we cannot know when this will take place brings a sense of urgency to the need to keep watch and to be prepared in our faith.
That is Jesus’ call for his disciples then and today. We are to keep watch and be prepared. Much like a homeowner would protect their houses from a thief or we might protect ourselves from an eventual winter storm, we must do all we can to be watchful and prepared with a hopeful anticipation of Christ’s return. As followers of Christ, we must keep looking for Jesus’ return and to be prepared for that day to come soon.
But, how are we to do this? How might we live lives of watchfulness and preparedness as we wait for Christ’s return? One of the primary ways we do this is by exhibiting a living hope that defines everything about us. On this first Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle that represents our hope that one day Christ will return. It is a candle that signifies our hopeful anticipation of the day when Christ returns and makes right the injustices that exist in our world. We keep watch for that day by trusting that the story of Christ’s initial coming promises us that he will return. We prepare our hearts by the acknowledgement that there is something greater on the horizon and that is Christ coming and living with his people.
As well, we keep watch for the day to come and prepare our hearts for it by exhibiting a living hope that leads us towards daily obedience of God’s desires for us. One the best ways we can keep watch and prepare for the day to come is by living out what Jesus teaches and making it truly part of our lives. We do this by allowing Jesus’ words and teachings to become more than just words on a page, but living and breathing guideposts for how we are to live with ourselves, each other, our neighbors, and the world.
Jesus speaks to this in the next chapter, chapter 25, when he continues his discussion about the end times and judgment. He describes a scene where the sheep and goats are separated and those who are considered sheep are those who are able to experience an everlasting relationship with the Lord. Those who are sheep, Jesus says in the passage, are those who put into practice Jesus’ words in actionable ways that cares for the poor and the least amongst us. We do this not so that we can “earn our salvation,” because we cannot, but we do this in oder to keep watch and prepare for Christ’s return through a living hope that shares the message of hope and Christ’s love with others.
Because of the unexpectedness of Jesus’ return, there is an urgency to our watchfulness and preparedness. We cannot delay in making ourselves ready by living with hope and sharing this hope with others. Every day we delay living by Christ’s hope and sharing this hope with others is a day that we take on the risk of not keeping watch and being prepared for that day to come. That day will come like a thief at night. We do not want to be caught off guard and unprepared for the day to come.
So, let us make the necessary preparations so that we can keep watch and be prepared for the Lord’s return. Let us do what Jesus calls us to, in these times, so we might be ready for the time to come. Let us keep watch and prepare for the day of Christ’s return by living with hope and an active obedience that puts into practice the very things Christ’s desires in us by how we care for each other and the world. Let us live with an urgent hope that says today could be the day that we shout “Rejoice! The Lord is King” while worshiping in the physical presence of Christ.
There is no time to delay. We must ready our hearts and souls for this glorious day. Keep watch. Be prepared. Christ is coming.