Sign of the Times

November 27, 2016

Bible Text: Matthew 24:36-44 |

One of my favorite movies of the past few years is “Silver Linings Playbook”; it is the story of a man and a woman, each a survivor of their own tribulations, who find one another and attempt to cobble together some sort of relationship.  The man’s father, played by Robert DeNiro, is an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan and whenever he watches a game on TV, there are particular practices he believes will help the Eagles win:  he has to have the remote controls placed in a certain position, he clutches an Eagles handkerchief throughout the game, and he especially needs to have his son by his side.  He is convinced that if all these things are faithfully done, the Eagles will have a better chance of winning.  He also believes in signs--- And it is only after the female lead points out the many times the Eagles have won while she and his son have been together, that he begins to approve of their budding relationship.

 

We do tend to look for signs—for portents and patterns to help us make sense of our world around us.  Some metaphysical indication of what’s to be or what we should do.  The first 35 verses of today’s chapter of Matthew is full of Jesus speaking about the tribulation of the end times and the signs which will signal the imminent return of the Son of Man; of wars and rumors and of war; of nations rising against nations; of famines and earthquakes and the increase of lawlessness.  The picture painted is not comforting or particularly uplifting.

 

And then, after all the doom and gloom, we arrive at today’s verse and these words:  “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

 

Now, since the resurrection of Christ there hasn’t yet been a season without wars and rumors of war.  There hasn’t yet been a period of worldwide peace—conflict, it seems, is a natural state for human beings.  Famines have been recorded as early as 441 BC and earthquakes have plagued the creatures of the earth on a regular basis for the past 3.2 billion years.

 

Truth be told, we exist in a world that daily reveals signs of the return of the Son of Man.  A world in which all one has to do is open a newspaper or turn on the television for verification that the end is surely near ---

 

But reading the signs of the impending apocalypse isn’t the point; certainly not of today’s reading—nor, as Jesus tells us, will it do any good—remember, no one knows, he says, neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.  Rather, the message Matthew would have us hear in today’s reading, is the lesson of preparedness.  Indeed, after this bit, Matthew uses the parable of the five foolish and the five wise bridesmaids to illustrate his point—you remember, five had enough oil on hand to light the way of the bridegroom and five did not.

 

We are called to be prepared—each and every day for the day when the Son of Man comes.

 

And even though the example given in today’s reading is the unfortunate scenario of a homeowner staying awake in order to catch the nocturnal thief,

we are not called to wait upon the Lord primed for fight or flight—with our muscles taut, our teeth clenched, and adrenaline rushing through our veins--That’s not the life we’re called to live.  Instead, we are to go about our daily lives in faithfulness.  Because it is in the most mundane moments of our daily lives—farming, grinding corn, driving to work, bathing the children that our true discipleship shows through.

 

It is in these small, seemingly unimportant routines where our lives will either consistently mirror the Christ, or not.  If it is only in a handful of discrete, isolated moments in our lives where we are clearly reflecting God, then we have missed the boat.  Mind you, those moments are nothing to dismiss, but if I’m holding fast to a twenty year old memory of being generous and kind and forgiving, and banking on the light of that one deed to shine through the days of the rest of my life, then I am deluding myself.

 

We are, as Paul tells the church in Rome, to don the armor of light—each and every day—and step out into the world reflecting the One whose light makes all things new.

 

My friends, you and I are living in the ‘between time’.   Smack dab between the incarnation of the Christ in whom all has already been redeemed, and the return of the Christ who will bring all things to fulfillment—who will lovingly, and thoroughly sift through the days of our lives searching for a glimpse of himself, of a mirror made manifest in the ins and outs of our days.

 

Today, we celebrate the first day of a new church year.  Why not use the occasion to make New Year’s resolutions as you might on January 1st?  Only this time, on this first Sunday of Advent, rather than resolving to shed a habit, or take up exercising, resolve instead to read scripture each day, or begin praying the daily devotionals or one of the offices in the prayer book; pick up a copy of our advent meditations and spend some time reflecting on how God is made manifest through the lives of this community.  Resolve to make peace with someone with whom there is an estrangement or wounded feelings; keep a gratitude journal.  Plan on speaking up for the voiceless or victimized this year; and, if there’s something you’ve felt strongly about but never acted on, do it now:  Volunteer at a shelter, feed the hungry, teach someone to read, visit the prisoners—

 

Prepare the way of the Lord---don your armor of light so that even in the darkness of the wintry world, even in the darkness of fear and anxiety, you will shine as a reminder of God’s mercy, and hope and promise.

 

The signs are all around us—as they ever have been—the day is surely coming when peace will have sway, and we will live in true community.  But God does not save us without us and we must be willing to do our part.  Let us begin.

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