Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
It’s hard not to hear the gospel text and think ominous thoughts. There’s an end. Stay awake. Don’t get caught sleeping. The thieves are coming. Some will be taken. Some will be left. And let’s just namedrop the flood that destroyed creation but for a boat too. And all of it is out of your control. You don’t even get to know when. Stay awake.
Except we just decorated for Christmas and the fear feels artificial like a bad scary movie. The words of our Lord could be taglines. Stay awake. It’s the wrong season, but the Son of Man will show up at an hour nobody expects. Like bear attacks. They come when you least expect them.
Sorry. It’s hard to take it seriously for so many reasons. Not the least of which is that the threats ring hollow during the most wonderful time of the year. So maybe we’ll poke fun at the baptists down the street who wonder about the two women and invented the rapture to compel people to behave to avoid being left behind like some bad fiction. Two women will be working in the field. Which are you? Stay woke.
Mostly though, we’ve got other stuff on our minds, like in the days of Noah. Folks were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. Really, it’s nothing new. We’ve got the holidays on our mind. We’d rather think about baby Jesus than end-of-the-world-judging-Jesus. We’re thrilled to see cute baby Him laid in a manger, kids dressed up in costumes acting out plays, cookies, carols, and presents. I love Christmas. But if I’m willing to procrastinate on stuff I know how to do with clear deadlines, preparing for something someday without clear instructions how…let’s just sing let it snow for a northerner instead. We’re too focused on the world to face the Lord on the last day.
The thing is, when we won’t consider the end because we think it detracts from the holidays, it changes how we see Christmas too. We grumble when Christ took flesh, not so we could fight over discounted TVs when the ones we have at home work fine or tell everyone on the internet to stop posting about politics we disagree with, but to call us all sinners, then bleed for us.
But we did it last year too. The crowds gather outside of the mall annually. Each election cycle brings more of the same. Facebook reminds us of passive aggressive posts and bitter complaints that fixed nothing. We’ll do it again time around too. Worse, we like it this way. Even though we know this is an ugly world, for some reason the idea that we shouldn’t be eager to be a part of it is just appalling. We’re so uncomfortable with an end we don’t know we’d rather have the same song and dance of the misery today. See how ridiculous sin is. I’ll complain that the world is too material, but if you tell me to use all the money I’ll spend on junk people don’t need on feeding homeless, I’ll scoff. That’s for other people to do. I’m too busy ripping electronics out of the hands of senior citizens in the name of giving. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
If you’re willing to be honest about sin, about how cold it really gets in sinners hearts that would rather stand alone and freeze than see the warmth of forgiving an enemy, because for some reason we actually prefer the bitter grudges. Be honest about how measuring who’s awake by our behavior looks. It says something when we study black Friday flyers like God wishes we’d study the scriptures because you’ll be there at 5 for some blue rays, but to be here at 9:30 for bible study is nuts.
So God fires a Divine bullet straight through all of it and calls it Advent. It means God shows up. God actually and physically and truly comes to His people. He takes on human flesh, born of a virgin. He will come again on the last day to judge the living and the dead. And He shows up here too in His word and sacrament. Advent means God will not sit idly in heaven while creation looks like this. But Advent begins with the end. With the recognition that heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word will not.
That gives meaning to Christmas traditions we lean into. It shapes why we care that God would be here in body and blood for you. Whenever God shows up, it’s a recognition that some things are eternal and some things…just aren’t. From the darkness we chase away with Christmas lights to the holiday gatherings that bring so much stress. From the pains of death and the families broken by the sinners not with us or the saints who left too soon. We won’t last down here for long. Nobody stays awake forever.
Advent is a reckoning, but it’s a breath of fresh air. There is an end. Who honestly cares? This is not a scary movie and Jesus isn’t the bad guy. He’s the savior of a world that doesn’t pay attention. Of a people too sinful and sleepy. Of you.
Remember the days of Noah. Actually remember. Then begin with the end. The rainbow. The promise. The days will be as those before the flood. We eat. We drink. We marry. We live. But we know who we are. There will be two women at the mill. One will be taken and the other left, but we’re already in the ark. We’re the baptized.
That’s what this place is. The church is the ark where the faithful are kept safe until the end. The baptized find shelter here. Salvation here. The last day comes when nobody expects it, but we’re ready. We will be found holy because Advent reminds us what God’s all about when He shows up.
When God shows up, it’s about the cross. He enters creation to carry the cross to forgive you for all of it. Every bit of covetousness, disregard for your neighbor, and grudge buried deep. So when He comes again in Glory He can find something more than the mess we make. The end comes not as a threat, but a hope. A promise. An understanding that whenever God shows up it’s to give mercy to sinners. Even the ones who’d want nothing to do with Him. Nothing you can do can change that. He will end the disputes and wars and sins and deaths so absolutely that swords will be turned into plowshares. The Light of the Lord is coming soon.
And even here and now, there is light for you in a dark world of changes and spins. Here is one straight line. God comes to you. The Lord enters your space to save. The end will come when nobody expects it, but the Lord shows up here on a schedule for you. He Advents in body and blood for you to eat and drink. He makes Himself present in the ark to keep you safe. Remember where you are in dark and latter days. You’re already in the ark. Remember the rainbow. The promise. The end will come, but on that great day You’ll receive life that does not sleep the sleep of death.