"Jesus said to the disciples, 'But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, 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 Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.'"
--Matthew 24: 36-44
Any of y'all been to the Triple Rock Baptist Church in Calumet City, Illinois? There's a preacher there, The Rev. Cleophus James, who, in his sermons often reminds his flock "don't be lost when ya time comes, for the day of The Lord is coming as a thief in the night." Wake up, be alert, he reminds them, and then the choir and congregation break out into songs of alleluia and amen and dancing up and down the aisles.
A typical Sunday morning at the Triple Rock Baptist Church
Of course none of you have been to the Triple Rock because it doesn't exist. It's the church Jake and Elwood attend at the beginning of the Blues Bros., my favorite movie, and The Rev. Cleophus James is the charismatic alter ego of the godfather of soul, James Brown. But the message Rev. Cleophus imparts to his congregation is the same message Jesus imparts to his followers in Matthew's gospel: the day of The Lord is coming, and we are meant to be prepared. Don't be lost when your time comes!
Just as Rev. Cleophus in the early minutes of The Blues Bros. reminds his flock 'don't be lost when your time comes', Jesus reminds his followers, and reminds us, to be ready, watchful, alert. And that, brothers and sisters, is what Advent is about.
As we begin another liturgical year, moving into what we call Year A, leaving Luke's gospel and beginning Matthew's gospel, we don't hear a story from the days before Christmas, but we hear a story from Holy Week (of all times)! We find Jesus preaching today to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, imparting some words of wisdom regarding that day that has so many names: the Day of The Lord, the Day of Resurrection, the eschaton, the Coming of the Son of Man, or the Second Coming. Those around him want to know when, how, and where this day would happen. More than anything else, folks in Jesus' time wanted to know about the Day of the Lord. They press Jesus, but Jesus tells them not to be looking so far ahead and worrying about such a day, because it is in God's time, in God's hands, not their own. So don't be anxious. Don't be worrying about the hows, whens, and whys of such a day. Jesus finishes with the familiar parable about the owner of the house, who, had he known the thief were coming, would have stayed awake. So we must be prepared, but we must not be anxious.
In our own time it seems pretty difficult to prepare without being anxious. Plenty of churches preach about the Day of the Lord, how we are to get ready because it's coming any day now. They spend so much time trying to predict that day, and then it comes and goes with little fanfare; after all, how many Second Comings have we survived over the past couple decades?! Sure, those folks are trying to prepare, but they cause a lot of anxiety. Or look at Black Friday. How many of us flocked to the stores in preparation of Christmas, to get a jump start on the shopping and get it done early? We did it to prepare, but oh what anxiety that caused! You need only search YouTube for ‘Black Friday videos’ to see the anxiety manifested on that day by that preparedness. It's enough to make you lose faith in humanity! That is totally the opposite of being prepared without being anxious.
How can we, then, be prepared without being anxious? When something is so important--especially as important as Jesus coming into the world--how can we not fret and worry? Well, I don’t know the secret to such a paradox, but perhaps Paul in his letter to the Romans has a foothold on it. He tells the congregation in Rome that, "It is the moment for you to wake from sleep." (Romans 13: 11). Advent is about being awake, being watchful for God's movement in our own lives and responding to that movement. Paul goes on to urge the congregation in Rome to "put on The Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13: 14). In the early church this was a metaphor for baptism, so for those of us who are the Body of Christ, we can be awake and prepared and free from anxiety when we live into those vows we made at baptism: to renounce Satan, to turn to and follow Jesus, to continue in the apostles’ teachings, to repent and return whenever we fall into sin, to proclaim the Good News in word and action, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being. When we put on the Lord Jesus, when we remember those promises we made and we live into them, we can, indeed, be prepared without being anxious. We can be more awake than we have ever been!
We are called during this holy season to an intentional period of watchfulness, not only for the celebration of Jesus' birth, but also of the Day of the Lord, of Jesus 'coming again to judge the living and the dead, which we proclaim in our Nicene Creed. But our watching is not that of terror-stricken fear and anxiety, but rather of eager expectation, hope, and joy. It isn't the same expectation that led to people to predict when the Second Coming was happening, nor is it the same expectation that caused folks to run each other over on Black Friday. It is a quiet, mindful expectation. We are, after all, living in the Second Advent, looking with eager expectation, hope, and joy, to Jesus' return. In the gospel Jesus urges the people to remember the days of Noah. Noah, after all, prepared for the rains, not when the clouds were overhead, but during warm, sunny weather, and so we too are to prepare ourselves for Christ's arrival each day, not just for the next four weeks. Every hour of every day we are meant to open ourselves up to God's movement in our lives and to respond to it.
Curtis Mayfriend wrote, and the Impressions sang, "people get ready, there's a train a'comin'; you don't need no ticket, you just get on board." They were singing about Jesus! The train has come once and will come again, and that train's name is Jesus! We don't need no ticket. We don't need no worry or anxiety; heaven knows we have enough worries day in and day out. Instead we need only live each day, each minute, as though he were coming and we were about to meet him.
People Get Ready!