Advent 1, 2004, November 28, 2004
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savor, Swea City
Matthew 24:37-44 (ESV)
(From a sermon by Rev. P).
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well, today we can sigh a sigh of relief. After the last few Sundays of talking about the end of the world, we can finally look forward to Christmas. Finally, we can stop talking about the “end times”, we can stop talking about being ready because we don’t know when the end will come, and talk about the cute little baby in the manger… or at least getting ready for him. When the altar turns blue we know what to expect. So, here we are ready to talk about Christmas and Jesus. But wouldn’t you know it, here comes today’s Gospel lesson, and Jesus talks about… being ready because we don’t know when the end will come. Well, since it’s always good to talk about what Jesus talks about we’ll dive in again, we’ll take our cue from Jesus.
The first thing you notice about what Jesus is saying is that he compares the end of time to the days of Noah. But to find out exactly what was that like, we go back to Genesis: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 (ESV) And Jesus adds, For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away. (38-39). You see, back in Noah’s day, they didn’t have a clue that there was any problem. They didn’t know the flood was coming, it took them by surprise. Eating and drinking, getting married, those are regular every day events. Before the flood came and swept them all away everything seemed normal.
That’s the warning Jesus gives to us. ‘Be ready, because everything will seem normal, then the end will come.’ Oh, I know we’ve all been conditioned to think that things have to get much worse in the world before the end comes. But if we take seriously Jesus description we’ll soon, take a quick breath and take note of how it’s so very much the same today as it was before the flood. Back then, God says the evilness was in their hearts and in their thoughts. But when you add Jesus words it doesn’t sound like the picture we might have in our minds because of the movies. It wasn’t out-and-out evil running rampant in the streets. Everything seemed normal. There wasn’t the idea in their minds that something terrible was about to happen. The picture we are given is, rather, of a whole society that has turned against God; people doing what ever they wanted apart from God. And most importantly as far as they were concerned everything was going ok. It was a great time to be alive.
But Noah knew better. He had been given the job of building an ark, and preaching. The two things don’t seem to go together. It’s not often you see a preacher with a hammer in his hand. Yet, Noah and his family lived a life that was in sync with God. Noah was told of the up coming disaster, at least 80 years in advance (that’s the amount of time it took to build the ark). All that time he spoke again and again in warning of what was to come. But in spite of all Noah’s preaching no one was convinced, not one single person, except for the 8 of Noah’s family, was saved from the flood. No one believed that Noah knew what he was talking about. Well, everyone except God. In fact, Noah is called a great preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). If we go by human standards, human measurements we’d say that Noah failed in his task. But God knew better and saved him and his family.
All the time while Noah was preaching and the world around him was ignoring him, they had no idea; no idea of the form God’s anger would take. They were living normal everyday lives, marrying and giving in marriage, eating and drinking, everything was normal. But the flood came and took away all those who refused to believe, all those who didn’t listen to Noah, and it all happened without warning on a very normal day, like today.
Yes, I mean a day like today. If you think about it that description of Jesus matches today very well, too. Marrying and given in marriage, eating and drinking, some of us are still fighting off the tryptophan daze, that stuff in turkey that makes you sleepy. In spite of all the dangers in the world, the average life expectancy continues to rise; it’s all the way up to 77.2 years (see http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lifexpec.htm). And we aren’t just able to live longer; we have a better quality of life than any generation before. I think, in fact, that there should be a new index on the quality of life based on the amount of time it takes you to get from your house to a Best Buy. Last week in Burt, ours just shot up by 30 min. Other good things going on around us: Our society demands we respect one another. Hate isn’t just a four letter word it actually a crime. And we owe it all, it is said, to advancements of science and technology. Really, from that perspective it’s a great time to be alive.
Of course there are other things we should recognize about the time in which we live. These things fall right in the category of what God’s Word calls the wickedness of man and the every intention of the thoughts of [our] heart[s is]only evil continually. It is legal in this country to kill and unborn child, for any reason and at any time during their development before they are born. And there is a strong movement to make it legal to kill other helpless people, the elderly, the disabled, the terminally ill, and others that are considered to not be living “quality lives.” (for example see http://www.terrisfight.org and http://www.hemlock.org/home.jsp) We are told that we must tolerate all kinds of sexual immorality, and to speak against it is quickly threatening to become a violation of the law. And we are told that God is not allowed in Public Square, either in our schools, or government, or even regular public discussion. Well, we should qualify that by saying that god is allowed in public schools many gods and religions are discussed freely as a matter of diversity, only Christianity seem to be excluded. The only acceptable discussion about human origins is that which includes millions of years of evolution. And unfortunately very many Christians have given in to the idea. Really, we live in a society that has turned completely against God. We live in a time when people do whatever they want apart from God. It seems it can tolerate anything but the truth from God’s Word, and especially the fact that Jesus is the only way that God has provided for salvation.
So right now we have a lot in common with the people who lived before the flood. Eating and drinking our way through life, marrying and giving in marriage, optimistic about the future, unaware that everything is just as Jesus said it would be at his second coming. Today is a day very much like the days of Noah, and the Lord could return at any time.
If God’s judgment is working on you… if you are cut to the heart about the condition of our world, it would be easy to be discouraged. But there is Good News in Jesus words, too.
You see, Noah and his family were saved from the flood. They were left behind as everyone else was swept away in judgment. It seems like an insignificant number of people, but God didn’t destroy the 8 people who trusted in him. As promised he placed them safe from the flood of destruction in a boat, an ark.
And this is where Advent comes into the picture. As we prepare to celebrate God’s coming in human flesh, we remember that God is always faithful, and always keeps his promises. Jesus, our Savior, was born of a virgin to secure a place for you away from the flood of God’s judgment that is coming. Instead of letting you be destroyed, God himself was punished, as Jesus endured the pain and suffering of the cross and the eternal torment of hell for you. He bent God’s anger away from you and suffered it, so you and I won’t see it when Jesus comes again.
In case you never noticed before, the baptismal font has 8 sides. That’s not an accident, that’s not just an artistic notion; it’s all about being saved from the flood. It’s all about being saved from God’s anger. It’s all about being left behind as the flood of punishment washes over everyone else. Just like the flood destroyed an evil world and saved the righteous, Baptism does that very thing for you. Your old evil self, your sinful nature, was drowned to death, and you were saved from death all at the same time. Jesus puts you in the ark, the big boat of his church. He puts his name on you, and declares that no matter what the world tells you, you are his. So that when Jesus comes again and sweeps away the whole world and all those who reject him, with a new wave of destruction of God’s anger, you will be left behind.
The words of the world are still out there, they still impact us every day. They say that God isn’t real. They say that there are other ways besides Jesus. They say that sin isn’t sin. But God gives you a different Word. His Word is truth. His Word is dependable. God has staked his life on it. Jesus gives you new life through it. Here in the ark of his church we hear the words of God’s promise. God speaks his Word to you to keep you faithful, to keep you awake and alert for the day that Jesus is coming again.
While the world goes on eating and drinking oblivious of God, he has provided a meal for you that also keeps you alert and ready. When we open our mouths and receive the forgiveness of sins through the body and blood of Jesus, we are kept mindful that that same Jesus is coming at a time when we don’t expect. And that that same Jesus is the one whose birth we celebrate and prepare for in Advent.
We live in the days of Noah. All around us are the signs. The Day of Judgment is coming. We also live in the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as he saved 8 from the flood, he promises to save you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.