Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV)
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
I have a confession to make. It’s something that I’ve been agonizing over my entire seminary journey. Something that has kept me up at night on occasion. It’s something that I’ve tried to pretend isn’t true about myself, but deep down I sometimes fear will always be the case. I don’t have all the answers about being a faithful person. There, I said it. I don’t have all the answers. As a student, that knowledge was easy to hide within my introverted personality, where I could wait until I was absolutely certain of my answer before raising my voice in a class discussion. Yet I’ve found that after earning two Master’s degrees while working to equip myself to become a pastor, that I have more questions now than when I began anticipating my seminary journey about 5 years ago. I don’t always have all the answers, and I’ve wondered if that lack of clarity makes me not only a poor faith leader, but a “bad Christian.”
As we step into Advent, the weeks of preparation before Christmastime, a new season in a new church year, our Gospel reading this morning confused me. The first Sunday of Advent is sometimes connected to hope. I didn’t understand why an apocalyptic text, a text that focuses on the end times, would be used to kick off the season. This text is uncomfortable, and seems that Jesus is drawing upon images of a judgmental God, who will one day pick and choose who is taken up into heaven, and who is “Left Behind,” in an event some refer to as The Rapture. Where is the hope?
If our God is a God of grace filled love and compassion, I don’t think that these images of God as wrathful judge are what this text is meant to focus on. You see, after reading this text over and over I found something that I’d never really paid much attention to in the past: the very first verse where Jesus tells the disciples “bout about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In a world filled with uncertainty, where people found themselves under political occupation by the Roman government, Jesus is admitting that even he doesn’t have all the answers in a display of sheer humanity. If Jesus can admit to not having all the answers, then who wrote the rule saying that in order to be a real person of faith, we have to experience perfect clarity in understanding all aspects of our faith? God, in no way, expected Jesus to know everything, God doesn’t expect me to know everything, God doesn’t expect you to know everything and I can’t help but give thanks to God for that! I give thanks because with Jesus as our example, we can be people of great faith while admitting to our own human confusion at the same time.
Jesus describes several pairs of people in this text, a pair of men working in a field, and a pair of women, grinding meal, where one “will be taken and one will be left.” This is often the part of the text that is taken to be some sort of portent for the future, yet what is described are individuals who are in the midst of their day’s work, living in the current moment they find themselves in. By working the fields, and the others grinding down meal for food. Both pairs are working to make the future more certain, for their communities and their families. The difference doesn’t lie in whether or not one is a better person of faith than another. In fact that isn’t even discussed. However, what is addressed is a sense of wakefulness that one person has within their preparations, while the other is just going through the motions. While both are yielding good work, one is aware of the deeper purpose behind it, while the other is too busy working to notice.
In Advent, it is so easy to be swept up in the chaotic preparation for December 25th, where we go through the motions of preparing for the time of Christ’s birth, with frenzied gift buying, tree decorating, hall decking all in the hopes of creating the perfect Christmas experience for our loved ones. In the daily grind between Thanksgiving and Christmas we can become so busy that we can forget that wakeful vigilance.
Advent is filled with uncertain times, perhaps much more so this year in the wake of the presidential election, where so many people are more angry and confused than usual. I don’t know where the country is headed over the next 4 years, but if there’s one thing that I’ve learned so far about the people here is that even in the midst of rampant uncertainty the people here aren’t afraid to take action, to organize, rather than agonize. As a people of faith, that quality will serve us well in these times, as long as we’re wakeful in our actions. It is for this reason that this gospel reading is so perfectly timed for us. It serves as as a reminder that we don’t have all the answers and that that is okay. It reminds us that we need to continue our mindful presence in this moment, wakeful for ways that our neighbors are being hurt, marginalized, criminalized, or otherwise dehumanized, especially by people in power. It is a reminder that we may not be able to do everything, but we are ALL capable of doing something to make our communities, especially our churches, a place of welcome and comfort, rather than judgment and exclusion. If we “fall asleep” to the need to support our friends and neighbors whether it be spiritually, emotionally, with connection to resources and more, it becomes much easier to pretend those needs don’t exist. If nothing else positive came out of this election cycle, and I’ve really been struggling to find a positive outcome, I think it provided us with a sound wake up call, a call to pay attention, and to reconnect to the roots of Christ’s ministry to empower those whom society has decided to take power from, and to create spaces where God’s people, of every faith, every color, every socio-economic status, every sexual orientation or gender expression, or any other identity are safe enough to admit uncertainty and to work to foster God’s love and grace in the world.
That’s where the hope is, when that wakeful work is combined with the grace of a loving God, and the example of Jesus’ willingness to be vulnerable and to admit that he too experienced uncertainty. Hope is in that wakeful state, as we prepare a world that all people are welcome to be a part of. When we commit to wearing a safety pin knowing the pin isn’t just a fashion trend, but a statement to support and advocate with our neighbors living in fear over what the next 4 years will bring, when we call or write to our governmental officials, calling for them to take action to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, or raise our voices demanding that fair wages not only be law on paper, but that those wages are also enforced so that workers are treated with dignity and respect for their labors. When wakefulness even in uncertainty becomes the hallmark of our lives of faith, where no one person is expected to know or do everything, but all are capable of knowing and doing something, that hope and change can flourish.Your perspective and life experiences is different from everyone else’s here, and as a result your wakefulness will be just as unique. When our wakefulness is combined with that of our communities our voices can be heard much more than if any one of us tried to do everything alone. So be wakeful, dear people, be wakeful and embrace your uncertainty, for these are the hallmarks of a true and deep faith.