Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on November 27, 2022 – First Sunday in Advent
[sermon begins after Bible reading]
Matthew 24:36-44 [Jesus said to the disciples,] 36“About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But 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. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Classic blunders often make a good story great. Blunders abound in television and movies. In every episode of Scooby Do, Fred insists that the gang split up, sending Shaggy and Scooby to their inevitable clash with the masked villain. What would the show “I Love Lucy” be without Lucy and Ethel’s regular blunders – think: Chocolate Factory episode when they lied about their qualifications and couldn’t keep up with the candy conveyor belt, so they stuff chocolate in their mouths and cloths before getting fired. The movie Princess Bride lays out a few more classic blunders, “the most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this, never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”
Real life blunders abound too although the outcomes are, well, real. Falling asleep while driving is a big one. Cars didn’t exist back in the day when Jesus was teaching his disciples. But Jesus’ words about staying awake call to mind that classic parting line before a road trip, “Remember to pull over if you get tired!” It’s classic because we all know and can tell our own and other tragic stories when people haven’t pulled over when they got tired. Driving takes focus. We need to be ready to swerve around obstacles or avoid bad drivers or simply avoid driving into a ditch. Driving takes wakefulness. When we’re tired, eye-hand coordination slows down affecting response times.
Driving is a metaphor for Advent wakefulness. The Advent road trip ends at Christmas – the joy of Jesus’ birth, and it is also the longing for Christ’s return when the Kingdom of Heaven will reign fully and completely on earth. In the meantime, Jesus tells his disciples to stay awake, keep your eyes on the road. Worship this morning serves as pulling over because we’re tired and resting up on the side of the road to continue driving. This apocalyptic reading from the Gospel of Matthew may seem a surprising choice for the first Sunday in Advent, the start of the new church year. But apocalyptic literature is directed to listeners who blunder through the human condition, who have lost hope with the status quo, who despair that those with extreme wealth and power will ever share so that all people can live, who see that suffering goes unexplained and unanswered, and who long for God’s promise to burst on the scene in all its fullness.
This reading is close to the end of the book of Matthew, just before Jesus starts heading to the cross. As we begin this new church year with Advent, we also begin the book of Matthew, beginning almost at the end. The Gospel of Matthew was likely written late in the first century, after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, fifty years after Jesus’ death. The Matthean community seems to have been primarily Jews who believed Jesus was their long-awaited savior. Initially a part of life in the synagogue, a conflict began with either other Jews, or with Roman authorities, or both, that escalated to the point of the Matthean group splitting off to form its own community.
The verses today are a good example of the divide as well as illuminates what we think we already know about these verses. For instance, in this story, is it better to be taken or left behind? The comparison with the people swept away by the flood in the Noah story indicates that being left behind might be the better outcome. If it’s the case that being left behind is the better option, it brings up another question. Who is doing the taking? The verses aren’t clear, which opens the possibility that there’s a group, perhaps Roman agents, who is taking some people while others remain – not unheard of in the Roman Empire or modern empires for that matter. If it’s possible that Rome is snatching people, why are we so quick to read it as divine judgment. Another blunder we make when we read scripture is already thinking that we know the destination. Framing Jesus’ teaching to the positive, he encourages listeners to actively anticipate God’s promised change when the Kingdom of Heaven arrives. To the negative, living a righteous life veers into the ditch when resignation or over-confidence are chosen as the right way to live.
It’s not clear how pandemic times accelerated the time/space continuum. The Before Times weren’t trouble free but they didn’t seem to move quite so quickly. However it happened, the world came out of those quieter months in overdrive and keeps accelerating. Advent driving includes slowing down, steering with intention, and staying awake to truths that reveal where hope is losing ground.
Our queer siblings in the human family know the truth of hope’s lost ground all too painfully in the recent murders at ClubQ in Colorado Springs. When theologies and political ideologies collide into murder, we can be pretty sure that is not what Jesus would do. It is ever more life affirming to be queer affirming too. Humans are created in God’s image. All humans. Our queer selves, family, friends, and neighbors are necessarily created in God’s image too. Lives are at stake in the claims we make as Christians. Unconditional, assumption-shattering, prodigal love is the only way out of the sinkhole of hate. An active love through which hope gains ground. That is the hope that drives us in Advent. The hope that we long for and are a part of.
Awake and cruising into Advent we have a few driving instructions available to keep us on the road. One is more classically considered devotional, daily fueling our faith with God’s activity, promise, and hope. You can pick up one of these pocket-sized devos at the Sanctuary entrances. Called “prophets & promises: Devotions for Advent and Christmas 2022,” we’re given short bits of scripture, story, picture, and prayer for each day. Lighting our driven days with Advent hope so that God draws our attention rather than the dead end of commercial chaos.
Also part of our Advent road trip is a topographical map of sorts. The rolling hills and water features of the book Sleepers Wake drives our devotion into the discipleship depths of Climate Change. “Shot through with hope,” these daily reflections augmented with paintings, explore how we can remove obstacles for healing the earth injured by our human blunders. With energy and heart, Nicholas Holtam draws on his experience as former Church of England lead Bishop for the environment to guide our spiritual and cultural transformation, so we can all do our part to preserve our world for future generations. A big thanks to Bonita Bock, retired pastor and professor and Augustana member, for leading us through Sleepers Wake in classes scheduled on Sunday or Wednesday mornings starting this Wednesday.
Continuing down this road of Advent where hope gains ground, we drive through the four weeks towards Christmas avoiding the blunder of sleeping at the wheel and hurting people with our momentum in the wrong direction. We heed Jesus’ command to stay awake. Culturally, the season has a careening quality that we can’t entirely avoid. But there are maps given to us, and our faith drives us towards a different horizon, one with a manger snuggled in the midst of a bustling Bethlehem with full inns, one with the Kingdom of Heaven arriving in the fullness of God’s promises as Jesus will come again.
This Advent season, as we worship together on the road towards Christmas, we are reminded that the God of hope and truth lightens our load, reminding us that we are never the worst blunder we have ever made, that we are loved beyond reason, and held by Christ who knows our human suffering firsthand. This Advent season, starting today and into this week, may you be blessed with the swaddled hope on the horizon that is Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thanks be to God. And Amen.
 Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (Hanna-Barbera: 1969-1970) https://youtu.be/Bsg3sMPD4XA
 I Love Lucy (Paramount: 1951-1957). https://youtu.be/AnHiAWlrYQc
 Princess Bride. https://youtu.be/-WTelEdb6jk
 Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Dear Working Preacher: Matthew 24:36-44 – Advent Attentiveness. November 20, 2022. https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/advent-attentiveness?fbclid=IwAR0vLeMtMn5rN1vTedkX67LVO0AFam5juKsqHFrh7WMT59U9RIgGti1pxGk
 Matthew L. Skinner. The New Testament: The Gospels and Acts. “The Gospel of Matthew.” (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2017), 114-115.
 Skinner, Working Preacher, Ibid.
 Nicholas Holtam. Sleepers Wake: Getting Serious About Climate Change. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2022).
 RSVP to the church office (303-388-4678 or firstname.lastname@example.org) for the Wednesday classes, 9:30-10:30 a.m., 11/30, 12/7, 12/14, and 12/21. There is a minimum of eight participants required for this class to proceed. Sunday classes are 9:15-10:15 a.m. between worship services.