Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on November 27, 2016
[sermon begins after 3 Bible readings from Matthew, Isaiah, and Psalms]
Matthew 24:36-44 “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.
Isaiah 2:1-5 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Psalm 122 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” 2 Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. 3 Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. 4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David. 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. 7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.” 8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.
According to the stories of film, thievery is to be admired for all of its clever moves and precision timing. Think Charlize Theron and Mark Wahlberg in The Italian Job or Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller in Tower Heist. We cheer on these anti-heroes as likeable scoundrels who are on the side of right – either against a truly evil villain or on a Robin Hood mission. These storylines are one of my favorites as I wonder how the heist is going to be pulled off and feel the excitement of a braniac’s plan coming together.
In reality, being robbed is devastating. It’s a total disruption of ownership and security. One of our neighbors installed a house alarm after a break-in a few years ago. It went off in the early morning hours yesterday, disturbing sleep and leaving me awake to wonder if there was an actual breach of hearth and home and how would any of us know if it was. Those moments are neither fun nor intriguing in a good way.
Thievery is a strange metaphor in today’s Bible story. Jesus tells his disciples to be watchful, staying awake like a homeowner ready to catch a thief in the night. “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” For those of us fed a steady diet of God’s grace from scripture, the metaphor doesn’t jive. It doesn’t help that some preachers have crafted a fearful rapture theology in the last couple hundred years from Bible verses like these.
Jesus speech covers two chapters in the book of Matthew. Look closely at this small part of it. We learn that God is in charge of the future and judgment. And he tells the disciples to keep awake and be ready. Ahhhh, here it is, that elusive good news. In judgment, Jesus offers hope. Wait, what?!! Yes, in words of judgment, Jesus offers hope.
As Christians, we sometimes act as if God’s arrival in Jesus has nothing to do with how much God loves the world. Is God’s love so incomprehensible to us that we figure Jesus is going to show up someday in a really bad mood from that ugly cross incident? Like Jesus is a time-limited offer akin to a Black Friday sale. If ever there was a corruption of the good news in Jesus, that would be it.
Isaiah as well as the psalmist may be able to shed some light on the connection between judgment and hope. Isaiah describes many people going up to the mountain of the Lord to learn God’s ways and walk in God’s path. God is “judge” and “arbiter” among nations and people who end up beating swords into plowshares, striking war from their to-do list. The psalmist sings of going up to the Lord’s house, to the thrones of judgment, and praying for peace. Isaiah and the psalmist describe pilgrimage. Pilgrimage meaning journey. In their case, a journey towards God’s judgment with the end result of peace. Peace between people. Peace between nations.
We are on a pilgrimage of sorts well, drawn here together in the Lord’s house. We begin the season of Advent today with the first of many readings from Matthew’s gospel over the next year. Matthew tends to focus on Jesus’ teaching in comparison to, say, Mark who highlights Jesus’ actions. Matthew amplifies the continuity between the Hebrew Bible and Jesus’ teaching so that we hear historic promise as it applies to the present. This includes the hope that God’s judgment will turn us around. That somehow there will be redemption from the mess we have made. Seeing the light, we can’t hide in our own shadows, cloaked in ignorance that shields us from the messes we make.
The very first chapter of Matthew opens with genealogy – person after person whose messy lives show up in the Hebrew Bible. Seeing their names makes me want to re-read their stories, the familiar and not so familiar. The full list includes patriarchs of the faith who verify Jesus’ Jewishness – Abraham, Isaac, Jesse, and King David. The genealogy also includes, contrary to custom, four ancestresses whose Jewishness is contested – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Just as Matthew begins Jesus’ story by naming them, I encourage you to read one, two, or more of their stories this week as advent begins. The ancestresses and patriarchs named alongside each other reminds us that God disrupts expectations as the promises made to Abraham are expanded to all people through Jesus.
God is not laying out a program but making an announcement. Showing up wherever and however God would like to show up, on thief’s timing. That is the promise of judgment that we lean into this Advent. The light of God’s judgment gives us hope that we can no longer hide in our own shadows. Advent is a chance to think about why this is good news in our own lives and in the life of the world. It’s a chance to ask questions as we wait to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Why is a savior needed? Why does God slipping into skin make any difference in my life or the life of the world?
As Jesus people, God emboldens us by faith to proclaim light and peace. We need each other as church to remind us of God’s promise to show up and we are needed in a world desperate for good news. Christ’s return means that there is more to our story and God’s story than what we’ve already experienced. As Christians, though, we don’t turn our attention solely beyond history. Trusting in God’s mercy, Christian hope generates a commitment to the good of this world God loves so much, a commitment to the people God loves so much.
So we ask God to grant to us who are still in our pilgrimage, and who walk as yet by faith, that, where this world groans in grief and pain, the Holy Spirit may lead us to bear witness to God’s light and life.
Dear people, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. No longer hiding in our own shadows but committed to the world that God so loves.
Amen and thanks be to God.
Tower Heist (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0471042/?ref_=nv_sr_1
 Barbara R. Rossing. The Rapture Exposed (Basic Books, 2005). http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/90534.The_Rapture_Exposed
 Matthew 24:36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the son, but only the Father.”
 Matthew 24:42…44 “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
 Isaiah 2:3
 Gospel of Matthew, Year A of the three year cycle of Bible readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. In general, I’m a fan of the lectionary because it highlights texts we might otherwise choose to ignore. It’s a good idea to also check out what is not included. Read more about the lectionary at http://www.elca.org/lectionary
 Arland Hultgren, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Luther Seminary. “Preaching from Matthew’s Gospel: A Brief Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew” for Working preacher.org on December 3, 2007. https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1639
 Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, for Sermon Brainwave Podcast (SB512) on texts for the first Sunday in Advent. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=816
 Pastor Deb Coté, preacher text study gem.
 Matthew 1:1-17 does not appear in the Sunday readings for Year A (see note 5 above).
 Douglas R. A. Hare. Matthew: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 6.
 Arland Hultgren, ibid.
 Isaiah 2:5 “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
Romans 13:8-14 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.