Sunday the 27th of November 2016
Matthew 24: 36-44
When I was working as a counsellor I had to do professional development. Now a part of this was to go to different workshops looking at the different counselling techniques. One particularly workshop I attended was talking about how when working with people it is important to help them come to peace with the fact that there are many questions in their lives that do not have answers. The idea was to help people come to a point where they could accept the fact that it is okay to not to know sometimes and not to have all the answers and to manage this without letting anxiety take over. Now this was a very secular workshop, but there was some wisdom to what they were getting at.
The fact that we do not know things is very difficult for many in our society, because our lives are based on our perceived ability to figure things out and to know the answers to all the questions we have. Often this “not knowing” can make people very anxious or even angry, particularly when it comes to our being able to know what our future holds. And as Christians we are no exception. There are many things about God and what he does in the lives of his people and the world that are a complete mystery to us. Everything about our future it is unknown. Except for this: “… your Lord is coming” (v 42). Yet, even in this, no matter how many Christians think that they can figure out the how? when? And where? of Jesus return, we are left in a place of unknowing, and don’t we know it.
The time of leading up to and the time of advent is a time where we focus on Jesus return, and this is often a time where we reflect on the hope that we have for the future when he does finally come back to judge. But I think that it also presents us with a challenge and causes to reflect up on our own trust in God.
Jesus says in today’s reading from Mathew 24 these words about his coming: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (v. 36). The fact that Jesus says the he is in the dark about his return, causes us to have questions doesn’t it, ones that we don’t have neat clear cut answers to. But despite these questions we may have it places the emphasis of the fact for us this is a matter of faith or trust. We trust the promises the he gives us. Our future and what it holds for us are in God’s hands. Time is in God’s hands. All you and I really need to know is that we are one day closer to the Last Day than we were yesterday. Or as the Romans reading puts it: “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers” (Rom 13:11).
I can’t help but wonder whether our not-knowing is actually intended by God to bring us back time after time the point where we simply trust, where we trust God’s promise that time is in His hands.
Jesus says: : “Keep watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (v. 42). Our keeping watch is not so that you may know the precise day and hour when Jesus comes back. In fact I don’t believe the Jesus is focusing on the future but rather the present. We are to ‘keep watch’ so that our whole lives may be prepared for all the ways God will keep his promises in our midst now. He says “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (v. 44). Being ready does not mean that we are ready so that we can expect the exact time in the future, but rather so that our lives may be attuned to the work of God and what He is doing in our ordinary lives in the present.
Jesus is not directing us as his disciples toward predicting what the future holds, but rather he is teaching us how we ought to live our lives, here and now, with a with an expectation and hope that Jesus will return at any time. We are to live our lives from the view point that because we do not know when the second coming will occur, we cannot wait until the time is near in order to prepare for it. He is asking us to be prepared at all times (Matthew 24:42, 44).
The challenge that Jesus gives us is a clear. We need to take responsibility for keeping our faith in him on track. We are told to watch out so that no one can come in like thief and steal our faith. There are many things in the world that we live in the can easily distract us so that we can take our faith of Jesus and stop trusting him. Jesus gives us words of warning so that we do everything we can to keep our focus and trust in him.
One of the things about the seasons of our church year is that they are set. This is good because it means that during the different seasons we focus on different areas of God’s Word to us and on what this means for our faith in the world we live in. But I wonder sometimes whether in advent it becomes a bit too predictable. Imagine what it would be like, for example, if Christmas was at a different time every year. We would still plan for it, still take the day off, still have the same celebrations, it just wouldn’t necessarily happen on December 25. All we would know is that it would happen sometime in December. Imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and the TV or radio would announce: “Today’s the day! Merry Christmas!” If this happened I wonder whether we would plan differently; would our gift giving and holiday plans change at all; I wonder how would we receive the day?
Jesus coming back again is a bit like this, we know it is going to happen, but we don’t know when. The thing is though, for the world the coming if Jesus will be a surprise. But for us who believe in him and are his disciples who trust the promises of God, this will be a great surprise that will be filled with joy. And this is what we anticipate as we live our lives in the present.
We all know that the time will come when Jesus will come back, and many of us have thoughts and opinions about when this may be. Are we living in the end times now? Or is this just history repeating itself? Well we may well be, or we might not be we can’t say for certain. But what we can say it that no matter how long it takes for him to return, we are to make sure that we keep watch and stay alert, and do everything in our power to keep our faith and trust in Jesus. We don’t have to worry about what will happen or when it will happen, but rather trust that God has us in his hands not matter what and when the time comes because of our faith and trust in him, we know that he will take us to be with him. Knowing this we live our normal everyday lives holding on to this hope.
So I encourage you all to keep watch over your faith, to guard and to cherish it, so that you don’t become complacent, but rather grow in confidence because of it. I encourage you to keep your eyes focused on Jesus so that the things of the world, don’t distract you. Most of all I encourage you encourage each other so that we stay strong in faith together.