Waiting until the last Minute
Most of us think faith would be easier if God would just wave and shout, “Over here! I’m over here!” We are all more impressed by a big show, so we often miss the subtleties and nuance of the spirit. One poet put it this way:
“None of this silent,
thief-like stuff for us, Lord.
Hit us with your best shot!
Be spectacular if you really want us to believe.
Shake our windows,
Rattle our bones.
And maybe then we will pay attention.
But, please no quiet moves.
Give us plenty of warning.
Because if you don’t we just might miss you – again!”
Jesus was afraid of that and that’s why he warns us to watch for his coming, lest we miss him again.
Let us pray:
“Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest with you. Amen.”
There is hardly anything that makes as big a splash in our culture as Christmas. It is like Santa Claus climbing way up to the top of the high diving board and curling himself into a cannonball just before he crashes into the water. No matter where you are standing, you’re going to get wet.
Some people run for cover to get away from the crass commercialism, the holiday decorations before Halloween, Frosty the Snowman blaring through the grocery store speakers before Thanksgiving, and the almost moral imperative to be “merry” all the time. They run, but they can’t hide. Christmas is everywhere. The hard deadline quickens our pace to a frantic crescendo that leaves us gasping for air.
The way we celebrate Christmas, of course, is not anything like the birth of Christ. There was nothing big or spectacular about that. To the casual observer he was just another baby born in difficult circumstance, another holiday journey that didn’t seem to go as planned. It was small and quiet, just another silent night. Unless you had ears to hear the angel’s song or eyes to see a star out of place, you missed it completely.
Jesus warned that this could happen again. The signs are so subtle, so gradual we fail to recognize the dangers of creeping sin or see the presence of God in the blessings we receive every day. He likened it to the days of Noah, before the flood when people were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up until the very moment Noah entered the ark, and the rains fell.” They were just going about life. They didn’t see their sin as being so bad or the need to repent so urgent that they couldn’t put it off until another day. They didn’t see the need to rush until they were standing hip dip in rising water, but by then it was too late.
There’s an old preacher’s story that tells of the time when Satan once called to him the emissaries of hell and said he wanted to send one of them to earth to aid women and men in the ruination of their souls. He asked which one would want to go. One creature came forward and said, “I will go.” Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell the children of men that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.”
Then another came forward, darker and fouler than the first. Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that not only will good be triumphant, but that evil will be defeated. You may not go.”
Then one last creature came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. Satan said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid them in the destruction of their souls?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!”
Another preacher put it this way, “You cannot repent too soon because you do not know how soon it may be too late.” Not everyone will be told by a physician, “you have six months to get your affairs in order.” Some meet the Lord much sooner then they ever expected. It will be a total surprise.
In fact, Jesus said, it will be like this, “two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken away and one will be left.”
This verse has given rise to all manner of speculation summed up in one word – “Rapture”. You won’t find this word anywhere in scripture, but it has been used to describe a miraculous event whereby believers before God’s judgment are to be instantly lifted up to heaven. At various times in history, some came to believe they were living in the last days. They thought they had correctly decoded the clues found in the books Daniel and Revelation that enabled them to calculate particular date and time.
On that date and at that time some of their followers were found sitting on rooftops because they did not want to bang their heads on the ceiling when they were taken up. Evidently, they overlooked the verse that began our passage today, “about that day and hour no one know, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Somehow they figured out what even Jesus did not know.
Today, you may see the occasional bumper sticker that says, “In case of rapture, the driver will disappear.” Then there was the response, “In case of rapture, can I have your car?” An entire anthology called, “Left Behind” is based on this understanding and it has sold a lot of copies. People are fascinated by the spectacular and dramatic, but you don’t necessarily have to read this passage that way. One is taken and one is left happens every day.
Ask anyone in this room who faced an empty place setting for the first time on Thanksgiving Day and they’ll tell you, “one is taken and one is left” is a surprise even when you are expecting it. Even if the signs were there, even when the doctor says there is not much time left , it is still a shock when a loved when is taken. When it comes as a surprise the shock is almost too much too carry. One is taken and one is left happens all the time.
That’s why Jesus said, “Keep awake, stay alert and be ready, for you do not know the day the Lord will come, (or the day you will come before the Lord.) “For he will come like a thief in the night.” 
This burglar metaphor has an edge. It is not benign like a babe born in Bethlehem. It is not safe. It can be scary. The thief is interested in you, in where you live and what you have, and he is not going to announce himself when he comes.
I have been robbed twice in my lifetime. Twice within two weeks burglars broke into my small apartment when I was at work. I was right out of college and didn’t have much, but it was still unsettling. Someone had been through my stuff and took what I considered valuable.
Why would Jesus compare himself to someone like that? Why would he put himself side by side with someone who breaks in when you are least expecting it to take your valuables? Why would he do this when we least expect it? You know why. Most of the time we protect ourselves. We’ve had years of practice. We know how to keep people and God at arm’s length and at a safe distance. We build walls and put on smiles and carefully guard the part of ourselves that matters most – the part some call the soul. That’s why he comes when you least expect it, because he knows how much you need him and how much you will resist.
One preacher speculated, “It would have been a lot safer for him to send you a nice card telling you that your prayers have been answered and that he’ll stop by on Thursday at six to take you with him into the Kingdom of God. So you can just let go of all of your carefully guarded list of things to do and all of your carefully guarded stuff and your carefully guarded self, because none of that will matter.”
How do you think you’d react if you got a card like that? Would you be on the front stoop waiting for Jesus? I think most of us would say, “Well, gee Lord – this is not really a good time. There’s so much more I wanted to do. I thought I would have more time! Can’t I have a little more time?”
Jesus says, “You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” “Ready or not, here I come!” But, how do we get ready? What are we supposed to do?
So, preparing to meet the Lord is just a matter of keeping your eyes open to the temptations of creeping sin and open for opportunities to serve. The first one is tricky and the second is both easy and hard.
Creeping sin is like that riddle, how do you boil a frog? If you put him in a pan of hot water, he’ll just jump out. The way to do it is to put him in a pan of cool water and gradually turn up the heat. He’ll be cooked before he knows it, so he never jumps out of the pan.
To see an example of that, all you have to do it turn on the T.V. Flip to the channel that broadcasts the old shows from years ago and watch that for a while and then flip to almost any other channel and you will see how people have come to accept what was once considered unacceptable. We’ve gotten used to it because the change was gradual, a degree here and a degree there and before we knew it we were cooked. That’s creeping sin and it is insidious.
The other side of the coin is more positive. We prepare to meet the Lord every time we use the gifts and talents and blessings God has given us to help others. Jesus said, when you feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, when you welcome the stranger and visit the sick, it is as if you do these things to him.
Preparing to meet the Lord then, is just a matter of seeing what was in front of you all along, the creeping sin to avoid and the opportunities to serve. Usually, these are not big and spectacular. They are not like Christmas today, loud and gaudy. They are more like the birth of Christ on a quiet and silent night.
Unless you have ears to hear the angels sing or eyes to see a star out of place, you might miss it – again. We do not know when the Lord will return or when we will return to the Lord, so now is the time when all of should prepare not just for a Christmas celebration, but to meet the risen Lord. Be vigilant for creeping sin and keep your eyes open for opportunities to serve. Let us pray:
O holy God, make this time for us a time of true preparation. Help us to live by the light of your promises. Help us to see the signs of your rule in our midst. Amen.
 Presbyterian Survey, December 1993. Advent Calendar. Pg 2.
 Book of Common Prayer
 Matthew 24:38
 Bruce Thielemann, “Tide Riding,” Preaching Today No. 30; submitted by Kevin A. Miller, Wheaton, Illinois
 Sir Thomas Fuller, Christian Reader, Vol. 32, no. 5
 Matthew 24:40-41
 Matthew 24:36
 Matthew 24:42
 Taylor, Barbara Brown, “Home By Another Way”. Crowley Publications, 1999. Pg 3
 Matthew 24:44
 Matthew 25:31-46