Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 24:36–24:44
The First Sunday in Advent
November 26-27, 2016
“Family Life: Emergency Preparedness”
We all know that emergency preparedness is something we should do, but for whatever reason, we often don’t. We are advised to do this so that we are ready and know what to do in case of a real emergency: think fire, storm, flood, hurricane, etc. In our homes, schools, places of work, as well as in almost every situation you can imagine, it is always a good idea to have situational awareness; to know your surroundings, where the exits are, how to get out if you need to, where to shelter in place if you need to, how to be safe and help others to be safe as well. That’s why we do what we do here at St. John’s a couple of times each year at the end of worship services. We go through a “talking” emergency evacuation drill as well as an actual emergency evacuation drill. The former is where we stay put and don’t actually get up and practice exiting the facility and re-assembling outside, but the latter is where we do get up, go outside, and walk through what this looks like. Among faith communities, there is a sharp increase in emergency preparedness training going on right now. And this emergency preparedness is not just for fire, storm, or natural disaster. It’s primarily intended to help people be prepared to respond to another kind of emergency; to be prepared for threats of danger or violence that can and do happen at church. This is the sad reality of the world we live in today. We can wish it weren’t so, but it is. Emergency preparedness is needed, now more than ever. Part of family life in today’s world is helping our children to be prepared for such things. We do our children and loved ones a disservice if we don’t address this. “Emergency Preparedness” is the theme for the message on this First Sunday in Advent. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus speaks of emergency preparedness in today’s Gospel lesson. He instructs his disciples to do what seems impossible: to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man, an event that no one – not the angels of heaven, not even the Son himself – but only the Father knows when this will happen. Hmm… that sort of sounds like information withholding, doesn’t it? The Father knows, but the Son does not. And why not? Jesus doesn’t reveal the “why” of this, and He doesn’t say that He has a problem with not knowing. So if Jesus is okay with this, then we can be okay with this, too. Family life can be like that. Parents know things that the kids don’t. They have access to information that they may judge is not helpful to their children, at least not at the moment. But, as we all know, this can cause problems later on as those children grow up. They may feel resentful toward their parents for not sharing important information with them. Maybe you know what this is like from first-hand experience. Maybe our emergency preparedness should include this as well: how to handle flare-ups, tension, disagreement, and anger among family members. This should probably be something that we do before Thanksgiving when everyone comes together. That’s often the time when these flare-ups and disagreements can happen when all these people and their divergent views and opinions sit down around the table.
“Family Life” is the theme for our Advent and Christmas preaching here at St. John’s. As we draw near to the holidays, there can be this expectation we have for ourselves to be the perfect family with the ideal family life, all converging to spend the perfect Christmas together. This is Clark Griswold’s dream in that holiday movie, “Christmas Vacation.” All he wants is to have a “fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas.” If you’ve ever seen this movie, you know his dream does not match reality – not even close! In our own lives as well, this can be a pretty elusive dream. So in the sermons for this season, we’ll look not only at our understanding of family life, but also at God’s. The good news is that God has entered into our world of disappointment, loss, and pain to bring healing and hope. In the gift of his own Son, Jesus, God comes to us to declare that we are his beloved children, that He is our beloved Father, and that we are part of his own family.
We know how to do emergency preparedness for the various contingencies in life: the spare tire in the car trunk, the emergency flashlight and fire extinguisher at home, the first aid kit in the back of the sanctuary here at church. But how do we prepare for the coming of the Son of Man? Like people in Noah’s day, we can be so distracted by all the stuff of daily life that we fail to see and be prepared for that great and final day. Like them, we are busy with “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matthew 24:38). All of these things are neither good nor bad in and of themselves, but when they become the sum and substance of life, there is cause for great concern. The emergency preparedness of the soul is a call to repentance, to have a change of heart and mind, to do an about-face and start walking in a new direction – that is what Jesus is talking about, and that is what the message of Advent is about. It is not so much wickedness or immorality that Jesus stresses here, but this terrible blindness that catches us unaware and off-guard when the cataclysm comes. If there is a word that describes life at this particular point in time, I believe it is “distracted.” We are, as a people, so very distracted which can lead to disastrous consequences. We yield to the tyranny of the urgent, but the urgent is not always the important. What is most important is this truth: Jesus Christ, crucified for our salvation and raised from death for our justification, is coming again to judge the world in righteousness. How, then, are we to live?
In today’s Epistle lesson (Romans 13:11-14), Paul the apostle gives concrete examples of how we are to live until Jesus comes again: “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Now in this Advent season, but at all times, we are to walk in a manner worthy of our calling as children of the Lord (Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12). Our family life is rooted in the truth that we are created in the image of God our heavenly Father (Genesis 1:27). We have value and worth in God’s eyes, so much so that even when we sinned against God and sought to be God ourselves, God sent his own Son to be the once-for-all sacrifice for our sin (Hebrews 10:14), calling us back to Him who made us and loves us. And now we wait until the Lord Jesus shall come again, walking by faith, loving and serving as Jesus himself loved and served us (Mark 10:45).
It is possible to be so caught up in emergency preparedness that the joy of living is taken away, and where all a person sees is threat and danger. I do not believe this is how the Lord would have us live: so tightly wound in fearful anticipation that we are not really living at all. We are called to live in this world in such a way that we may always be ready to leave it, at the Lord’s command, but we are also to live in a spirit of joy and hopeful expectation. As we look ahead to celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation next year in 2017, there are many legends about Martin Luther. One of these is a saying attributed to him, but nothing is recorded from his life as ever having actually said it. Still, it is appropriate to this First Sunday in Advent. The Luther saying is this: “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!” In other words, Luther knew who he was and Whose he was. Trusting in this, nothing – not even the end of the world – could take away his joy, and so he would go right on doing what he would do on any given day, including planting an apple tree. That, my friends, is emergency preparedness. That is Advent faith as we wait and watch for the coming of the Lord. May it be so with us!
Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.