Seeing Both Advents at Once
Matthew 24:36-44 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. 37But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
40Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
42Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 44Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
Because symbols can be more powerful than words, I tend to use symbols were those symbols are more meaningful words. I use the symbol the cross of Christ because it is probably the most powerful symbol of God’s grace. The four words, the cross of Christ, can create pictures that would require thousands of words to describe.
I realize some people may not like the symbol of the cross of Christ. For those of you who do not like the cross as a symbol, you can think of grace every time I say the cross of Christ. During this sermon you will hear me use symbols - cross of Christ, and meaningful words – grace. My hope is that you can somehow accommodate my thoughts into your belief system, without the use of any particular word or symbol that causes you discomfort.
Chapter 24 of Matthew covers two major topics, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the return of Christ or the parousia. Portions of the chapter are “partly symbolic” and some portions are “partly literal.”1 R. Tasker, who was Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegesis at the University of London observes, “ . . . Scholars have found it extremely difficult to say with any degree of certainty which parts of the chapter . . .” are about the destruction of Jerusalem and which parts are about the end of the world.2
This is a difficult chapter to interpret with a lot of certainty. One reason has to do with the language used. Some of the language might be literal, while some of the language might be symbolic. For example, one part of the chapter mentions earthquakes. Biblical scholar and commentator Albert Barnes notes earthquakes can be a prophetic reference to “political commotions.”3 The next time there is an earthquake, you can relax. That does not mean Jesus Christ is going to immediately be on your doorstep.
William Barclay says the word parousia is used in the New Testament to refer to the second coming. He comments parousia was the word used for the “arrival of a governor into his province or for the coming of a king to his subjects.” The word describes arriving with authority and power.4
The early church looked forward to Jesus’ return, to Jesus’ imminent return. The possibility Jesus could and would return at any moment as a powerful king was something to which the Believers looked forward.
The church of Jesus Christ still looks forward to the return of the Messiah. Some people distill the Christian faith into four statements. Christ lived. Christ died. Chris rose. Christ returns. The gospel reading is about the fourth pillar of the Christian faith, the return of Christ.
Unfortunately, what started off as event greeted with such wonderful hope turned ugly. As the fresh demonstration of God’s grace demonstrated on the cross grew dim in the collective memory of the church of God, some church people developed a clouded view of God, and a very distorted view of grace. The second coming became something people feared.
As a child I remember growing up being afraid of the return of Christ. We were given the impression that a person had to be perfect, without a single sin, and flawless to be able to be saved. We were told that Christ could return at any moment. What this meant was we lived, hoping that we had asked forgiveness for all our sins before we went to sleep, because if Christ would return that night one sin not confessed and not forgiven would damn us to hell.
There was always some new event that meant Jesus could pop out of the sky instantly. Every time there was a storm, an earthquake, a flood, a disaster, political uncertainty, a war, rumors of wars, Jesus was going to pounce out of heaven and get you! The atmosphere creates a picture of any angry God in heaven, listening to children playing. Like any intelligent parent, God knows something is not right. The children are too quiet. The thundering voice of God can be heard, “Don’t make me come down there!”
In the gospel reading, Jesus is recorded as saying, “. . . of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven . . .” The respected commentator Adam Clarke observes this is translated to give the meaning “season” by “many eminent critics.”5 The word translated hour can mean season.6 To the ancient Christians, the thought that Christ could return at any season, at almost any time probably gave them the sense of expectation a child might have if a child was told Christmas could come any day. Just any day, at any time, you could get wonderful presents, get to eat tons of candy, and get to stay up late with the grownups. And the early church could easily picture God’s grace, because the visual reality of the cross of Calvary was so strong, so vivid.
God’s queer tribe, God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified children, need to see God’s grace move vividly than most people. The picture of God given to God’s queer tribe in many churches and from many pulpits in this land is one of a scared, petty, angry God.
Our God has been made out to be homophobic, biphobic, lesbophobic, and transphobic. Any Creator that is insecure enough to be scared of the very people God created is not worthy of worship. Perhaps, that is why Archbishop Desmond Tutu is quoted as saying, “If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.”7 God is worthy of our worship, because God is not homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic.
The best position to view Christmas and the second coming of Christ is from the cross of Christ. When we view the advent of Christ, the Christmas season, from the cross of Christ we are freed from the tyranny of fear of eternal damnation, freed from slavery to materialism, and and freed from the futile attempts to purchase people’s love. Instead of exceeding our budget trying to earn God’s love by giving gifts to needy people, instead of trying to earn people’s love by buying them expensive gifts, we are free to be dazzled by the wonder of God’s grace, and to, like young children, experience the magical moments of the season.
The gospel passage mentions Noah. Noah and his family were preserved in the ark. They represent God’s protection for the Creator’s people. The God who is portrayed in the Bible as redeeming humanity on the cross is the same God who will protect you from spiritual calamity at the end of time.
Years ago they used to use the term wayward to describe girls. I am not comfortable with that term, because of the way it portrays young women. The story I am going to relate uses the term wayward. My hope is that you will understand they are just young ladies who needed a touch of loving. “When the Rev. Lester Roloff publicly defied Texas officials who threatened to close down his home for wayward girls, he intoned: ‘It may be the ninth inning and we may be behind in the score, but I see my bases loaded and Jesus Christ coming to bat.’” 8
Under the best of conditions, there is only so much family many people can stand. And the more time one spends around the family Christmas tree, the more family acorns (AKA nuts) one may find on the floor. Having to pretend be somebody else or to not talk about anything that relates to who you are can make the Christmas feel oppressive, instead of affirming. When you think of the preparations you have to do for Christmas, when you think of the strain on your personal budget, remember that you can face the future with confidence. No matter how grave things may seem, God is with us. While it may look like you are behind, your bases are loaded and Jesus Christ is coming to bat!
And as you think about the return of Christ, you can face the unknown with confidence. Again, it may look like you are behind, but your bases are loaded and Jesus Christ is coming to bat! You are going to be able to walk home, because Christ is going to knock that ball over the pitcher, past the outfielders, over the crowds in the baseball stadium, and past the parking lot. The ball will never be seen again. So relax in God’s grace. Your bases are loaded. Jesus is up to bat.