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1st Sunday of Advent: Does Anyone Really Know What Time It is?

November 27, 2022,  Sermon

Does Anyone Really Know What Time It is?

We are celebrating the first day of Advent. Happy New Church Year!   In preparation for today’s message, I read a sermon that Nadia Boltz-Weber wrote for Advent 2010 and I just had to share a piece of it with you!    

“In this season, we find ourselves there is an anticipatory feeling in the air. A waiting, a longing, and a yearning. This is a time filled with preparations and signs and symbols. Everything leads to this promised future….we awaken from a tryptophan-induced coma of carbohydrates to the coming of what feels like the end time -- for there will be sales and rumors of sales. 

So stay awake my brothers and sisters because the door-busting shopacalypse is upon us. Yet my heart was glad when they said to me, let us go at 5 a.m. to the house of the Lord and Taylor. For on that holy mountain, people will stream from east and west, north and south, and all nations will come. They will turn plastic cards into shiny promises of love in the form of bigger plastic and cloth and metal and wire. They will go down from this mountain to wrap their bits of plastic and cloth and metal and wire. They will wrap it all in paper, to wait for that day. 

The day of mythical, sentimentalized domesticity when the hopes and dreams of love and family and acceptance and perfect, perfect reciprocity will come to pass. And the children shall believe that they shall be always good and never bad for Santa will come like a thief in the night. No one knows the hour so you better be good for goodness sake.”

Obviously, this is pure sarcasm but it did make me think.  Sometimes, we miss the point of Advent. 


When I first read the readings for today, I kept having an old Chicago Song run through my head.  You may remember it…”Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” The lyrics ask…

Does anyone really know what time it is?

Does anybody really care

If so, I can’t imagine why

We’ve all got time enough to cry….

Yes, you can thank me later for giving you that earworm!  But the song does ask an interesting question.  Do we really know or care what time it is?  As we celebrate a new church near the end of a calendar year….

The new church year begins today with our first day of Advent.  The word Advent, from Latin, means “the coming.” Originally, it was a time when converts to Christianity readied themselves for baptism, and is still used as a time of spiritual reflection.  

Advent focuses on Christ’s “coming”, not just as the baby Jesus, but also his coming to us today in the present through word and sacrament, and in the second coming of Christ in the end time.  

Speaking of time, my husband John recently started having trouble with his phone.  People, remember, if you go fly fishing in the Purgatory River, put your phone in a zip lock bag or a dry bag for protection!  

Anyway, because John is very conscientious about being on time to work, he was afraid his phone alarm would fail to wake him up in the morning.  So, he dug around through his dresser and found an old wind-up alarm clock.  He put it on his side of his bed, but I could hear it loud and clear in the night.  Night after night, tick tick tick tick tick tick.  

I think that we lost a little something when we went to digital clocks.  There was something about the tick tick tick that reminded us that time is passing.  Every second, every tick, reminded us that time marches on, whether we want it to or not!  

And today’s readings give should sound like a ringing alarm clock: Christ is coming, soon! Both Paul and Jesus challenge us to wake from sleep, for we know neither the day nor hour of the Lord’s coming.  

Our Matthew passage presents two major points:  the uncertain time of the Lord’s advent and the behavior of the faithful given that uncertainty.  The time of the Lord’s appearing is not known by angels or even by the Son, only God alone knows.  

Two vivid figures are presented in our Matthew passage.  One is Noah, who stands in stark contrast to his surrounding society.  While the community is busy drinking and eating and marrying off their children, he was busy building an ark.  They are not faulted for their gross sinfulness.  They simply assumed that business as usual would continue forever.  

Their lives were composed of a series of repeated actions, leaving them no time to reason or face the future.   They are a lot like us.  We may hope and pray that things will change but we keep living our lives expecting one day to be pretty much like the last.

The other figure is that of the householder who lacks vigilance in protecting his house.  Because he fails to keep watch, the thief succeeds in breaking in and stealing from him.  What Noah’s contemporaries and the householder share in common are that “they knew nothing”.  Unaware of any impending crisis, they were lulled into a false security.  They failed to watch.  

We are called to be watchful in versus 37-44.  The readers of Matthew are commanded to be ready and watch for the Son of Man’s coming.  Three parables that follow Matthew 24 reinforce this message.  

In a post-apocalyptic scene, there is a vision depicting the coming of Christ.  Judgment was rendered to those who have not tended to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.  This judgment leaves no doubt as to what readiness and watchfulness entail.

How do we act when we are ready and watchful?  We are alert, looking for signs, and we are attentive to what is going on around us.  We make sure that we are in tune with our surroundings, in the right place, in the right time.  We get ourselves ready!    

We listen to the portents.  We hear the words spoken around us. As Paul tells us, ‘” Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” 

Do we really care what time it is?  I wonder how we would live life differently if we knew that Jesus was coming back tomorrow or if we knew with certainty that we were going to die next week  Are there things we would do differently?  Would our priorities be greatly rearranged?  Less time in front of the TV perhaps, more time reaching out to old friends and loved ones. Maybe we would clean up our act a bit.  Be kinder.  Be more loving.  Tick tick tick tick.  

Nadia Boltz-Weber suggested that starting at the beginning of Advent, we should make Advent lists -- kind of like Christmas lists, but instead of checking off what we wanted Santa to bring to us, we write down things we want Christ to take from us.  

That stupid stuff we hang onto that interferes with our ability to live our best selves for Christ… selfishness, resentment, anger, self-loathing, hatred, busyness, gossiping, bigotry, prejudice, love of money.  What things would you put on your personal list if you were honest with yourself and your Lord and Savior?

A flood, a kidnapper, a thief:  all are sharp, intrusive disturbing images with which to begin Advent.  But they are effective in instructing us to be alert.  Prepare for uncertain certainties.  Watch, stay awake; the Lord is coming. Tick tick tick tick. 

There is one distinct positive in the Matthew reading.  We are reminded that we have been given a promise.  He will return again.  We can count on the reliability of the promiser.  

We remind ourselves in our Apostles’ Creed: “I believe….in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting”.  And we declare it in our communion liturgy as we proclaim the mystery of faith: “Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again”.  

The purpose of Advent is to prepare ourselves for the second coming of Christ.  Advent takes us beyond the birth, and beyond the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  It takes us to a new time of anticipation as the Day of Christ approaches and the reign of God is made fully manifest.  At Advent, God’s people should summon the courage and the spiritual strength to do a fearless self-inventory.  It is not a season for passive waiting and watching.  It is a season of soul searching, wailing, and weeping, opening up our lives and our souls with active anticipation.

We no longer await the baby’s birth.  He was born. He did die.  He was resurrected.   We await his return, his revelation as the Lord of heaven and earth.  And we await that time when he renders judgment and sets right all that is twisted and distorted in this world.  The time that Isaiah spoke about in the passage we read.  

“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 anymore.

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Are we ready?  Are we watching?  Are doing a fearless self-inventory?  Tick tick tick tick!