As we begin our new liturgical year we are reminded of our main purpose in life – to be ready and looking forward to our eventual home with the Lord. Advent is a time to consider the incarnation, the first coming of Christ, in relation to his return. The Gospel reading for this First Sunday of Advent speaks of the second coming of our Lord and reminds us that the work of the first advent of Jesus is not complete.
The familiar expression “Here I come, ready or not” could well be applied to Jesus’ second coming. In Matthew’s Gospel passage, Jesus used the Flood to illustrate the point he was making about “the coming of the Son of Man”, namely, that the attitude that prevailed during the days of Noah -before the flood – may also characterize the lives of most people. They will not be expecting his return and will not care about it. They will be unconcerned about the things of the Lord, especially the prospect of his imminent return. But the second coming of Jesus will break into the ordinary activities of life and will cause disruption and division.
Jesus says that in the days of Noah, before the Flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. While Noah built the ark, he also preached (see 2 Pet. 2:5), but the people were just as unconcerned about his preaching as about the ark he was building, thinking both were meaningless and absurd. They probably laughed when he spoke of the coming flood. They went about their daily routines of eating and drinking and of marrying and giving in marriage. The question might be asked, “What is wrong with these activities. The answer is, “Nothing at all.” But when a person becomes entirely wrapped up in them, so that matters such as these become ends in themselves, and the things of God are neglected, they are no longer a blessing.
It was business as usual until the day Noah entered the ark and it started to rain. The people, Jesus says in Sunday’s Gospel, were so untouched by God’s truth that they were unaware of their perilous situation and the flood came and carried them all away. Only after it was too late did the people of that generation realize their tragic destiny. The main point is the unpreparedness of Noah’s contemporaries. Whereas Noah and his family were ready, everyone else carried on, oblivious to the consequences of their corruptness; while Noah was saved, they were swept away.
Biblical scholar, William Barclay, writes that this passage from Matthew tells us that “that time will come with shattering suddenness on those who are immersed in material things. In the old story, Noah prepared himself in the calm weather for the flood which was to come, and when it came he was ready. But the rest of mankind were lost in their eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage, and were caught completely unawares, and were therefore swept away. These verses are a warning never to become so immersed in time that we forget eternity (my emphasis); never let our concern with worldly affairs, however necessary, completely distract us from remembering that there is a God, and that whenever his call comes, at morning, at midday, or at evening, it must find us ready.”
Sunday’s Gospel passage uses four examples to underscore the fact that we cannot know when the cataclysmic event will occur. The first, already noted, is from the days of Noah.
The second example is two people in a field. Suddenly one is taken. One is left behind. The third example is two women grinding at the mill together. One is taken. One is left behind.
These two examples may fuel a popular misinterpretation of this verse. Premillennialism (also known as Dispensationalism and associated with the “Left Behind” series) takes this verse to refer to “the rapture,” when believers are airlifted out of the world while the rest of humankind suffers the tribulation. There is no encouragement here for dispensational theologies about the rapture of the faithful, and the judgment of those left behind on earth. Noah and his family were “left behind”. Neither Matthew nor biblical eschatologies in general, contain the detailed time-line scenarios of premillennialism. The message of these examples is that the way to prepare for the coming of Christ, is not by calculating its date, but by living a life of readiness and response to his invitation to believe and live in and with him.
God reveals enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not have to live and walk by faith day after day. We have assurance about the things hoped for, and conviction about the things not yet seen, but what we do not have is a timetable given to us in the Scripture.
The fourth example Jesus gives us is of a master of a house who did not know when a thief was coming. Had the householder possessed such information, he would have stayed awake and prevented the break-in. Since we do not know when the second coming will occur, we cannot wait until that time to prepare for it. We are to be prepared at all times.
Jesus, in each of these examples, reminds us of the necessity to always be ready to enter into his presence. He calls us to witness faithfully to God’s ultimate purpose of life with him in this world and in the world to come. And, he gives us what we need to prepare: his Body, his Blood, his word, his love, his peace, and one another.