Second Advent: What We
Don't Know and What We Do
Advent 1, Year A
Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church
The new minister had been asked to pray for rain. Following his prayer there was such torrential rains that crops were severely damaged. "That just shows you," said one farmer, "that you can't trust such prayin' to a preacher who don't know nothin' 'bout farmin'"
The preacher didn't know about farming, but he did know about praying. That's how we are concerning the second advent of Christ. There is something we don't know, but there is quite a bit we do know.
We Don't Know When the Son of Man Comes Again
This text expends many of its words on showing us that we don’t know when the Lord’s second coming will be. Ten times it says this, repeats it, emphasizes it, or illustrates it.
1. Concerning that day and
hour no one knows, v 36
2. Not even the angels of heaven, v 36
3. Nor the son, v 36
4. The Father only, v 36
5. As were the days of Noah … they were unaware, vv 38-39
6. Two men in the field did not know, v40
7. Two women grinding at the mill did not know, v 41
8. You do not know, v 42
9. The master of the house did not know, v 43
10. He comes at an hour you do not expect, v 44
What We Do Know
There are some things we do know, however. We know that
• the flood did come
• one man in the field was taken and the other left
• one woman at the mill was taken and the other left
• the master of the house fell asleep
• the thief broke into the master’s house
• the Son of Man does come
We know that in the flood, God came in judgment. Those that were taken away were taken by flood waters. They were judged, condemned, and destroyed for sin. In Genesis 6:5-7, we read:
5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was
great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was
only evil continually.
6 And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
Jesus says his second coming is like Noah and the flood. Those taken by flood waters were taken in judgment. Those who were left were the eight in the ark. They were saved by the ark. The one man taken in the field is taken in judgment. The one who is left is saved. The one woman taken at the mill is taken in judgment. The one who is left is saved.
Didn't See It Coming
We also know that those taken by flood waters didn’t see it coming. Verse 39 says, “They were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away.”
The second coming will be the same. A man in the field and a woman at the mill will be taken in judgment, and they will not see it coming.
In Verse 43, the story of the master of the house that is robbed highlights the point that the master didn’t see it coming. He didn’t stay awake.
Since we know that the Son of Man does come, but we don’t know the day or the hour, what should we do? We don’t have to figure it out for ourselves. Jesus tells us plainly:
• v 42, therefore stay
• v 43, the master of the house would have stayed awake
• v 44, therefore you also must be ready
The trouble is, watching is just what we don’t do. Like the master of the house, we tend to fall asleep. Like those in the days of Noah, we tend to go on with ordinary activities of life, paying no heed to warning.
Why We Sleep
Why don’t we watch? Why do we sleep?
One of the reasons is the length of time God takes to fulfill his threats and promises. It took a long time to build the ark, which is to say that God waited a long time to fulfill his threat to destroy the world. Bible scholars say it took 120 years. 2 Peter 2:5 says:
God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.
During that time, word of the flood and the ark spread. Bill Cosby took license in his comedy sketch about Noah building the ark. For example, I am pretty sure God did not call to Noah in a booming voice, "Noah, how long can you tread water." But Cosby did capture some important truths. That bit about the neighbors thinking it strange to have an ark on the driveway at his house does capture the truth that the ark was hard to hide. Everybody had heard about it. Ridicule spreads like a prairie fire.
During that time, Noah preached. 2 Peter 2:5 calls him, in one version, “a herald of righteousness,” and in another version, “a preacher of righteousness.” God threatened the world with destruction by a flood, and Noah preached it.
Noah also preached about the use of the ark, about the way of salvation, that by the grace of God and through faith, they could escape the coming destruction. He preached a righteousness of God apart from works of the Law. That is, after preaching the Law of sin and death through flood waters, he also preached the Gospel of forgiveness, righteousness, and life as gifts of God freely given to sinners through the ark. The ark was a type of Christ, the one who carries you through destruction to life.
But people took God’s patience the wrong way. Over time, they stopped listening to Noah. They forgot God’s Word. They forgot the judgment and threats of the Law. They forgot the forgiveness and promises of the Gospel. They went on with ordinary activities and fell asleep to the Word.
It’s Déjà vu All Over Again
Jesus is telling us that it will be the same way when He comes again. Although, through the office of the public ministry, the Church is preaching Law and Gospel as Noah did, because of God’s patience in waiting before his second coming, people are neglecting the hearing of the Word.
2 Peter 3: 3-10 explains this detail:
3 Knowing this first of all, that scoffers
will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.
4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,
6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.
7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
What Can Make Us Wakeful?
Jesus tells us to stay awake. But how can we stay awake?
This brings us into a very tricky part of today’s sermon. It is tricky because this is the point where everything we’ve gained so far can be lost in one moment, if I now preach that you can stay awake. You cannot stay awake.
Oh my. Are we wasting this entire morning? Have I spent this whole sermon telling you that you must stay awake only to finish by saying you can’t?
No, we are not wasting this morning, but here’s the deal. We need to turn this around. The Gospel is not something you do, but a gift Christ gives you. You cannot stay awake, but Christ can give you the gift of wakefulness. The Holy Spirit can keep you in the faith.
Listen to how Luther explains the third article of the Creed in his Small Catechism:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life.
See how all the action in our salvation is the action of God, not of us. See how his action is continuous from beginning to end. He does not only start us out in faith. He keeps us in faith. He gives us the gift of wakefulness through the second advent of the Son of Man, all the way to the resurrection and into everlasting life.
How Christ Delivers His Gifts
How does the Holy Spirit give us the gift of wakefulness? How does He keep us in the faith.
In 2 Peter 3:6 that we read a moment ago, notice the word "means." To destroy the world, God could have just said, "Poof," and it would have disappeared. But He didn't do that. He used means. He used water.
In the same way, He could have saved those eight souls by just beaming them upward off the earth, as in Star Trek when Captain Kirk says, "Beam us aboard, Scotty." But He didn't do that. He used means. He used the ark. He used wood. A man got splinters, blisters, and calluses on his hands building it.
He could have used something like mental telepathy to put into people's minds the idea of walking onto the ark. But He didn't do that. He used Noah's preaching.
Corresponding to that, today the Holy Spirit uses the means. And Luther says in the portion of the Catechism that we read a moment ago, He uses them in the church.
The Holy Spirit uses the Law and Gospel, He uses Baptism, and He uses the Lord’s Supper.
We cannot stay awake by ourselves, but we can go where the Word is preached. As they could have gone again to hear Noah, we can go again where Luther says the Holy Spirit is calling and keeping. We can go to the Church where, through the office of the public ministry, the Law and Gospel are preached.
We can use the Sacraments. The text we read earlier in 1 Peter 3:21 goes on in verse 22 to draw a parallel between the flood, the ark, and baptism.
21 God's patience waited in the days of Noah,
while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were
brought safely through water.
21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.
We can remember our baptisms daily, and live a baptismal life of repentance and faith.
In the Lord’s Supper, in a sense, Advent is repeatedly happening. Christ repeatedly is coming to us.
He said of the bread, “This is my body.” He said of the wine, “This is my blood.” His word makes the bread and wine what they are, just as when He said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” This is the real presence of Christ’s body and blood with the bread and wine. It is a real appearing of Christ under the form of bread and wine. It is a real miracle every time.
Because his body was broken and his blood was shed for the forgiveness of sin, when He gives us his body and blood in Communion, we receive what they were broken and shed for. We receive the remission of sin. We receive food for our sojourn, food for keeping us in the faith, food for wakefulness while Christ delays his return because He is patient, because He is earnestly and tenderly calling sinners to salvation.
We do not know how to stay awake. We do not have the power to stay awake. But we know where Christ said his gifts, including wakefulness, can be received. We know He gives us his gifts in Word and Sacrament. Amen.