Does anyone know what time it is?

A sermon for Advent 1

Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

play Chicago 1968  Does Anybody Know What Time It Is [i]

Does anybody know what time it is? Isaiah believes it is the time for redemption. His prophecy is that: God will redeem God’s people, that they will be released from captivity, that they will return home to Jerusalem, to Zion, the highest and oldest part of the city, and to the Temple. His prophecy tells us that all the world will learn about justice, about righteousness from God’s teachings. 800 or so years later, Paul also believes it is a time of redemption. He is writing to the Christian community in Rome that Jesus’ return is soon, it is closer now than when they first believed. He is urging them:  to be ready, to live honorably, and be satisfied with what they have, to put aside quarreling and jealousy, to give up drunkenness, dishonesty and extravagance, to live as if Jesus  ~  where in their midst.

Do you know what time it is? My tablet says its 9:15. I asked and gave you an answer in what Greeks would call ‘chronos’ time, the logical, methodical, liner marking of the passage of events that allows us to refer to them and place them in order. There is also ‘kairos’ time. You have heard it in phrases like: It was her time. or It is the right time. You intuitively know which time people are referring to by the context of its usage. And all is well; until the two times get mixed up. 

Last week we heard Jesus talk about the walls of the Temple being torn down from Luke’s Gospel account. This week we are hearing from Matthew’s Gospel account. At the beginning of this chapter the disciples make the same observation about the Temple. Jesus says beware, then he speaks about persecutions, about desolating sacrilege, about the coming of the Son of Man, about fig trees, and that no one knows the time … and the need for watchfulness. The disciples ask a chronos question, and Jesus gives a kairos answer. I do not think it was his intention to confuse things; but he did. The disciples are confused at least until Easter morning, and may be later. It seems that Paul and the early Christian community are confused. I know people today are confused, it’s apparent in all the end of time hubbub; they even have their own Cable show.

So what is it all about? Why does anybody care what time it is? Jesus makes a remarkable prediction about the Temple, the center of Jewish life. The disciples want to know when it’s going to happen. That’s perfectly natural, wouldn’t you want to know? I know I would. But Jesus tells them, no one knows, not even he knows. And then he talks about the times of Noah before the flood and about women working in the field and in the grist mill. Note, although judgment is a part of the story, Jesus makes no judgment. In other words, the people of Noah’s day are going about daily life, the women are going about daily life. That is followed by a parable about being watchful to keep the night thief out of your house. Again it’s a normal thing to do, you lock your doors, perhaps set alarms. In that way you are being watchful for the night thief.

But what Jesus wants the disciples, wants us, wants you to be watchful for is him. And it’s not about guessing when he will come. You can’t do that. Scott Hoezee tells the story of a couple that learns they are expecting. They make all the preparations to be ready: a nursery is created; there are baby showers, all the needed items:  strollers, toys, clothing, baby monitors, and car seats are gathered. It’s no secret they know when the baby is due. They are ready! And then, nearly 3 weeks from their due date, stuck in traffic during a terrific thunderstorm out of nowhere momma goes into labor! She ends up having the baby in the backseat of the car with two police officers assisting while her husband is about to go berserk!!  They never expected anything like that!” [ii]

It is no secrete God is coming, that Jesus is coming. We’ve been waiting for 2000 years for Jesus, and another 1000 or more for God, so it’s no secret. So … what’s the problem? Well, the problem is, we keep trying to guess when. Sometimes, so we can continue doing what we are doing, till the last minute. Sometimes, because we are afraid we will miss it; there is some thought the Christians in Rome are afraid they had. And some folks just don’t get it.

A week or so ago I read an article in Bloomberg about the historically skewed distribution of earnings and wealth in the US. My Dad connected that story to one I told him, some years ago, about Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame. After his was released from prison he began sharing his religious conversion and talking about faith and ethics in everyday life, including business life. It turns out he spoke to a Harvard business school class. What bothered Colson was that no one in the class even got the basic premise of faith and ethics; never mind that it relates to everyday life. Jeffery Skilling, CEO of Enron in 2001, when it filed for bankruptcy, the largest in history at the time, was in that class.  He is currently in Federal Prison for conspiracy, securities fraud, making a false statement and insider trading. [iii] Colson was right. Dad is right. We have wandered so far from God, so far from divine values that we are getting into deep trouble. And too many of us who are churched are obsessed: with righteousness as following the jot and tittle of Leviticus, but not building daily life around relationship with God; so many are so concerned with justice as sexual purity but not about radical equality with all our neighbors, in business in access to health care or education.

 Does anybody know what time it is? It’s Advent, a time when we look back and prepare to celebrate the wonders of God becoming incarnate in humanity; a time when we look to the future, the unknowable time when Jesus will return, and we will stand before God. It’s time, to begin to living every moment of every day expecting to bump into Jesus with every decision we make. It’s time for unabashed honesty with ourselves. It’s time for hope, for our Lord is nigh.


[i] Robert Lamm, Chicago, Does anybody really know what time it is      

[ii] Scott Hoezee,,, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next Sunday is December 01, 2013 (Ordinary Time), The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 24:36-44