This Sunday the church starts its new year. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels less than energized about it. It’s difficult to find motivation for a new beginning when all around you things are winding down. Here in South Africa the schools close for summer vacation soon. Shops are festooned for Christmas. The days are hotter, sunnier, longer; that holiday feeling is in the air.
It’s not hard to be tempted to let go, just a little. To sit back from 2016’s heavily laden table, ponderous with a year’s worth of worries, hopes and dreams, reluctant to look to 2017 – where a lot of uncertainty lies. A lot of unanswered questions or unasked for answers. But of course it’s exactly at this moment that we need to be ready:
The Day and Hour Unknown
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
We wouldn’t be running wild of the beaten track if we used this week’s narrative lectionary reading to ask ourselves, our small groups, our prayer meetings, our blog friends or our congregations, “Are we ready?” in the Apocalyptic sense. But perhaps a better question to ask would be, “Do we realise we’re already ready?” If salvation is bestowed on those who call upon Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; if it’s begotten from grace; if we believe that salvation isn’t earned – then, as Paul writes in this week’s epistle reading, “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11b).
And so the question changes from “Are we ready?” to “Are we ready to live with that?” Are we ready to live as fully saved people, with all the responsibility and grace and vulnerability and joy and hope and pain and peace that that entails? While the day and hour of Jesus’ return are unknown, the day and hour of his death and resurrection are, and for now that is enough.
We’re tempted to let 2016 run its course, right? To step back from the ball game until 2017. Hopefully, we think, we’ll be ready then: ready to live our lives and faith in meaningful ways that frankly escape us at the moment. Our “next year” personas will have it all together: next year we will be kinder, more dedicated, more patient. We will have more drive and energy and motivation. We’ll be slimmer, fitter, smarter, better. Next year we will be ready, Lord. Next year.
…except that we are now as ready as we will ever be. Now, at this moment: whether it is excited or exhausted, pain-riddled or comfortable, happy or frustrated. Whether our relationships with God, our families, our friends, our colleagues, our churches, and our communities are good or bad. Whether our preferred political party is in government or not. Whether we have ears to hear or eyes to see.
We are now as ready as we will ever be to keep watch, to awaken from our slumber, to live breath-close to salvation.
And so this week, as Advent and family and holidays loom, let’s ask ourselves: Aren’t we ready?
Blessings for your sermons,