Based on Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
You turn on the T.V. nowadays and within a few minutes a commercial comes on with a fear-based narrative that tells you to invest in home security. The most frequent one right now is for a camera in your doorbell (Ring system) that can show you who is at the door whether you are home or not (through your smart phone). This system can supposedly thwart thieves like the dreaded “porch pirates” who come around and steal the things that have been delivered to your front door. Statistics suggest that only about 1.5% of all homes in the U.S. are burglarized each year. Yet, the narrative of fear is pervasive and nags at my sense of duty to protect what is mine by investing in an intruder alert of some kind.
The home security industry in the U.S. is projected to be a $47 billion industry in 2020. That’s a lot of money being spent by a subset of people in our country who are concerned enough about their security to install some fashion of technology to guard their home. Some people install a dog, and others will pay for more elaborate systems designed to have the “thieves in the night” bypass their property. A number of years ago my children became concerned about the need for a security system in our Arlington house. There had been some break-ins that they became aware of through their peers and they wanted the reassurance of a whole house security system. They were fearful of this night-time “boogey man” and wanted to know that their house was safe. I told them we had already invested in deadbolt locks and well-made windows and all that we were required to do was to remember to lock all of them up.
The narrative of fear of the thief is omnipresent and seeks to drive a wedge between persons. The intruder is a phantom that haunts us and makes us want an alert system to prevent our being victimized. Our scriptures talk much to us about putting our fears in perspective and placing our trust in God and God’s future for us and to leave our darkness behind. Let us go to God now in prayer that we might have our trust renewed by the One who holds our future…
The prophet Isaiah speaks about a time in Zion when all shall be well and people of all nations shall “stream to it”. People will seek out the teachings of God from the Temple and walk in God’s paths. They will not be in fear of one another but will live together in a just society where there is no strife and no need for weapons to destroy – because they have forgotten all about war. They are all invited to walk in the light of the LORD.
Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome has been teaching about respecting, honoring and loving one’s neighbors in the earlier portions of Chapter 13. As we pick up our reading for today, Paul tells them to wake up – that salvation is at hand, nearer now than when all became believers (true for us too). He exhorts them to live honorably, clothed by the “armor of light” and to put away the “works of darkness”. They are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and in so doing put away any need to engage in fear of strangers, worldly authorities or loss of worldly things.
Jesus has spent most of Chapter 24 in Matthew’s Gospel describing the end-of-times and His second coming. Our reading today continues this theme and extends the tension by describing what happened to the people who did not listen to Noah…they were all swept away in the flood. The timing of the return of Jesus is up to God and is not in our control. Therefore, we need to prepare ourselves so that we can be ready when the Son of Man returns. We are told that Jesus will return like a thief in the night, thus we need to have an intruder alert system in place so that we can greet him when he comes.
The season of Advent is a season of preparation for the Incarnation – the coming of God in the form of the baby Jesus, but likewise for the promised second coming as well. How do we prepare for something that will occur at an unknown time? How do we create a Christian intruder alert system so that we don’t miss Jesus? Our scriptures give us some clues as to how this system should look.
First, it should include us becoming truly awake and alert. People who are not distracted by things of this world but are focused on the things yet to be. People who are aware of the need to put their love squarely on God and God’s people before anything else. To wake up to the fear-based narrative that pervades our very lives and instead speak a narrative of love and belonging. To wake up and put into place those things that they have “learned in the house of the God of Jacob” specifically living “honorably in the day” and to neither learn nor practice war on God’s creation anymore. When we are awake and alert to the things of God, then we will be spiritually ready when the Son of Man returns like a thief in the night.
Second, we do not have to fear the end-of-times passages (seminary term: eschatology) like are in our Gospel reading today. They are there for information and for teaching. Whether or not the things listed are factual or metaphorical, the issue is one of paying attention to how we are living. In the time of Noah, we are told in Genesis that, “…The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of their hearts was only evil continually….” Thus, God decided to eliminate all humans in a great flood. All that is except Noah and his family – Noah who was righteous and walked with the LORD. Isaiah says it this way, “…come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!…” Thus, our intruder alert system will be complete when we understand the things that are taught in the Bible and live into them fully.
The final component of our Christian intruder alert system should be one of beloved community. We are not meant to walk our spiritual walk in isolation as individuals. Salvation is a group activity…Isaiah says that “…all the nations shall stream to it….” The “it” being Zion the place of God. Isaiah’s word also says that “many peoples” will come to God’s mountain and learn in God’s holy temple, that they (and we) might walk in his paths. Like when we join a home security system, we are to look out for one another and to live fully into God and each other – protecting one another from harm.
This first week of Advent, let us prepare ourselves so that we are awake and alert when Emmanuel comes. Let us put into place our Christian intruder alert system of being spiritually awake and alert, living and learning from God’s inspired word and God’s Word made flesh, and building around us a loving community where all of God’s creation is welcomed and truly belongs. Children of the living God, let us put away our fears of and attraction to the things of the darkness, and walk in the light of the LORD! Amen and amen!