May 20, 2019

Homily for Advent I: The Day Before

Dawning

Dawning, Leszek Paradowski

The Day Before
A sermon for the first Sunday in Advent, 2013

‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

– Matthew 24:36-44

I have a friend named Michael Spencer who died on Opening Day of the baseball season in 2010. I mention the time because Michael was a lifelong baseball fan, a die hard supporter of the Cincinnati Reds. He died in the evening, after the Reds lost to the Cardinals, 11-6, at Great American Ballpark. We who loved him like to think that he was happy to know another season was underway, and even though the Reds lost, that it was going to be a long season, and on Opening Day there is always hope.

About five months before his death, Michael, who was known on the internet as “The Internet Monk,” wrote an article called, “There’s Always a Day Before.” In that piece, he said:

We all live the days before. We are living them now.

There was a day before 9-11.

There was a day before your child told you she was pregnant.

There was a day before your wife said she’d had enough.

There was a day before your employer said “layoffs.”

We are living our days before. We are living them now.

Some of us are doing, for the last time, what we think we will be doing twenty years from now.

Some of us are on the verge of a much shorter life, or a very different life, or a life turned upside down.

Some of us are preaching our last sermon, making love for the last time, saying “I love you” to our children for the last time in our own home. Some of us are spending our last day without the knowledge of eternal judgment and the reality of God. We are promising tomorrow will be different and tomorrow is not going to give us the chance, because God has a different tomorrow entirely on our schedule. We just don’t know it today.

Michael wrote this because at the time he was reflecting on the unexpected diagnosis of a terminal disease that one of his friends and coworkers had just received. The man had been a picture of health who took excellent care of himself and was devoted to serving the Lord at the Christian school where they worked. Then one day the doctor looked him in the eye and said, “Leukemia.” The day before, Michael’s friend had no idea. The day before, he thought he had many, many more days of being with his family, doing his work, enjoying life. But on the next day, everything changed.

The ironic part of the story is that, just a few weeks later, my friend Michael Spencer went to the doctor and received a similar diagnosis — only this time it was colon cancer. That was right after Thanksgiving in 2009. By the end of December Michael had undergone brain surgery. In January it was getting so he couldn’t write much anymore. Before you knew it, he was in hospice care, and he died on Opening Day in April.

The day before, he had been writing articles like, “There’s Always a Day Before.” Then the day that changed his life came.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us of this same fact of life. Jesus tells us no one knows when God will intervene and life will change dramatically. He says it will be like the days of Noah. While Noah was out building his boat, everyone else was going about business as usual — getting married, raising their kids, working in the fields. They didn’t have a clue that the skies were about to open up and wash it all away.

Jesus also says here that it’s like when a thief breaks into your home. You aren’t expecting that; you don’t see it coming.

In the light of this reality, Jesus says, “Keep awake…, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. …Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

346_07_trent_sunrise_4nnThese sayings are part of a prophetic message Jesus gave during the final week of his own life. He was warning his disciples and the people of his day that troubled times were on the horizon.

Israel was under Rome’s control, and within a generation after Jesus lived, there would be a revolt. The Romans answered with their military might, and in 70AD Jerusalem was besieged and ultimately destroyed, the Temple was demolished, and the people of Israel were scattered, never to be a nation in the land of Palestine again until 1948. It was the day before a world-changing event.

On the very week when Jesus spoke those words, he gathered with his disciples on Thursday evening and shared a Passover meal with them. On that night, Jesus said, “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you.” That was the day before a dark day we all remember. The next day was Good Friday, when Jesus actually gave his body and shed his blood on the cross.

We never know, do we? That’s why the book of Proverbs says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (27:1).

I realize this subject is hard for all of us to hear and discuss. There is a superstitious part of us that thinks, “If I talk about it, something bad is going to happen.” However, let me turn this around a bit and give another perspective.

Jesus died on Good Friday. Then came Saturday. The disciples didn’t know it, but Saturday was one of the “days before” too. They thought Friday was the momentous day, the day that brought the great change. Jesus was dead. His voice was silenced. The movement he was creating was in disarray. They themselves were huddled in a house, afraid for their lives. Their hopes were dashed. Everything had changed. From now on, their days would be days lived without Jesus.

But we who know the story remember that Saturday was a “day before” too, and that Sunday brought about a change even greater than that of Good Friday. On Sunday, their lives were changed completely once again, this time by the words, “He is risen!”

You see, “the day before” doesn’t always indicate a bad change. It can also be the day before a day of grace. It can be the day before something so wonderful that your life will be forever changed for the better.

There’s a day before the coach announces, “You made the team!”

There’s a day before you get a letter saying, “You got the job!”

There’s a day before he gets down on his knee and says, “Will you marry me?”

There’s a day before the doctor looks you in the eye and says, “Congratulations, you’re going to have a baby!”

There’s a day before you get your driver’s license, a day before your name is called and you walk across the stage for your diploma, a day before you sign the papers and the house is yours, a day before you hold your first grandchild, a day before they honor you at a retirement ceremony.

You see, when Jesus says, “I am coming — be ready!” he is not just warning us about trouble to come, about God’s judgment falling on the world, about changes that we do not want or welcome. A day is coming when Jesus will bring salvation!

He is coming to bring life more abundant.

He is coming to forgive our sins and set us free.

He is coming to calm our fears and give us peace.

He is coming to heal. He is coming to make the lame to walk and the blind to see.

He is coming to bless the poor, those who mourn, those who have little power in this world, those who hunger and thirst for justice.

He is coming to pour out his Spirit upon us, empowering us to live new lives of loving God and loving our neighbors.

He is coming, ultimately, to make an entirely new creation in which there will be no more crying, no more darkness, no more death.

And here we are today. Today is “the day before.”

What will tomorrow bring? One way or another, Jesus is coming.

How can we make ourselves ready today — on this, the day before?

* * *

Let us pray:
God of today, we accept this day as your gift. May we live this day in your Good News that no matter what tomorrow may bring, nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Header Photohttp://1x.com/member/paradowski

Comments

  1. Somewhere Barth said that God’s “No!” is always transcended in his greater “Yes!”

    Amen.

  2. Exactly what I needed to hear this morning….thank you for the reminder of why I live in Hope and trust in Grace.

  3. David Cornwell says

    This homily captures the meaning of Advent I as well as any I have ever heard. Everything about it speaks to the seriousness and expectancy that this season brings us. Thank you, and may the peace of Christ be with you this day.

  4. Thank you for a beautiful homily, Chaplain Mike.

  5. Beautiful. Thank you.

  6. And I remember Michael thinking he wasn’t getting along with his gall bladder….

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It was COLON cancer that metted into his brain?

      He must have gotten the “Golden BB”, because colon cancer usually surfaces much later in life and get diagnosed earlier than Stage IV. (I’ve been screened for it and prostate cancer; so far negative on both counts.)

  7. I continue to marvel at Michael’s timing when he wrote and shared his “There is always a day before” post. And now, whenever I learn of someone’s life going from “normal” to “not normal,” I think about the truth and beauty of his words.

    CM, thanks for your additional thoughts and insights on the subject! Indeed, there will be a day that will be the last day we have to run the race, just before victory is given to us.